Nothing signals fall like brightly colored ornamentalcabbage (Brassica oleracea) nestled among other autumn staples such as chrysanthemums,pansies,and floweringkale. The cool season annual is easy to grow from seed or can be purchasedat the garden center as fall approaches.
Ornamental cabbage, also called flowering cabbage, hassmooth, wavy edges with bright rosette centers of pink, purple, red or whiteleaves. It grows about a foot wide and up to 15 inches (38 cm.) tall with amounding habit.
Though considered edible – it has a very bitter taste –ornamental cabbage is more often used as a food garnish. It may be consumedwith a double-boiling method to reduce bitterness or sautéed in olive oil.
In the landscape, ornamental cabbage plants can be combinedwith flowering kale and late season annuals that can tolerate a frost such as petunias,chrysanthemums, and snapdragons.They look stunning in containers, in front of a border, as an edging, or inmass plantings.
Their color intensifies as the temperature drops,particularly below 50 degrees F. (10 C.). Ornamental cabbage plants typicallysurvive to about 5 degrees F. (-15 C.) and will decorate the landscape tillwinter turns harsh.
FYI: While most people associate flowering kale andcabbage together as one plant, there is a slight difference when it comes to ornamentalcabbage vs. flowering kale. Technically, the two are the same and in the samefamily, with both types considered kale. However, in the horticultural trade,ornamental or flowering kale plants have deeply cut, curly, frilly or ruffled leaveswhereas ornamental or flowering cabbage has broad, flat leaves edged in bright contrastingcolors.
Flowering cabbage is easily grown from seed but must bestarted by midsummer to be ready for fall planting. Light is needed forgermination, so sprinkle seed on growing medium but do not cover with soil.
Maintain temperature at 65 to 70 degrees F. (18 to 21 C.) toaid germination. Seedlings should emerge in 4 to 6 days. Keep temperature coolduring growth period.
Site them in full sun, with some afternoon shade wherelocations are very warm. They prefer moist, well-drained soil that is somewhatacidic. Fertilize with a timed-release fertilizer about three weeks afterplanting or moving to containers.
If summers are too hot for growing seed, you may opt topurchase transplants from the garden center. Look for good color and a sizeappropriate for the desired planting area. Purchased flowering cabbagetypically won’t grow much more after planting. When the temperature drops,colors should intensify, however.
Ornamental cabbage plants are prone to the same pests anddiseases as cabbage and kale grown in the garden, but much less so given thetime of year. If noticed, treat with appropriate biological controls.
Ornamental cabbage and kale came into the market when I was a kid. I pored over the old seed catalogs until I wore them to shreds, and one statement still sticks in my mind. It was in the Geo. Park Seed Company catalog from Greenwood, South Carolina: “If you ever tire of looking at them, you can always eat them.” And now it appears that’s just what we’re doing. Cabbage and especially kale have become everyday staples in salads.
Photo: Grower is producing hundreds of 1-gallon cabbage and kale plants for use in Texas landscapes.
Ornamental cabbages are generally pretty similar to what you see in your vegetable garden – big, rounded heads, but with large, succulent leaves of blue-green, pink, magenta and white.
Ornamental kales are different. First of all, they’re really frilly. Some are in heads, but others grow more open, like a sprawling wildflower bouquet being clutched by a child’s hand, and still others are upright/almost shrub-like.
Photo: Redbor (background) and Red Chidori kale are highly ornamental and widely used.
I’m going to start with that last one. The tall maroon-red kale that you see all over North Texas each winter is a variety called Redbor, listed by the National Garden Bureau as a Scotch kale. It grows to 2 to 3 feet tall, making it the ideal anchoring plant for a large patio pot or the perfect backdrop to a bed of pansies, pinks or even shorter types of kale and cabbage. Its flavor is described as “sweet,” so there we go back into its alternate life of being a part-time source of nutrition.
It’s the shorter, head-forming types of ornamental kale that are the most colorful, however. Series names like Chidori, Kamone, Glamour and Peacock, among many others, bring us plants with all ranges of reds, pinks, near-lavenders, blue-greens and whites. There are fewer varieties of ornamental cabbage, but they, too, are showy in the landscape.
When we plant all of these in October or November, usually from 1-gallon pots, they’re essentially all blue-green, but as the winter cold unfolds, their colors turn dazzlingly brilliant.
Photo: Colors of cabbage and kale intensify as winter’s weather turns colder.
Caring for cabbage and kale…
• Keep cabbage and kale plants moist should you encounter dry spells.
• Apply a high-nitrogen, top-quality fertilizer to them in December.
• As the plants start to elongate and develop oddly shaped cones out of their middles, that means that they’re bolting into flower. That will happen by late February or March, and that will be the time to replace them.
Flowering cabbage and kale offer an attractive complement to garden mum sales during the fall. Since many early mum cultivars will have faded by late September, cabbage and kale offer the landscaper or retail customer a colorful replacement at a good value. With a pricing structure for the purchase of multiple plants, the consumer will get a good value while the grower obtains a reasonable profit. Promoting the plant as a colorful, unusual and long-lasting addition to the landscape will increase sales.