Cabbage Growth Stages: How Fast Does Cabbage Grow?

Not sure how fast your cabbage should grow? Cabbage has several different growth stages, and different varieties can grow at different rates. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines how quickly cabbage grows, and each growth stage your cabbage will likely move through.

cabbage growth stages


You want to grow cabbage, but you’re worried about how long it will take. Cabbage may be a challenging crop to grow in the home garden, but if you enjoy this cool-weather crop’s unique colors and flavors, it’s worth the effort to grow your own.

The Lowdown on Cabbage

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a group of leafy vegetables in the mustard family. You may know the round green and purplish-red cabbage heads frequently sold at grocery stores. But cabbage family plants also include the following:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Napa cabbage
  • Bok choi
  • Hundreds of other varieties

All varieties are cool-season crops. They do not like the hottest summer months and grow best in cooler weather of spring and fall. In addition to cool temperatures, these plants need full sun, moist soil, and plenty of nutrients to keep them going. You can start cabbages from seed or buy young plants to transplant into your garden.

Cabbage is a biennial plant that needs two years to complete its life cycle:

  • In the first year, the plant devotes its energy to growing a big leafy head.
  • If the head isn’t harvested, it will overwinter and grow a flower stalk in the second year.
  • After flowering, the plant will set seeds and then die.

However, we typically grow garden brassicas as cool-season annuals. Cabbage heads are harvested before the plant fully matures and reaches the flowering stage.

YouTube video

8 Growth Stages of Cabbage Plants

StageKey Notes
Selecting Seeds– For summer harvest, sow seeds 8 weeks before the last frost
– For fall harvest, sow seeds in mid to late summer
– Sow in rich, moist, well-drained soil
– Cover with ¼  inch of fresh soil
– Keep seeds moist and somewhat warm
Sowing Seeds– For a summer harvest, sow seeds 8 weeks before the last frost
– For fall harvest, sow seeds in mid to late summer
– Sow in rich, moist, well-drained soil
– Cover with ¼  inch of fresh soil
– Keep seeds moist and somewhat warm
Germination– Roots sprout
– Keep moist
– Seeds take 4-6 days to germinate
Cotyledons– The plant focuses energy on growing larger
– Requires bright sunlight and consistent soil moisture
– Watch for pests and diseases
– Rapid vegetative growth from first true leaves until harvest
True Leaves– First true leaves emerge 10-14 days after cotyledons
– Cotyledons turn yellow and drop off
– Plant starts growing rapidly
– Thin outdoor seedlings to 12-24 inches apart
– Transplant indoor seedlings 12-24 inches apart
Vegetative growth– Plant focuses energy on growing larger
– Requires bright sunlight and consistent soil moisture
– Watch for pests and diseases
– Rapid vegetative growth from first true leaves until harvest
Harvest– Mature heads are large, dense, and rounded
– Harvest dense, well-formed heads
– Begin harvesting 60 to 100 days after planting
– Use a sharp knife or pruners to remove the head at the base
– Store cabbage in refrigerator for 2 weeks
– Eat it raw, cooked, or fermented
Flowering– Most gardeners don’t see this stage as we harvest before that!
– Flowers appear in year 2
– Plants die after flowering

What does a cabbage plant need to thrive? If you are ready to grow cabbage in your garden, create its ideal growing conditions first. It takes 60 to 100 days to grow this crop from seed. Buying young plants from a garden center can speed up the process.  

Cabbage Growing Basics

Close-up of growing cabbage plants in a sunny garden. The plant forms beautiful rosettes of large, wide, oval green leaves with wavy edges. The soil is loose and brown.
Cabbage requires adequate sunlight and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil.
LightFull sun, at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun each day
TemperatureIdeal temperature for seed germination is around 75°F and then anywhere between 40°F and 75°F for plant growth
Soil typeRich and well-drained, high in nutritious organic matter
Soil moistureConsistently moist; cabbages don’t do well with drought or extremely dry conditions
Soil pH6.0 to 7.0
FertilizerCabbages are heavy feeders. Plant your cabbages in rich high-quality soil with plenty of organic compost. In mid-season, add another application of organic compost or apply vegetable fertilizer.
Weed controlKeep weeds away. Cabbages will not want to compete with weeds for moisture, light, or nutrients.

Selecting Seeds

Close-up of a woman's hands pouring cabbage seeds from a package into her palm, against the backdrop of wet soil in a garden. Seeds are tiny, rounded, blue in color. The packaging shows a variety of cabbage.
Choose from many cabbage types, including different shapes, colors, and growth stages.

