Cabbage may not be the most popular garden plant, but if you can provide the right conditions, you can enjoy your very own homegrown cabbages! These plants can be a bit finicky, requiring cool temperatures, steady moisture, and rich, fertile soil. A full-grown cabbage ready to harvest, however, is an impressive sight and well worth the effort.
Cabbage can grow quite large, with larger varieties reaching up to 24 inches (or more!) across. Smaller varieties stay more compact, closer to 12 inches across. And there are some dwarf varieties of cabbage that stay 8 to 10 inches across. You can grow any variety of cabbage in garden rows or raised beds.
So how much space does each plant require? In this article, we will look at head-cabbage plants and how far apart you can grow them. We will also discuss how, when, and where you can grow your own cabbage. Let’s dig in and learn more about the basics of growing cabbage plants.
The Quick Answer
A single cabbage plant can grow rather large and will require its own space. Cabbage are heavy feeders and don’t like competition from close neighbors. Place seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart so they each have plenty of room to grow.
Whether you start your plants from seed or begin with purchased seedlings, the ultimate spacing between plants will be the same. Each plant will require plenty of sunlight, water, and fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Site selection is very important for the success of your cabbage crop. If you choose the ideal site and prepare it in advance of planting, you can easily grow robust cabbages. If you have a poor-quality site with little or no advance preparation, your plants will suffer and struggle to produce a good crop.
Temperature – Cabbage is a cool season crop. It grows best in soil temperatures ranging from 60°F to 65°F. If the temperatures are too warm (generally 80°F or above), cabbage will bolt, sending up flower stalks and developing poorly-formed heads. Temperatures that stay below 45°F for an extended period can damage leaves. Older plants are more tolerant of cold than younger plants.
Sun – Cabbage grows best in full sun, with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. A bit of afternoon shade can be appreciated in warmer climates.
Soil – Cabbage needs well-drained, fertile soil with plenty of nutrients. Add some organic compost to the soil before planting to improve soil quality. The ideal soil pH is slightly acidic, ranging from 6.5 to 6.8.
Moisture – Water your cabbage plants regularly. They should receive 1 to 2 inches of water each week. If you don’t get that much rainfall, you must irrigate your plants to maintain uniform soil moisture. Irregular watering and cycles of extreme dryness and extreme moisture can cause problems like split heads.
Mulch – Cabbage plants will benefit from a layer of mulch. This will help retain soil moisture and also help prevent weeds. Use organic mulch, such as clean wheat straw, composted leaves, or even grass clippings.
Fertilizer – Cabbage plants crave nutrition, so give your cabbage some fertilizer. Boost it by planting it in rich soil with added compost. Then while growing, incorporate a slow-release plant food for vegetable gardening. Follow the directions on the product you buy. Cabbage will benefit from a steady supply of nutrients throughout its growth cycle.
Crop Rotation – Do not plant cabbage in the same place two years in a row. Allow 3 to 4 years between plantings of any cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and rutabaga. This will help prevent recurrences of pests and fungal diseases that affect this family of plants.
Spacing When Transplanting Starts
Many gardeners opt to purchase young plants from garden centers. This includes cabbage. When young plants are purchased to transplant into your garden, those plants will need plenty of space to grow and reach their full potential.
When planting cabbage that has been purchased from a garden center to transplant into your garden, plan for at least 24 inches or 2 feet in between plants. Aim for at least 36 inches, or 3 feet in between plant rows if growing in a row setting.
This will allow your cabbage to have enough room to grow to its full potential without crowding them, which can add to disease pressure and other problems.
Seed Spacing When Sowing Seeds Indoors
If you start your seeds indoors, sow them 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Place 2 to 3 seeds per pot. Plant them ¼ to ½ inch deep and cover them lightly with fresh soil. Keep the seeds moist until they sprout. After sprouting, when seedlings are several inches tall, thin them to just one plant per pot.
Plan to transplant the seedlings 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. A few days before transplanting, bring them outside for a few hours daily to harden them off and get them acclimated to the harsher sunlight outdoors.
If temperatures drop below freezing after you transplant them outside, just cover the tender young plants with a light sheet, row cover, or overturned pot to help protect them from an overnight frost. Remove the covering the following day so your plants can enjoy the sunlight.
When ready to transplant the seedlings outdoors, space your young plants 1 to 2 feet apart. You can grow them in rows or grids.
Just be sure you have access to your plants. Plants grown closer together may be smaller than those grown farther apart. Cabbage are heavy feeders and don’t like competing for soil nutrients with close neighbors.
Seed Spacing When Direct Sowing Outdoors
Starting cabbage outdoors is best done before a fall harvest. In mid to late summer, sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep. Keep the seeds moist until they sprout, and then keep the soil moist so the seedlings don’t dry out, especially if it’s still hot outside!
This will require daily attention in warmer climates. You will need to get the seeds started while the temperature is still warm, allowing enough time in the cooler season for plants to reach maturity.
If you want to plant cabbage in rows, sow a cluster of 2 or 3 seeds every 12 to 24 inches. After the seeds sprout, when seedlings are about 4 to 5 inches tall, thin the seedlings to just one plant every 1 to 2 feet. If using a raised bed or square-foot garden, again sow a cluster of 2 or 3 seeds every 12 inches. Then after thinning, you will have one plant growing in each square foot of space.
You can also readily find young cabbage starts at nurseries and garden centers each spring and fall. This is an excellent option if you don’t have the space of proper indoor conditions to start plants from seed. These young plants can be planted directly into your garden plot. Space them 12 to 24 inches apart so they have plenty of room to grow.
Whether you grow your cabbages from seed or buy young plants, the ultimate spacing between plants should be 1 to 2 feet. After transplanting young plants into your garden, mulch around them to help retain soil moisture.
Additional Tips For Success
- Fertilize regularly with a balanced vegetable-friendly fertilizer.
- Keep cabbage plants watered with approximately 1 to 2 inches of water weekly.
- Mulch around your plants to help keep the soil moist.
- The ideal growing temperature is 60°F to 65°F.
- Destroy (don’t compost) any diseased plants.
- Rotate crops so you don’t grow cabbage in the same spot in successive years.
- Ideally, allow at least 3 to 4 years between plantings.
- Good cabbage companion plants include beans, scallions, onions, celery, and aromatic herbs.
- Keep your cabbage patch weeded.
If you’re ready to give cabbage a try, plan ahead so you can grow it during the spring or fall. You can start plants from seed or get a head start by purchasing young plants from a garden center. Keep a close watch on pets and diseases, especially leaf-eating caterpillars, and treat any issues promptly so they don’t destroy your crop.
And be sure to keep your plants fertilized and offer them plenty of water throughout the growing season. If you can provide good growing conditions, you will be well-rewarded with tasty, jumbo-sized heads of crunchy, leafy, nutrition-packed cabbage!