Chinese cabbage

Chinese cabbage is often sold as Chinese leaves. It is fast growing and can be ready for cutting in as little as six or seven weeks. There are three main types of Chinese cabbage: tall cylindrical, hearted or barrel shaped and loose headed. The green heads can be cooked like cabbage, stir-fried or served raw in salad.

Jobs to do now

  • Sow outdoors
  • Harvest mature heads
  • Tie up heads if necessary

Month by month


Chinese cabbage is an excellent crop for late summer when days are long and nights are warm. At other seasons it bolts readily and is satisfactory only as mini leaves. Sow in very fertile soil and water carefully to ensure good growth and to suppress bolting. Sow thinly outdoors from June to August, every three weeks for successional crops, 1cm (½in) deep in rows 38cm (15in) apart.

Thin seedlings to 30cm (12in) apart for large heads or to 15cm (7in) apart for ‘cut and come again’ salad leaves.


Chinese cabbage needs a deep, moisture-retentive soil and a firm bed on an open sunny site; it benefits from some shade in summer. Add manure and fertiliser before sowing.

Acidic soils should be limed if necessary as this crop is very susceptible to clubroot disease – a fungal organism suppressed by alkaline conditions.

Water before the onset of drought, to keep the soil moist and prevent ‘bolting’.

Keep soil weed free.


Chinese cabbages can be harvested from late spring to late autumn, as fast-growing cut-and-come-again leaves for salads, or allowed to grow to maturity and form cabbage-like heads.

You can harvest cut-and-come-again leaves from young or semi-mature plants, using scissors or a sharp knife. If you allow the root to get established, then leaves will re-sprout several times after cutting, before the plant eventually bolts (starts flowering). When this happens, harvest the flower heads before the buds open, as you would broccoli.

Most cultivars form hearts well, but a few may need binding. If so, tie up the heads with soft twine or raffia when they reach maturity.

Protect maturing plants with cloches from early autumn onwards, to stop moisture from rotting the heart.

When harvesting mature heads, leave the stump to produce more, smaller heads or cut-and-come-again leaves. Mature heads can be stored in a fridge or frost-free shed.

Recommended Varieties

Common problems

Slugs and snails
Slugs and snails

These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.


There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.

Flea beetle
Flea beetle

Leaves are covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. Seedlings are particularly susceptible.


Grow plants under horticultural fleece and keep the soil moist. Water in nitrogen-rich fertilser to help the crop outgrow the pest.

Cabbage root fly
Cabbage root fly

White larvae approximately 5cm (2in) long, feed on the roots just below the soil surface, stunting growth and causing plants to wilt and die.


Grow under insect-proof mesh or horticultural fleece. Seedlings are most vulnerable.


A number of caterpillars will feed on brassicas, but the most common are those of cabbage white butterflies. You will usually see the caterpillars, if not, you will see the holes they make in the leaves. They will also bore into the heart of cabbages.


In mild attacks, or if you have only a few plants, you may be able to pick the caterpillars off. Insect-proof mesh or fine netting (5-7mm mesh) can prevent egg-laying.

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