Choose your preferred variety to grow this brassica in your garden. This article will focus on cabbage plants with firm round heads, but there are many more varieties, including ornamental cabbages, Napa cabbage, and bok choi.

These all have similar growing requirements and the same progression of growth stages, but the growth stages will happen on a slightly different timeline. Bok choi, for example, matures very quickly and is ready to harvest in around 45 days.

There is quite a diversity to choose from. You can grow green or purple-colored heads. Many will have rounded shapes, but some will be pointier or more oval-shaped.

Most leaves will be smooth-edged, while others will be more textured or ruffled. And you will find early-season varieties, late-season varieties, and disease-resistant varieties.

Botanical Interests offers a lovely collection of unique and heirloom cabbage seeds.

Cabbage seeds are small, round, and hard. They are reddish brown to dark brown, and the color will likely vary within a single seed pack. This color variation is perfectly normal.

Seeds are viable for up to 4 years if stored in a cool, dry place. If you have seed packs older than 4 years or notice that any seeds are soft and moldy, it’s time to invest in a fresh seed packet.

Sowing Seeds

Close-up of a woman's hand holding a handful of cabbage seeds over a tray of soil mix for sowing seeds. The seeds are tiny, rounded, dark orange and brown in color.
Starting seeds indoors offers better control over the growing environment, while outdoor seeding requires extra care.

Cabbage seeds are easiest to start indoors, where you have more control over their growing environment. It is possible to start seeds outdoors, but you must be extra careful to keep them both warm and moist to maximize germination rates.

  • Start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost for spring planting with a summer harvest.
  • For summer planting with a fall harvest, start seeds in mid-summer.

While it is possible to start cabbage seeds outdoors, it can be challenging. The seeds are small and must remain moist to germinate. It may not be possible to start the seeds outside in early spring because of the risk of frost.

The sprouting seeds are vulnerable to frost, but more mature plants are frost-tolerant. Trying to germinate seeds outdoors during the hottest summer months is also a challenge, but possible if you have a protected, shady site that you can keep cool and moist.

The optimum temperature for cabbage seed germination is around 75 degrees, regardless of where you start your seeds. Sow the seeds in rich, moist, well-drained soil. Sow them ¼ inch deep or lay them on the surface and cover them with ¼ inch of fresh soil.

There are two main options for seeding:

  1. Place 2 or 3 seeds in a small individual pot and thin them after they sprout to 1 plant per pot
  2. Start several seeds together in a tray.

If using the tray method, fill a shallow tray with high-quality seed-starting soil. Place approximately 1 seed every 2 or 3 inches and cover them with ¼ inch of fresh soil. After the seeds sprout and develop true leaves, you can transplant the healthiest seedlings to individual pots to continue their growth.


Close-up of young cabbage sprouts germinating in potting mix. The sprouts are small, have thin white stems and slightly formed green shoots - cotyledons. The soil is black and wet.
Maintain warmth and moisture for germinating cabbage seeds, as they are sensitive to cold and drying out.

Germination occurs when the hard outer layer of the seed cracks open, and the first tender roots push through into the soil. Keep the soil warm and moist during this time because these tender sprouts are very sensitive to cold and to drying out.

You won’t typically see this stage because the seeds will be under the soil surface. The first stage you will see by casual observation is the next stage, cotyledons.

Viable cabbage seeds typically have a very high germination rate, so most of the seeds you sow may germinate. Depending on the variety and growing conditions, it can take a seed anywhere from 4-6 days to germinate.


Close-up of young cabbage sprouts in the starter tray. The tray has deep cells filled with soil mixture. Cabbage sprouts have vertical thin stems and a couple of cotyledons. The cotyledons are small, smooth, heart-shaped, pale green in color.
Cabbage seedlings show cotyledons within 6-10 days.

The cotyledon stage is exciting because this is the first time you will see your new plant. Shortly after germination, approximately 6-10 days after you planted the seed, you will see the first tiny leaves appear. As these first leaves, called cotyledons, emerge from the soil, they will be very small and delicate.

They unfurl into a pair of opposite double-lobed leaves. You may wonder, “Is this really cabbage?” They don’t look like mature cabbage plants yet; that will take longer!

During the cotyledon stage, keep the soil moist and ensure your seedlings have plenty of bright light, which will help them stay healthy and compact.

Seedlings grown with insufficient light will have long stems and grow weak and leggy. You can expect to see the cotyledons for about 14 days, but sometimes the first true leaves will emerge before the cotyledons fall.

