Growing, Cultivating and Propagating Ornamental Kale

Growing, Cultivating and Propagating Ornamental Kale

Grow these “vegetables” for fall color

Head Cabbage is one of the most widely grown of the leafy vegetables. Along with its close relative, Kale, Cabbage is a cool-season crop, sown in spring for fall and winter harvest. It is a important food in many European countries, and the principal ingredient of two well-known foods, cole slaw and sauerkraut.

The plants described and pictured here are close relatives of Head Cabbage, but are grown only for decoration and not for eating. They are edible, however, but have a rather bitter flavor. already so, they can be used as a colorful garnish for salads, appetizer trays, or other dishes.

Horticultural origin

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale belong to the Acephala group of the species Brassica oleracea, a member of the Mustard family originally native to Southern and Western Europe. Head Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are also members of this species, but are in different groups. These are all grown plants with horticultural origins and are not found in the wild. The Ornamental Cabbages and Kales have been hybridized for their colors and leaf shapes at the expense of flavor.

Several Varieties

There are a number of varieties of Ornamental Cabbage and Kale, which can be approximately divided into two groups: those having smaller leaves with smooth wavy edges, and those having larger leaves with heavily fringed, lacy edges. In both types, the outer leaves are always green or bluish-green. The central rosette is either white or cream, or shades of violet-pink or reddish-purple. There is a newer F1 hybrid called ‘Peacock’, with long, thin, deeply cut leaves which give the plant a snowflake-like turn up.

How to grow Ornamental Cabbage and Kale

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale are annual plants grown from seed sown in late spring. They are noticeable for fall and winter color and can be used in many ways. When used as bedding plants, the leaf shapes and color combinations provide an interesting palette for uncommon designs. They are ideal for pots, tubs, and window boxes, either by themselves in a combination of the varieties, or planted together with fall-blooming plants such as Chrysanthemums. One effective method is to plant the different colors and varieties tight together in concentric circles, or other geometric patterns, in a large shallow bowl or tub.

Easy to grow from seed

Sow seed outdoors in late spring/early summer in trays, seed-beds, or uncovered frames. Cover the seeds lightly. They’ll germinate in 2-3 weeks at a temperature of 60°-65°F. Prick out the seedlings to individual pots as soon as they are large enough to manager. Plant them so that the cotyledons (seed leaves) are at soil level. Keep them in a sunny but cool location. The soil should be high and well-drained; add some additional organic matter such as compost or leaf mold to regular potting soil.

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale need plenty of water and weekly feeding with dilute liquid fertilizer. They will grow rapidly and should be potted into larger pots (or their final location, if desired) as necessary. They can then be planted into the garden or tubs anytime during the growing season.

As the temperatures start to drop in late summer/early fall, stop fertilizing. The leaves will then begin to color up when the right temperatures drop to 50°F or below. The milder the climate, the longer they’ll continue to provide color.

Discard the plants when they begin to “bolt” (flower) later in winter or spring. You can let them flower and collect seed, it you wish, but it’s better to buy fresh seed each year.

Plant Doctor

Cabbage and Kale are unprotected to numerous problems from insects and diseases.

Keep an eye out for “chewers,” particularly Cabbage loopers and Cabbage worms. These will leave unsightly holes in the leaves (or no leaves, if the infestation is bad) which will spoil the plant’s turn up. Pick them off by hand and use an insecticide.

–Root maggots may infect seed beds; they are less of a problem on plants in pots later on. Plants will look wilted and begin to decline. Water with an insecticide.

–The club-root fungus can be a serious problem in garden beds, chiefly where other cruciferous plants have been grown. As with root maggots, the roots are attacked and the plant will look wilted and may already die. Your nurseryman can also recommend a special fungicide to water in, but this may not help in progressive situations. Destroy the plants and remove the infected soil, and wait several years before planting Cabbages or their relatives in that identify again. Reducing the acidity of the soil by liming also helps.

observe: Pesticides not used according to label directions can be unhealthy to man, animals and plants. Use only pesticides that have labels with directions for home and garden use. Always read and follow label directions.

Buying Tips

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale seed is obtainable from mail-order seed catalogs and sometimes nurseries. Potted Plants are also often obtainable from nurseries in fall.

Lifespan: An annual.

Season: Fall and winter.

Difficulty quotient: Easy, but pests and diseases can be a problem.

In fleeting

Size and growth rate
Fast-growing annuals with colorful leaves, which can be heavily fringed along the edges. Can grow to 12 inches or more across and about 12-15 inches high.

Flowering and fragrance
White or creamy yellow scentless flowers in a spike which “bolts” up from the center.

Light and temperature
Plants need complete sun to keep their compact shape. The temperatures should be on the cool side though–in hot-summer areas a southern exposure is too hot. The leaves begin to color up in fall as the nighttime temperature drops below 50°F.

Watering and feeding
abundant water should be provided–never let plants dry out. satisfy weekly with dilute liquid fertilizer during summer, but stop feeding towards fall.

Soil and transplanting
Use high, well-drained soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.


By seed.

Use as bedding plants, or in large tubs, containers, or window boxes.

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