Growing Bok Choy: A Stir Fry Champion

With summer fading from memory and fall well under way, many gardeners find part of their garden now vacant. Growing bok choy in all of its wonderful varieties and hardiness in cold weather is a great choice for the season! It’s crunchy texture and beautiful shape make it a must have. And it’s even easy to grow!

Producing in just a matter of weeks, some rare varieties include ‘Purple Lady’ bok choi and the itty bitty ‘Hedou Tiny’ bok choi. These Asian vegetables are packed full of nutrition and have even been named as one of the healthiest foods to add to your diet. It can be eaten raw or cooked, sauteed, or blanched. Just add some sesame oil and you have an incredibly tasty dish.

While lots of varieties of choi have been in cultivation for over 5,000 years in China, you don’t need to be a seasoned gardener to try it. This is a great starter plant for children as it grows in just a manner of weeks! 

Good Products For Growing Bok Choy:

Quick Care Guide

Growing Bok Choy
Growing bok choy in the home garden is relatively simple. Source: smajee
Common Name(s)Bok choy, pak choi, Chinese cabbage, bok choi
Scientific NameBrassica rapa var. chinensis
Days to Harvest30-60 depending on the variety
Light4 hours minimum; full sun during fall, partial sun during spring
Water:1 in. per week
SoilRich well-drained soil
FertilizerNPK fertilizer or slightly higher in nitrogen
PestsSlugs, aphids, vegetable weevils, flea beetles, cabbage loopers
DiseasesDowny mildew, Alternaria leaf spot

All About Bok Choy

An absolutely delicious vegetable, bok choy is a great addition to the garden from fall through spring. It does well when grown from seed or transplanted out making it flexible for your growing zone. 

A biennial which can produce in just 6-8 weeks, the wonderful Brassica rapa subsp. Chinensis is also called pak choi or chinese cabbage, and is much loved for its green and white crunchy leaves. 

A short grower, about 12-14 inches tall, this vegetable comes in several different varieties. Some of the most popular are baby bok choi, Joi choi (which does not bolt as quickly), Mei Qing Choi (a dwarf variety) and Win-Win (another variety which is slow to bolt). 

With dark green leaves on stout white stems, this chinese cabbage sometimes is described as having a spoon like curved stem. It grows much like lettuce or other brassica crops with leaves extending from a central stem in a circular and upward manner. 

Planting

Bok choy sprout
Tiny bok choy sprout. Source: Shenghung Lin

Any forecast that has 8 weeks of cool temperatures is a great time to plant bok choy. It’s possible to start them as seeds indoors and transplant out in late summer for a fall harvest, or in late spring after the last frost date. 

Start seeds at about a 1/4 inch deep either in pots or in the ground keeping it well watered. If transplanting, wait until the seedlings are about two inches tall and hardened off before doing so. 

Follow the care guide below to understand light requirements at different times of years when choosing a spot in the garden. 

Care

Bok choy, also known as chinese cabbage, is an easy to grow addition to the late summer, spring or cool season garden. As long as you follow a few basic rules, you can expect your seeds to grow into healthy bok choy plants. 

Sun and Temperature

Bok choy seedling
A young bok choy seedling. Source: essgee51

Bok choy can be grown in zones 2-11, but have some specific growing requirements as they prefer cooler temperatures. Mild weather with temperatures between 55-70 degrees fahrenheit are ideal, otherwise it can bolt. Above 70 and it can begin to bolt, a process where it produces flowers and then seed. 

Bok choy has different growing requirements based on the time of year you’re planning to grow them. Should you add them to your garden in the early fall, these plants do well in full sun and will tolerate a light frost. As these plants are more cold hardy than many other vegetable varieties, you don’t need to be so careful about harvest date before the first frost. 

If starting in the spring, these Chinese cabbages prefer partial shade. While bok choy tolerates frost, if the temperatures vacillate too much between frost and warm weather, this may cause it to bolt. In order to avoid this, try to keep transplants indoors until the last frost has passed and then plant out. 

Do not add this plant to your garden in the summer as a month full of days with 16 hours of sunlight will cause it to bolt. 

Water and Humidity

A fast grower, bok choy needs a good amount of water to stay healthy. Try giving it at least one inch of water per week, making sure that the soil never really dries out as it has shallow roots. Water in the morning so that any moisture that gets on the leaves has a chance of evaporating before encouraging disease growth. 

If possible, try to water your Chinese cabbage at the base of the plant, preferably on a drip line. During the cool season, you may need to water less. Monitor the moisture level of the soil to determine if it’s moist enough to skip a watering. 

Soil

Before starting your bok choy plants, assess the type of soil available in your garden. 

Bok choy prefers well-drained moist soil in order to grow healthy and full-sized plants. If necessary, work some perlite into the soil to provide extra drainage. Worm castings can add more moisture retention if it’s needed.

While the plant can tolerate some poor soils, it performs best in soil with a pH between 6.5-7.0. Make sure that any new soil additions have been well worked into the soil. This Chinese cabbage needs evenly moist soil, so amend your soil accordingly.

Fertilizing

Bok choy and spinach beds
Bok choy and spinach in raised beds. Source: afagen

Bok choy prefers being planted in soil that’s recently been fertilized. A heavy feeder, it needs nitrogen for leaf growth and phosphorus and potassium. It’s best to add fertilizers in the form of compost or a composted chicken manure at the time of planting instead of throughout its growth. 

Pruning

Bok choy does not generally need to be pruned. However, the leaves of this tasty plant can be eaten before the entire plant matures. Simply snip off outer leaves with a knife or pruning snips, leaving the main stem intact. 