True Leaves

Close-up of young cabbage seedlings in plastic starter trays with potting mix. The seedlings have a pair of heart-shaped, pale green cotyledons and a pair of true leaves. The leaves are small, rounded, with wavy edges.
After the cotyledons, the first true leaf will appear, larger and oval-shaped with slightly wavy edges.

The cotyledons will hang around for a while, and then you will notice the first true leaf. It will be a bit larger than the cotyledons and will be oval-shaped with slightly wavy edges. Once you start seeing true leaves, the plants will grow more quickly.

True leaves develop 10 to 14 days after the cotyledons and will last for the rest of the plant’s life. The cotyledons will soon turn yellow and drop off.

Thinning Seedlings 

Close-up of a woman's hands planting a young cabbage seedling into the soil in a garden. The seedling has upright pale green stems with oval green leaves with wavy edges. Many seedlings lie on the soil on a blurred background.
Transplant young plants, spacing them 12 to 24 inches apart in rows at least 3 feet apart.

Once your plants have developed 3 or 4 true leaves, it is time to thin your seedlings. They will need plenty of space to grow where they won’t be in direct competition with any close neighbors.

If you started seeds inside – For clusters of seeds in individual pots, thin the seedlings to one plant per pot. For seeds planted in a tray, now is the time to transplant the healthiest seedlings to individual pots.

If you started seeds outside – Thin seedlings to one plant per 12 to 24 inches along each row. If you use an intensive gardening method, like square-foot gardening or growing a dense planting in a container, thin the seedlings to one plant per square foot.  

Transplanting young plants – If you started seedlings inside or purchased young plant starts, you must transplant the young plants into the garden. Plants should have several true leaves and be between 3 to 6 inches tall. Space transplants 12 to 24 inches apart. Rows should be at least 3 feet apart. For a summer harvest, transplant outside in early to mid-spring. For fall harvest, transplant outside in mid to late summer.

Vegetative Growth

Close-up of watering a cabbage plant from a green watering can in the garden. The plant forms a beautiful large rosette of large wide blue-green leaves with wavy edges. The leaves have distinct white veins.
Ensure ample sunlight and water regularly to prevent drying out and splitting.

During this phase, the plant focuses its energy on growing larger. While the first several leaves were small and loosely arranged, your plant will soon grow larger leaves that will form a nice basal rosette.

When you have a substantial cluster of large leaves in a rosette, you will notice the beginning of a head forming in the middle. At first, the head will be fairly small but distinctly different from the outer leaves, like a tennis ball surrounded by larger leaves.

This is an excellent time to add some fertilizer around your plants. Espoma Garden-tone is a great organic option. Cabbages are heavy feeders and will benefit from the extra nutrients. You can also work in rich organic compost or well-aged manure around the plants.

During this stage of growth, the plant needs plenty of bright sunlight. Keep the soil moist and irrigate your plants manually if they don’t receive at least 1 to 2 inches of weekly rainfall. Try to keep the watering regular.

A plant that has been allowed to dry out and then receives a big drink is at risk of splitting open. This ruins the look of the cabbage and is an invitation for pests and diseases.

Keep a close eye on any problems your plant may have. Remove weeds promptly to reduce competition with fast-growing weeds. Be watchful for insect pests because plenty of bugs love to eat cabbage.

YouTube video
There are a few different problems to watch out for when growing cabbage.

Pests and Diseases

Close-up on the leaves of a cabbage plant infested with cabbage worms, in a sunny garden. Cabbage worms are small green caterpillars with a soft cylindrical body. They have distinct longitudinal stripes running along their body, in shades of green and yellow. Cabbage leaves are large, wide, blue-green in color, with white veins. The leaves have many holes due to worms.
Cabbage worms are common pests that can damage this crop.
Flea Beetles– Small black beetles
– Chew numerous holes in leaves
– These can be particularly devastating to seedlings
Cabbage Worms, Cabbage Loopers– Butterfly and moth larvae
– Caterpillars feed extensively on cabbage leaves
– Cause many holes in the plant leaves
Cabbage Maggots– White larvae of a fly
– Feed on roots
– Plants are injured and sometimes die
Thrips– Long, thin insects, only about 2 mm long
– Eat holes in leaves, both outer and inner
– In large numbers, they cause extensive damage
– Destroy (don’t compost) severely infested plants
Rot and Black Spot– Bacterial and fungal infestations
– Causes dead spots on leaves
– Can kill plants quickly
Split Heads– Caused by uneven watering
– Cabbage heads split open
– Increased risk of pests and diseases to damaged heads

