A member of the brassica family, cabbages are hardy, tasty and versatile. They can be sown indoors or outside, and take four to six months to mature.
Spring cabbages – usually form small, dense, pointed heads. Sow in late summer for overwintering. Pick young as loose spring greens or leave to mature and form heads from mid-spring to mid-summer
Summer cabbages – available in many shapes and sizes, to suit all sites. Sow from late winter to mid-spring and harvest in mid- to late summer. Bred to withstand summer heat
Autumn cabbages – often form large heads, so need wider spacing. Sow in mid-spring and harvest before winter. Some varieties can be stored for use in winter
Winter cabbages – a valuable crop, for fresh harvests when little else is available. Usually form large heads, so need plenty of space. Sow in late spring. These include crinkly Savoy types and smooth drumheads, as well as attractive red-tinged or purple varieties. Once mature, they often stand in good condition for months until needed. Alternatively, store in a cool, frost-free place
Like most brassicas, cabbages are prone to a number of pest and diseases. A key priority is to cover them with netting or
Cabbages are a productive and nutritious crop, rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. They can be enjoyed in many different ways, raw or cooked – made into coleslaw or sauerkraut, sautéed, lightly steamed and added to stir-fries, stews and soups.
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There are many varieties of cabbage to choose from, ready to harvest at different times of year. They come in various shapes, from pointed to rounded, some with loose heads, others tight and dense. They can be all shades of green, as well as attractive steely blues, reddish tints and deep purples.
Cabbages vary in size too, with many excellent compact varieties that are ideal for small plots or small households. Winter varieties, on the other hand, tend to be larger and more robust.
If you’ve previously had problems with clubroot or downy mildew on your plot, then disease-resistant varieties are useful options.
When choosing varieties, look in particular for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in RHS trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg for recommended varieties.
You can also see many crops, including cabbages, growing in the veg plots at all the RHS gardens, so do visit to explore how they are grown, compare the varieties and pick up useful tips and inspiration.
What and where to buy
Cabbage seeds are widely available in garden centres and from online seed suppliers.
Young plants may also be available in spring and summer from the same sources. Buying plants may be a good option if you only want to grow a few cabbages, but they’re more expensive than seeds and the choice of varieties will be much more limited.
varieties for autumn & winter cropping
Preparing the Ground
Prepare your growing site, ideally the previous autumn, by adding two buckets of garden compost per square metre/yard, then leave it over winter to consolidate.
If your soil is very acidic, apply lime to raise the pH above 6 and deter clubroot disease.
Before sowing or planting, remove any weeds and make sure the soil is well firmed by shuffling across the surface on your heels. Then rake the soil level, creating a fine, crumbly texture.
Cabbages are easy to grow from seed sown indoors or outside. They grow best in the ground, but you can also grow them in large, deep containers.
Traditionally, cabbages are sown in a separate ‘seedbed’, then later moved to their final growing site. This is because they grow quite slowly and often need wide spacing, so would take up a lot of room during the prime growing season. However, you can sow straight into the final growing site, then transplant some plants to new rows later, to create the necessary spacing.
Avoid sowing too many seeds at one time – sow several small batches through spring and summer to spread out your harvests and avoid gluts.
You can sow cabbage seeds in a greenhouse or on a bright windowsill in spring and summer – check seed packets for timings, as it depends on the variety. Sowing indoors is a good way to get cabbages off to an early or more reliable start, out of reach of slugs and snails. It can also reduce the effects of clubroot, if you have this fungal disease in your soil.
Sow cabbage seeds 2cm (¾in) deep, ideally in modular trays to reduce root disturbance when transplanting outside. They should germinate within a couple of weeks.
Move young cabbage plants outdoors after about five weeks – see Transplanting, below.
You can sow cabbage seeds outdoors from late winter to late summer – timings depend on the type of cabbage:
April–May for autumn and winter cabbages
July–August for spring cabbages
Prepare the ground as detailed above. Then make a drill 2cm (¾in) deep and sprinkle the seeds thinly along it.