During warmer periods, cut back any stems that appear to be growing flowers, unless you are trying to save the seed. The presence of flowers means that the leaves will become more bitter in flavor. 

Propagation

A quick growing crop, this plant is best grown from seed or transplants. If starting from seed, directly sow it 1/4-1/2 of an inch deep in a fertile soil with good drainage and keep it evenly moist. If growing in rows, keep the rows 2 feet apart, with a cabbage every 4-5 inches. 

Much like with celery, bok choy can be regrown from the cut off root end. Simply soak in warm water on the window sill and transplant out after a week. 

Harvesting and Storing

Harvested bok choy
Harvest bok choy and use it when fresh for the best leaf flavor. Source: stu_spivack

A quick grower, bok choy is best for the gardener able to quickly eat or freeze their crop. This leafy green is great in stir-frys along with any other produce ready to pick that day! 

Harvesting

Bok choy can be tasty at many stages of its life. Baby seedlings can be harvested when thinning out a row and eaten. You can actually begin to harvest bok choy leaves at 21 days, but wait until it’s mature to harvest the whole head, generally at 45-60 days. Harvest with a sharp knife at the base of the plant, cutting below where the stem holds the leaves together. Be sure to separate the leaves before using as dirt and insects can live in the tightly spaced grooves of the plant. 

Storing

Bok choy, as a leafy green, does not have a long storage life. While it can be cleaned, chopped and frozen for stir-fries and the like, it will not last longer than 4-7 days in the fridge if it has been grown using organic methods. Don’t wash it until right before using it. 

Troubleshooting

Cross section of Chinese cabbage
A cross-section of bok choy. It grows from the inside out. Source: gregverdino

Bok choy has been cultivated for thousands of years! In that time, farmers have discovered a few problems, and a few solutions when it comes to tending bok choy. 

Growing Problems

Bok choy is pretty easy to grow, and even if you’re just starting out as a gardener there are only a few things to keep in mind when planting it. Make sure that you’re placing the cabbage in an area of your yard that gets enough sunlight as not enough sun can result in spindly stems.

Space your bok choy out and remember that each plant needs a good 4-5 inches of space on either side. While young, the plant can kind of tip over and may need to be held up with a stick in the soil propping them up. Bok choy have shallow roots so they’re not sturdy on a windy day. 

Pests

Like most members of the brassica family, this Chinese cabbage can be attacked by a variety of pests. One of the best ways to prevent an infestation before it starts is by planting your greens under row covers from day one. This serves as a barrier to keep pests from laying eggs and munching on your beloved veggies. 

A shiny and slippery trail across your leaves can mean that the dreaded slug is attacking your precious harvest. This pest especially loves young seedlings and can really cause a lot of heart break to gardeners who don’t catch them in time. You can pick them off when you see them, or spread an organic slug and snail bait around your plants. They thrive in high moisture areas so check behind pots, under decks and in thick vegetation to catch these naughty creatures. 

While not a threat themselves, aphids are the carriers of a wide range of viruses that can attack young leaves. To manage this pest, try adding beneficial insects to your garden like ladybugs. Alternatively, grow a trap crop like nasturtiums that attract the aphids. When you see a large infestation, pull the sacrificial plant from the garden to remove the infestation.  Neem oil is also effective.

Vegetable weevils are small black and gold bugs that attack the root of the plant. A wilted plant with damaged roots is a sure sign that these little creatures have taken up residence in your garden. Use beneficial nematodes to kill these creatures and their larvae. 

Leaves that have been visibly munched on can often be the work of cabbage loopers in their pupae (similar to a caterpillar) stage. They are small green cylindrical eating powerhouses that destroy many varieties of plants in the brassica family. You can prevent them by using row covers, or kill them by spraying bacillus thuringiensis (BT).  

Tiny yellow spots on the leaves of your cabbage can mean that flea beetles have gotten to your plants. A soil dwelling pest that looks much like a small flea, this can sometimes mean it gets trapped underneath a row cover. Try planting radish as a trap crop as they are often drawn to this plant. For a particularly bad infestation, try diatomaceous earth or pyrethrin. 

Diseases

Bok choy is fairly disease resistant. That being said, growing in a crop rotation or mulching your plants with straw goes a long way. 

Downy mildew can appear in the form of spotting, or a soft fuzzy growth on the underside of leaves. Caused by either Peronospora or Plasmopara, infected leaves should not be composted. Try to avoid getting the leaves damp to reduce the likelihood of infection. Copper-based fungicides can be used to eliminate the fungus.

Tan spots with a black center can be a sign of Alternaria leaf spot, another disease that can be difficult to treat. It’s best to prevent this disease by applying straw mulch and watering at the base of the plant. It’s possible to treat with a copper fungicide, but it may not be one hundred percent effective. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Gerard and Broadview bok choy
Two types of bok choy, Gerard and Broadview. Source: PinkMoose

Q: How long does it take to grow bok choy?

A: Depending on the variety, bok choy can grow in 30-60 days. 

Q: Can you regrow bok choy?

A: Yes! Place the cut stem in a bowl with warm water in a sunny place in your kitchen, making sure to change the water daily. After a few days you should see a few baby leaves emerge from the stem. After a week, plant in a pot with some potting soil, only keeping the leaves above soil. 

Q: What can you not plant next to bok choy?

A: Try keeping away from asparagus, corn, squash, grapes, tomatoes and peppers

Q: Is bok choy healthier than spinach?

A: Bok choy and spinach are both very healthy leafy greens. While they are both full of vitamins, they have higher amounts of different vitamins with bok choy high in vitamins A, C and folate with spinach having more vitamin K.

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