Growing Cabbages from Sowing to Harvest

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Growing cabbage

For lots of gardeners a vegetable plot isn’t complete without that ever-dependable staple: cabbage! Shredded into a slaw, stir-fried, steamed or baked, there’s not much you can’t do with cabbage. And with a little planning it’s even possible to enjoy cabbages year round, by planting a carefully curated succession of varieties suited to each season. So here’s how to do it!

Types of Cabbage

There’s a fantastic range of cabbage varieties to choose from, offering different shapes, colors and textures.

Cabbage heads, or hearts, can be rounded or conical, with leaves that are light green, dark green, red or purple. Red cabbages are popular for braising or pickling.

Some types have a smooth, almost glossy appearance, while others like the Savoy cabbage produce deeply crinkled leaves that are perfect for mopping up sauces or gravy.

Cabbages are grouped according to when they’re harvested. Spring cabbages, which may also be harvested young as ‘spring greens’, are ready from mid to late spring. Summer cabbages crop from summer into early autumn, while fall cabbages and winter varieties cover the remainder of the year.

Savoy cabbages have a long harvest period stretching from autumn all the way through winter to early spring.

Our Garden Planner can show you recommended sowing, transplanting and harvesting times for different types of cabbage in your location.

Savoy cabbages are exceptionally hardy

Where to Grow Cabbage

Many cabbage varieties are incredibly hardy and will tolerate below-freezing temperatures. For the healthiest growth they need an open, sunny site and rich soil. A bed improved with compost or well-rotted manure is ideal for these hungry feeders, who will appreciate a further boost in the form of an organic general-purpose fertilizer raked into the ground at planting time.

In a traditional crop rotation cabbages follow on from peas or beans, which naturally lock nitrogen away at their roots. Left in the ground when the crop is cleared, these roots will help to feed the cabbages that follow.

Unless your soil is naturally alkaline, sprinkle garden lime onto the soil either after you’ve dug it over, or rake it in at planting time.

How to Sow Cabbage

Cabbages may be started off in an outdoor seedbed to transplant once they’re bigger, or under cover into modules or pots, which also enables an earlier start to the season.

Cabbages can be started in pots under cover for an earlier start

Their roots prefer firm soil, so prepare seedbeds by treading on the ground in a shuffling motion before raking to a fine tilth for sowing.

When you sow depends on what type of cabbage you’re growing. Summer cabbages are the first to be sown, in mid spring, followed by autumn and winter types later on in spring. Spring cabbages are sown from the second half of summer to harvest the following year.

Mark out drills about half an inch (1cm) deep and six inches (15cm) apart. You can use a string line to insure nice, straight rows. Sow the seeds thinly along the row then cover over and water. Keep the soil moist. Thin the seedlings once they’re up to one every couple of inches (5cm).

Under cover, start seeds off in plug trays of all-purpose potting soil. Sow two to three seeds per cell about half an inch (1cm) deep. After they’ve germinated, thin to leave just one seedling per cell. Or sow into trays or pots then transfer the best seedlings into individual cells or pots to grow on.

Transplant cabbages when they have at least three or four adult leaves

Transplanting Cabbage

The seedlings are ready to transplant about six weeks after sowing, by which time they should have grown at least three to four adult leaves. Make sure spring cabbages are transplanted no later than early fall, so they can establish before winter bites.

Plant your seedlings into prepared ground. Leave about 18in (45cm) between each seedling. Additional rows of spring or summer cabbage should be set around the same distance apart, while fall and winter types need a little more space between rows – about two feet (60cm) is ideal.

Firm your cabbages into the ground well, then water generously to settle the soil around the roots. Seedlings transplanted from a seedbed should be lifted up with as much soil around their roots as possible. This avoids unnecessary root disturbance, helping the seedlings to quickly adapt to their new growing positions.

Netting protects cabbages from pests such as cabbage white butterflies

Caring for Cabbage

Cabbages are prone to attack from pigeons and caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly, also known as cabbageworms. Wire mesh will protect seedlings against pigeons, but to stop butterflies from laying their eggs on the leaves it’s best to use netting during the summer months.

Another clever technique is to grow nasturtiums close by as a sacrificial crop, also known as a trap crop. Caterpillars prefer nasturtiums, so they’ll be more likely to eat these instead of your cabbages. Mint can be used to help deter flea beetles.

Continue to water cabbages as they grow. Ensure they have all the space and nutrients they need by carefully weeding between plants with a hoe or by hand. Winter cabbages are very hardy but during exceptionally cold weather they may need some form of cold protection such as a row cover tunnel or cloche. In very cold regions, growing cabbages in a greenhouse or cold frame is a great way to guarantee a winter-safe crop.

Harvest cabbages once the heads have firmed up

How to Harvest Cabbage

Use a sharp knife to cut your cabbages once the heads have firmed up. Savoy and other winter cabbages benefit from a light frost to bring out their flavor. Spring cabbages may be harvested young and loose as greens for repeated cutting, or left to grow on to form a tight head of leaves. Either way is totally delicious!

Cabbages you’ve grown yourself are undeniably sweeter and crunchier than anything you can buy. And they go a long way in the kitchen too, more than earning them the space they need to grow. If you have a variety you’d particularly recommend, or perhaps another tip for growing cabbages, please share it in the comments section below.