Tips for a Healthy Crop

Top view of weeding a garden bed with cabbage using a hoe. The soil is loose, clean, dark brown. Cabbage is a leafy vegetable with a rosette of broad, smooth, dark green leaves with white veins. The leaves are large with wavy edges.
To keep your brassicas healthy, rotate crops annually and remove leafy debris from the garden area.
Crop rotationRotate your crops so you don’t grow cabbage-family plants in the same spot in successive years.
Soil moistureDon’t let your plant sit in saturated soil. This invites mold and rot.
Be proactiveCheck your plants regularly for pests and diseases. It is much easier to control an infestation early than wait until the plant is already badly damaged and pests are out of control.
Keep area cleanDestroy infected plants rather than compost them. Clean up leafy debris in your garden area to reduce places where pests like to hide.
InsecticidesMany cabbage pests can be controlled with insecticides, but be careful with pesticide application as they can also harm beneficial insects and pollinators.

Companion plants are another way gardeners can create healthy combinations of plants. Companion planting uses two or more plant species that, when grown nearby, benefit each other.

Companion plants can help each other by providing structural support, shade, improving soil quality, attracting pollinators, or repelling pests.

Some good companion plants for cabbages include beans, borage, chives, marigold, mint, onions, and thyme.


Close-up of a female gardener picking cabbages in a sunny garden. Several cabbage plants grow in rows in the garden. Cabbage is a leafy vegetable characterized by large, densely packed heads. The heads are rounded and consist of densely packed pale green broad leaves with a waxy texture. Cabbage leaves are broad, smooth, slightly textured, blue-green in color, with wavy edges. They grow in a rosette, forming layers around the head. A wire basket with a head of cabbage and blue secateurs stands on the soil in the garden.
Harvest mature heads, measuring 6 to 12 inches across, when they feel firm and solid.

There’s no true fruiting stage of cabbages because they don’t bear fruits. We harvest a rounded and sometimes colorful cluster of densely packed leaves. Unlike fruiting plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, that can bear many fruits throughout the growing season, one cabbage plant typically yields one cabbage head.

You’ve spent the past 2 to 3 months watching your cabbages sprout, develop leaves, and start to grow heads. You’ve watched the heads grow larger and larger. Finally, it’s time to harvest them.

A mature head, ready for harvest, will be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches across, depending on the variety. It will feel firm and solid and look… well… like a head of cabbage.  If you’ve been watching carefully, you will notice that the leaves seem to have stopped growing at this point.

You can expect to harvest your cabbage anywhere from 60 to 100 days after sowing the seeds. When ready, cut the head from the base leaves with a sharp knife. You can remove the base and roots or try your luck for a second, but smaller, harvest.

If you want to try for more cabbages, leave the base and roots in place. Sometimes they will grow a few smaller heads before the end of the season.

If the base and roots are diseased, it’s best to remove them from the garden and destroy them; don’t compost diseased plant tissues. Insect-infected bases can also be removed or treated to eliminate insect infestation.

You can wrap the freshly harvested heads in an airtight plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. You can shred it and eat it raw as a slaw or in a salad, cook it with stir-fries and soups, or ferment it to enjoy as sauerkraut or kimchi.


Close-up of flowering cabbage in the garden. Cabbage has large, densely packed blue-green leaves. The leaves are broad, oval in shape, with wavy edges and distinct pale green veins. The plant has upright stems with small yellow 4-petal flowers. Small white butterflies with black dots on their wings sit on the flowers.
Brassica crops are usually harvested before reaching the flowering stage.

Most gardeners don’t see the flowering stage of cabbage plants because we typically harvest them before they can flower. Cabbages are biennial plants. Their entire life cycle takes two years to complete. The first year is dedicated to vegetative growth, and we typically harvest cabbage heads in the first year.

If you keep your cabbage plants growing into their second year, they will typically overwinter just fine. In the second year, during the spring, when the weather starts to warm into summer, cabbage sends up a flower stalk.

The flowers are small but showy and yellow. You will often see the white or yellow cabbage butterflies flitting around. These insects are attracted to both the flowers and the plant leaves because this is their host plant, where they will lay eggs, creating the next generation of cabbage-eating caterpillars.

Final Thoughts

If you’re ready to tackle the challenges of growing this delicious cole crop, take plenty of time to prepare the ideal site. Give them abundant sunlight, moist soil, and plenty of nutrients. Keep a close watch for pests and diseases that can harm plants and severely damage production.

Rotate cabbages with other crops and try growing them with companion plants to help defend against persistent pests. Once you harvest your very own fresh and tasty homegrown cabbage, you’ll be hooked!

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