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8 tips for Growing Cabbage in Your Backyard

Updated: Mar 26

Growing cabbage from seed at home is not for the faint of heart. Not because cabbage is difficult to grow, but because cabbage is known for attracting pests. In this blog post I will teach how to grow cabbage at home as well as how to protect cabbage from pests. I will also be sharing when to plant cabbage and spacing for planting cabbage plants.

A girl with a tan shirt growing cabbage in a garden in zone 3.  Someone holding a cabbage in her hands in the garden.

Best Varieties of Cabbage to Grow in a Backyard Vegetable Garden

Copenhagen cabbage is a popular cabbage variety. It seems to consistently perform well and is easy to grow. It has longer days to maturity and is great for a fall harvest.

I have also had good success with Charmant cabbage. Charmant matures in less time so is great for those of us gardening in zone 3. Cabbage moths do not seem to bother purple cabbage as much as green cabbage.

If you are wanting to try to grow cabbage without a cover, consider planting purple or red cabbage.

Growing different varieties of cabbage is helpful for providing fresh cabbage all season long as they can be planned to mature at different times. Note that some days to maturity estimates are from transplant time, not from the seeding indoors time. Your seed catalog or package should state if days to maturity is from transplant date.

A basket full of garden vegetables with cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, beets, squash and zucchini in the garden vegetable basket.

When to Plant Cabbage Seeds

For a last frost date around May 26th and a first frost date around the beginning of September, plant cabbage seeds indoors between March 21st and March 28th. Cabbage seeds also do well using using the winter sowing method.

Cabbage can be started in plugs or in 6 cell containers but will need to be potted up into a 2 or 3 inch pot before being transplanted outdoors a week before your last frost. It is also important to harden off your cabbage seedlings before planting them outdoors. Cabbage can also be direct sown when night temperatures are above freezing. Sow cabbage seeds 1/4 inch deep in the selected location or pot.

Best Soil for Growing Cabbage

Cabbage does well in rich soil high in nitrogen and potassium. If your soil is nitrogen deficient you will likely end up with very small heads of cabbage. Adding manure, rich compost or alfalfa pellets (like the ones you feed rabbits) are great ways to add nitrogen into your soil. Beans and other legumes put nitrogen INTO soil, so a crop rotation of growing cabbages in the location beans grew last year can be beneficial.

A girl with a yellow shirt digging in her raised bed vegetable garden so that she can plant cabbage in her zone 3 garden.

How far Apart to Plant Cabbage Plants

Cabbage takes up quite a bit of real estate in your garden, so if you have a small area to work with, this may not be the right crop for you. Space cabbage plants 12 to 24 inches apart. Note that cabbage plants grown closer together will produce smaller heads.

Cabbage seedlings being planted in a raised bed vegetable garden in a backyard garden in zone 3 Calgary Alberta Canada.
Before I actually plant my cabbage I set it out to plan spacing.

Row Cover for Cabbage Plants

Covering your cabbages is a must if you want to enjoy bug free cabbage. Even WITH a cover it can be challenging to keep bugs off of cabbage plants! Cabbages are known for attracting cabbage moths, those white moths you see fluttering around your yard and garden.

Cabbage moths lay eggs on cabbage plants. These eggs hatch into little green worms just 4 to 8 days after being laid. These worms grow rapidly into large green caterpillars as they feast on your cabbages for 7 to 15 days. At that time they pupate. The adult moth will emerge as soon as 7 days later, depending on temperature. The pupas can also overwinter in soil. This makes it especially important to practice crop rotation with cabbage plants.

Cabbages also fall prey to the highly annoying flea beetles. Flea beetles are tiny, hard bodied bugs that you may have noticed jumping in your garden when they are disturbed.

A raised bed with hoops and a floating row cover meant to cover growing cabbages to protect them from cabbage moths.
Here I am using floating row cover to cover my cabbage plants.

I have used a number of different options for covering my cabbage plants. Here are a few options to choose from:

  • 5 gallon paint strainer bags - Pop these right over top of the plant and secure around the base of the stem. These are a great option if you are growing cabbages in pots or only growing a few cabbage plants.

  • Floating row cover - These are made of lightweight material and sometimes tear in wind or hail. If you go with this option keep an extra on hand.

  • Nylon netting - This costs more upfront but is far more durable than floating row cover and has the added benefit of working as a hail cover. If you are in Canada, check out GRD netting. I have been so pleased with the price and quality of their product.

A girl growing cabbage in a raised bed vegetable garden in zone 3 Alberta Canada.
This cover is nylon netting from GRD Netting.

Whatever option you select, keep plants covered from the moment they go outdoors. Carefully secure netting to the soil (I just use rocks) so that no bugs can get between the soil and the netting.

Growing Cabbage in Containers or Pots

Cabbage does well planted in a pot or container. Look for a grow bag or a pot that is at least 18 inches deep. Keep in mind that cabbage plants get quite large and need a minimum of a 12 inch diameter space to grow in. Don't over crowd cabbage when growing cabbage in a pot.

Cabbages grown in pots will still benefit from a cover to keep bugs from attacking your plants.

Harvesting Cabbage

It can be tricky to tell when to harvest cabbage. Don't wait until fall to harvest all your cabbage at once if you have multiple plants. Harvest cabbage as you can use it. That way you are using fresh cabbage for longer.

Most cabbage heads can be harvested anytime they reach about 5 inches in diameter. Knowing your days to maturity and how big your cabbages are expected to grow can help you determine the best time to harvest your cabbage. Don't wait too long or cabbage can split. Also, the longer you wait the more chances are that bugs may sneak under your cover.

A cabbage plant growing in a raised bed vegetable garden in a zone 3 garden.
This photo was taken near the beginning of August. This cabbage looks fairly small and could still use some growing time.

Harvest cabbage by cutting the thick stem with a sharp knife just above the large leaves. The remainder of the plant can be pulled and:

  1. Used to feed animals like chickens (they love the leaves)

  2. The leaves can be picked off the plant and used just like the head

  3. If you have managed to grow pest free cabbage, the reminder of the plant can be composted. Don't do this if you have had a bug problem as you may end up filling your compost with pest eggs.

Health Benefits of Cabbage

Cabbage is one of the vegetables in the cruciferous vegetable family and has many health benefits. It is low in calories, may help to stabilize blood sugar levels, is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.

What to Plant With Cabbage

Cabbage companion plants include artichokes, beets, calendula, celery, chamomile, dill, garlic, marigolds, mint, nasturtiums, onions, potatoes, radishes, rosemary, sage, and spinach. The plants in italics are especially helpful for deterring cabbage moths.

A girl with a cabbage growing in a raised bed vegetable garden from someone gardening in zone 3 Alberta Canada.
Notice the cabbage companion planted with marigolds here.

Avoid planting cabbage near broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts unless you have all these plants of the brassica family covered. This is because they all attract the same pests. Also avoid planting cabbage near pole beans and tomatoes.

If you have found this article helpful and would like to see more gardening tips and tricks for gardening in Alberta and other zone three gardening climates, please subscribe to my blog (the bottom of the home page) and follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and/or YouTube!

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