5 Cabbage-Growing Mistakes

First-time cabbage growers are bound to make a few mistakes along the way. In this article, gardening expert Kaleigh Brillon talks about five of the most common mistakes and what you can do to fix them.

Three heads of cabbage that have split due to stress.


Cabbage is a daunting vegetable for many new gardeners. Their size is a lot to plan for, and the stories of pest problems may make it seem like growing it is more trouble than it’s worth. You might make some mistakes occasionally, but it’s nothing a little knowledge can’t help you fix!

If you have any problems, it’s likely due to miscalculating the plant’s needs. Did you not give it enough space? Did it take more fertilizer than you had on hand? Was it thirsty or practically swimming? When you can identify what went wrong, rerouting next time is simple.

I will show you five common mistakes when growing cabbage and what you can do to prevent them next time. Don’t write them off just yet—homemade coleslaw is still possible!

YouTube video

Mistake 1: Growing Only One Type

Several rows of large green heads of cabbage growing in a sunny field.
Choose several different varieties or use succession planting to avoid having to harvest all at one time.

If you plant several cabbage seeds intending to have a fresh head every week, you’ll need to do one of two things: succession sowing or growing different types. Planting it all at once will cause you to harvest it all at once. Cabbage mistake number one will lead to a lot of waste! You’ll have to eat it daily or turn it into sauerkraut to make use of your harvest.

Fortunately, many varieties are out there with different maturing rates. One Kilo Slow Bolt Napa is ready in about 50 days, while Red Acre takes 75-100 days. You can plant these simultaneously for an entire month or two between harvests.

Next time you buy seeds, grab a couple of different varieties. You can enhance your patch by growing different colors and shapes, and you’ll get the bonus of not eating several pounds all at once.

Mistake 2: Not Enough Fertilizer

Two young plants close up with leggy stems that have rounded green leaves growing on the ends. The plants in in a garden of reddish brown soil.
Cabbage needs nitrogen-rich fertilizer to thrive in the garden.

Nitrogen is responsible for leaf growth, so your cabbage could look spindly or discolored when it doesn’t get enough. They are heavy feeders and need more fertilizer than other leafy plants like lettuce or spinach.

A great way to make sure your cabbage will have enough fertilizer is to give it a generous layer of compost at the time of transplanting. Once you get the plant into the ground, spread out a layer of compost around the plant up to one foot out from it. This will give the area plenty of nitrogen and other necessary nutrients the plant can take in as it grows. 

You can also do this with a balanced fertilizer if you prefer or don’t have any compost handy. Newly transplanted cabbages do well with a 10-10-10 fertilizer so they can get all the nutrients to develop strong roots.

After one month of growing, you can feed your plant with high-nitrogen fertilizer or compost. Overlooking its fertilizer needs is bound to leave you with unhappy cabbages. Feed them plenty of nitrogen, and they’ll reward you with plenty of leaves packed tightly in the perfect cabbage head.

Mistake 3: Not Enough Space

Tight shot of overhead view of several bright green leafy vegetable heads growing very closely together in a garden.
Cabbage needs lots of space to grow properly, and overcrowding is a mistake that can cause problems.

Cabbage spacing is important to get right. Planting cabbage too close together is a common mistake that leads to stunting, diseases, and pest pressures, discouraging any gardener from growing them again. Think about how big they can get and plan your spacing based on that rather than the teeny little seedlings you start out with.

Aim to give each cabbage up to two feet of space if planted around your garden. If you want to plant in rows, you should aim to give them 3 feet of space between the plants instead. 

Cabbages can grow up to two feet tall, so don’t plant them underneath plants that might get into their vertical space. You can plant cabbages with companions; just make sure there’s enough clearance for all plants to grow without any problems.

Mistake 4: Not the Right Time or Place

Close up of yellow flowers growing on a thin green stem from a green leafy vegetable plant that is out of focus in the sunny background.
Too much summer sunlight is a mistake that can cause bolting.

As with every plant in the garden, timing is everything. Planting too early could kill them if the temperatures are too cold, and waiting too long could cause them to bolt too early when summer arrives and temperatures warm up.

Timing is all about temperatures, and placement is all about sunlight. Too much sunlight throughout the day can also result in early bolting, especially as the temperatures warm up. They like up to eight hours of sun each day, but they need the cooler, shorter spring days since they can’t tolerate the heat.

Since cabbage likes more sun than other greens, you can use this to your advantage when planning your garden. Save the shadier areas for spinach or lettuce, and put your cabbage where the garden receives more sun. If you want to try to grow cabbage into summer, put it in a shady area that receives morning sunlight to spare it from the heat.

Sunlight is more important when the cabbage starts to head up. It won’t need as much when it’s young, but to develop a well-formed head, it must be in the sun.

Mistake 5: Improper Watering

Close up of a head of a brassica vegetable that has split due to too much water. The day is sunny. The cabbage has large green leaves on the exterior and lighter green to yellow leaves forming a ball on the interior.
The head of a cabbage plant can split due to too much water, which isn’t very aesthetically pleasing but still edible.

Proper watering will seem like a balancing act until you get the hang of it. If you have tough leaves, your plant likely needs more water. The soil should stay consistently moist and not be allowed to dry out. Provide about an inch of water each week if you don’t get any rain.

Too much water will cause the cabbage heads to split due to too much water pressure in the plant. Split cabbage isn’t a bad thing; it’s still perfectly edible, but it admittedly kills the vibe for your photo shoot, and you’ll probably want a picture if it’s your first successful cabbage!

Water your cabbages with a soaker hose at the base of the plants to prevent water from splashing onto the leaves. Wet leaves are often the culprit of pests and diseases.

If you have to water overhead, do so in the early morning so you can give the plant plenty of time to dry out before the sun becomes too hot or nighttime arrives. Wet leaves in the heat can cause damage, and wet leaves at night can cause diseases.

Final Thoughts

Fixing common cabbage mistakes is easy; it’s just a matter of learning how to care for them properly. Learn to identify what’s going wrong so you can correct the problem and change things next time. Once you get the timing right and its nutrition needs met, you’ll have large homegrown cabbages in no time.

cabbage worms

Garden Pests

How to Stop Cabbage Worms From Making Holes in Your Greens

Struggling with cabbage worms making holes in your garden greens? Cabbage worms can be one of the top destroyers of leafy greens in the vegetable garden. In this article, gardening expert Merideth Corhs walks through her favorite methods for keeping these pests away from your garden greens this season.


21 Fast Growing Vegetables For Impatient Gardeners

Gardening expert Sarah Hyde will walk you through factors to consider with days to maturity, what to look for when buying transplants to save time, and share 21 quick crops to try if you are an impatient gardener! All of the crops listed here should mature in less than 60 days under optimal growing conditions.

Vegetable Seedlings growing indoors that are labeled in their growing trays


How and When to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors

Are you starting vegetables from seed this season? Starting them indoors will help get them ready for spring planting and give your plants a head start. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey walks through exactly how and when start veggies from seed indoors this season!

A small garden that has many different plants in the space. You can see two to three different plants in small containers in a small gardening space.

Gardening Tips

15 Tips For Vegetable Gardening in Small Spaces

Do you have a small garden space that you aren't quite sure how to fully utilize for your garden grown vegetables? There are many different ways to make use of smaller growing spaces. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks through her top tips for maximizing space in smaller garden areas.