Protect the seedlings from slugs and snails and cover with insect-proof mesh or fleece (see Problem solving, below). Thin out the seedlings if necessary to 10cm (4in) apart, to give them room to grow strongly.
Alternatively, if you’re short on ground space during the prime spring sowing season, you could sow in modular trays outdoors, for transplanting into the ground later (see below).
Water the plants well the day before moving
Prepare your site as detailed above (see Preparing the ground). Be sure to firm the soil well
Lift the young plants carefully, without disturbing the roots, then set them in their new planting hole more deeply, with their lowest leaves at the surface. Firm them in well. See below for spacings
‘Puddle in’ the plants with plenty of water – this means filling the hole with water several times before adding soil
Continue watering the young plants regularly, not letting the soil dry out, until they are growing strongly
The spacing between plants depends on the type and ultimate size of the cabbages:
30cm (1ft) apart for compact varieties
up to 45cm (18in) for larger varieties (check seed packets for exact spacings)
10cm (4in) initially for spring cabbages, then thin out in late February/March to 30cm (1ft), using the thinnings as spring greens
Cabbages are generally easy to look after, but take care to cover them with fine-mesh netting to protect from pests. Provide consistent moisture, feed to boost growth and remove any faded outer leaves regularly.
Water cabbage seedlings and young plants regularly, never letting the soil dry out. Once they’re well established and growing strongly, just water during dry spells by giving a thorough soak every 10 days.
Once the heads begin to form, water generously to increase the size.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, around cabbage plants to help hold moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.
Once settled into their final growing position but before they form hearts, feed cabbages with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to encourage strong leafy growth.
With spring cabbages, apply a nitrogen-rich feed in early spring to boost growth and stimulate hearting.
Keep cabbage seedlings and young plants free of weeds by hoeing regularly, so they don’t have to compete for light, water and nutrients. See our tips on controlling weeds.
Protecting from pests
Place a felt cabbage collar around the base of stems to deter cabbage root fly. These discs can also suppress weed growth and some may also deter slugs and snails.
For more on tackling potential pests, see Problem solving, below.
Sowings of spring, summer, autumn and winter varieties can provide cabbages throughout the year. They generally take about four to six months to reach maturity, depending on the type.
Harvest cabbages once they have formed a firm head that’s the size you want. It’s a good idea to harvest every other cabbage along the row initially, to let the remainder grow larger. Mature cabbages can be left standing for a few weeks, but will eventually deteriorate so check them regularly. Winter cabbages generally stand for longer in good condition.
To harvest, cut through the stem just above ground level with a sharp knife. With spring and summer cabbages, if you then score a 1cm (½in) deep cross in the stump, they should go on to produce a second, smaller cabbage. Once the crop is finished, dig out the stumps to deter the spread of brassica diseases.
To prepare cabbages in the kitchen, remove the loose, tough outer leaves and use only the inner dense head.
Cabbages can be eaten raw or cooked, and are a key ingredient in many delicious dishes, including sauerkraut, coleslaw and kimchi. They are great in stir-fries and easy to sauté or steam, and can be used in soups, stews and other hearty meals. As well as being tasty, cabbage is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.
Cabbages are best eaten fresh, but can be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week. Some winter cabbages can be stored for several months in a cool, dry, frost-free place.
Although cabbages are generally hardy and vigorous plants, they are prone to various brassica pests and diseases, but you can usually keep these at bay by:
Putting brassica collars around the base of stems (to deter cabbage root fly)
Growing in fresh ground each year – see our guide to crop rotation
You’ll also need to protect cabbage plants from slugs and snails and possibly whitefly.
Cabbages are also susceptible to the soil-borne fungal disease clubroot – adding lime can reduce the problem, as can growing plants in pots until the roots are well developed.
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