Growing Cabbage in the Home Garden

Cabbage is among the many "cole crops" grown in the home vegetable garden.  Cole crops is a general term used to describe several vegetables in the mustard family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. All cole crops are cultivated varieties of the species Brassica oleracea. Cole crops are cool-season vegetables that grow best at temperatures between 60° and 70°F  and can withstand light frosts without injury.  

Suggested Cultivars  |  Planting  |  Care  |  Potential Problems  |  Harvest & Storage  |  More Information

cabbageSuggested Cultivars for Iowa


  • Blue Vantage – mid-season; blue-green, round heads
  • Caraflex – small, teardrop-shaped heads
  • Early Thunder – early season; blue-green heads; excellent holding ability
  • Quick Start – early season; medium green heads
  • Savoy Blue – mid-season; dark blue-green, heavily savoyed heads
  • Stonehead – early season; small heads
  • Thunderhead – mid-season; dark blue-green heads


  • Red Jewel – mid-season; deep red heads
  • Ruby Perfection – late season; medium-size, reddish-purple heads


Cabbage is best started by seed indoors, and transplants are planted in the garden in early spring.  A second crop can be planted in mid-to-late summer for fall harvest.


Plant cabbage in the garden in early to mid-April in central Iowa.  (Gardeners in southern Iowa can plant about one week earlier, while those in northern counties should wait one week later.)  Sow seeds indoors 4 to 5 weeks before planting outdoors or purchase young, stocky transplants at a greenhouse or garden center.  Harden or acclimate the transplants outdoors for several days before planting.  Initially place plants in a shady, protected location and then gradually expose them to longer periods of sunlight.  Early-season cultivars mature approximately 60-65 days after planting. Late-season cultivars mature in 100+ days.  This means early cultivars can be ready for harvest as early as early July and late cultivars could be ready to harvest as late as mid to late August.

For a fall crop, plant transplants in the garden anytime between mid-June and mid-July.  Start transplants indoors 4 to 5 weeks before planting outdoors.  Harvest can be expected from mid-September to late October, depending on when transplants were planted in the garden.  Only early-season cultivars should be grown for fall harvest. 


Cole crops, like cabbage, perform best in fertile, moist, well-drained soils. An ideal soil pH is between 6 and 7. The planting site should also receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.  To avoid disease problems, rotate the placement of cole crops in the garden.  If possible, plant cole crops in a given area only once every 3 or 4 years.


When planting cole crops in the garden, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart within the row.  Rows should be approximately 24 to 30 inches apart.  

cabbages in rows photo by Cindy HaynesCare


Most cole crops, such as cabbage, have shallow root systems and require weekly irrigation if rainfall doesn’t provide one inch of water per week.  If possible use soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems to prevent wetting the foliage.  Watering only the plant's root zone can also reduce the number of weeds that may germinate.  Learn more about watering in this article: Watering Tips for the Garden, Lawn, and Landscape.


If a soil test has not been done, apply 1-2 pounds of all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, per 100 square feet, and incorporate it into the top 4-6 inches of soil before planting.  Conduct a soil test to get more precise fertilizer recommendations based on your garden's fertility. 

About 3-4 weeks after planting, broadcast a small amount of an all-purpose garden fertilizer in a band along one side of each row.

Mulching & Weeding

Control weeds to prevent competition for water, nutrients, and light. Shallow cultivation, hand pulling, and mulching are the best weed control options.
A 2-3 inch layer of mulch, such as straw, dry grass clippings, or shredded leaves, helps control weeds and conserves soil moisture. Learn more about weed control in this vegetable garden in this article: Weed Control in the Vegetable Garden.

Potential Problems

cabbageworm damage by cindy haynesCabbageworms 

Cabbageworms are greenish caterpillars that eat large, irregular holes in the foliage of most cole crops. Treat when caterpillars are first noticed with products containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). When consumed by cabbageworms, this bacterium produces toxins which destroy the insects. Synthetic and other organic pesticides also can be used.

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles eat small, round holes in the foliage, resulting in “shothole” damage.  Adults are tiny, shiny, black beetles.  They possess large hind legs that enable them to jump.   

Minor flea beetle damage will have little effect on crop yields.  If significant damage begins to appear, treat plants with an insecticide.  As always, carefully read and follow label directions when using pesticides.  

Split Head

Heavy rainfall or irrigation in the few days to weeks just before harvest can cause the head to split.  Splitting is caused by excessive water uptake; the resulting pressure splits the head. Splitting of mature heads may be prevented by pulling the plant upward and gently twisting. Some of the roots will be broken, thereby reducing water uptake.

cabbages several by Cindy HaynesHarvest & Storage

Cabbage is typically ready to harvest 60-100 days after planting transplants in the garden, depending on the cultivar.  

The cabbage harvest may begin when the heads are firm and the size of a softball. Mature cabbage should be harvested when the heads are solid and heavy. Large heads are prone to splitting if not harvested promptly.   Once the head is removed, the entire plant can be removed from the garden.  Each plant produces one head of cabbage.

Cabbage may be placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for two to four weeks. Cabbage may be stored for up to three to four months when placed in a cool (32°F), moist (95% to 100% relative humidity) location, such as a root cellar.  

With good management practices, the average yield per 10-foot row of cabbage is 5-6 heads. 

More Information

Last reviewed:
April 2024