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"One thing not mentioned in the video is that it helps to plant brassica seedlings deep, when transplanting to final site. I note that in the video you planted them with the first/non-true leaves well above ground. I've always planted mine at least as deep as those first leaves if not deeper. It help them establish a better root system and be less prone to being wind-blown. You might also have mentioned that when you harvest a cabbage, if you don't need the ground straight away for another crop, if they are cut off with a couple of sets of leaves left behind on the plant, left in the ground, the 'stump' will sprout 5 more mini cabbages whose leaves can be a very sweet, if not a large secondary harvest. "
Gerry on Friday 13 July 2018
"Hi Gerry. All very valuable advice, thank you so much for sharing. The stump re-sprouting tip is a very important one, because they regrow very quickly, so you get that second harvest without having to leave the stumps in the ground for many weeks on end. The leaves are just as tasty from this second harvest too."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 July 2018
"Hi, I live in Czech republic and there is now no registered variety of overwintering savvoy cabbage (we had Arkta some years preavious). Can you reccomend me some? Last winters were really warm so I am tempted to try my usual early spring variety, but then we had also week when temperatures dropped under -20°C.... Thanks, Dobby"
Dobby on Monday 23 July 2018
"Hi Dobby. That's very frustrating that there isn't a registered variety of overwintering Savoy cabbage. Are you able to buy seed from elsewhere to sow? One recommended variety of winter Savoy cabbage is 'Protovoy', which is recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society here in the UK as being particularly strong performing. However, different varieties are available in different countries, so you may need to consult closer to home for varieties available in your region."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 24 July 2018
"I grow minicole cabbages on my allotment they are easy to grow from seed can be spaced 12inches apart and will stand for 3 months when mature in the ground in perfect condition until you are ready to use them. These small round cabbages are just the right size for two people to eat and so there is no waste. I cover my cabbages with fine netting cloches from planting to harvest time in order to protect them and this ensures that I get a good crop."
Alan Wilkinson on Friday 17 August 2018
"Hi Alan. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Portion-sized cabbages are very handy for eating up in one meal."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 August 2018
"I am a novice gardener just started to try to grow my own vegetables such as cabbage tomatoes leeks and peppers in pots and would appreciate any help you can give me i have just begun to sow my seeds in pots and would like tips on growing potatoes."
brendan duffy on Tuesday 26 February 2019
"Hi there Brendan. Delighted to hear you're taking up growing your own vegetables - you'll love your new hobby I promise! With regards tips, this website is full of fantastic advice. Simply head up to the search field, right at the top of this page, and type in what you are looking for. We have excellent articles/video on growing in containers, plus one on growing potatoes in containers too. But do come back if you have any specific questions."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 27 February 2019
"When is a good time to plant seeds for an autumn crop ? I have a propergator, is it worth starting indoors now (mid February) Last year I tried cabbages, but just got lots of loose leaves, no heart or head formed I have some Russian giant cabbage seeds from last year would they still be viable ? They have been kept in the fridge at 4C"
Derrick on Friday 14 February 2020
"Hi Derrick. Cabbage seeds last for around four years, so those seeds you've stored in the fridge should still be viable. I would wait until spring - mid April to May - to sow them for an autumn crop. There is no point in jumping ahead at this point."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 17 February 2020
"Could you please tell me how the "seasonal" nomenclature in this video relates to the "early, medium, late maturity" used in the Garden Planner. Also how would these categories be indicated on seed packets? Thank you for all your wonderful instruction and entertainment."
Elaine on Sunday 17 May 2020
"Hi Elaine. I use fairly vague language simply because seasons and the months they begin and end vary so dramatically across the world. In the UK, for example, spring cabbages are ready from about April to June, summer cabbages from July to September, while Savoy cabbages are ready from, say, October, to maybe the following April. If you are in Australia, then just add six months on to the above!"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 17 May 2020
"Hi, I like your post really I have read first-time Thanks for sharing keep up the good work."
sunil patel on Thursday 11 June 2020
"I’ve planted my seedlings out in a wooden half barrel, they seem to be doing well, well watered and fed, I don’t know if they will grow a head, but the leaves might prove tasty I have done the same with little gem lettuce, just pick and eat really, they are doing even better Neither are over crowded, plenty of room to grow "
Derrick on Thursday 11 June 2020
"Hi Derrick. The great thing with cabbages (or indeed any brassicas) is that you can eat the leaves at any stage. So as you say, even if they don't produce a firm round head, they will still give plenty of tasty and nutritious leaves. Great job!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 15 June 2020
"I have planted a crop of Savoy cabbages . I seem to remember years ago when my father had an allotment he bound the leaves on cabbage and cauliflower to enable a head to form. Is this necessary?"
Tony on Saturday 20 June 2020
"Hi Tony. I have heard of this - for cauliflower at least - to help the 'curd' form and stay crisp-white. But I don't think it's essential."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 June 2020
"how best can i look after my cabbages the gloria type from the time of planting seeds to harvesting am in africa, uganda "
Otim Paul on Monday 20 July 2020
"Hi Otim. As cabbages are cool-season crops, the biggest challenge may be the heat. Keep plants well watered and the soil free of weeds. I would also consider mulching around plants to help keep the soil cooler and moister for longer."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 27 July 2020

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions