Ornamental cabbage: planting and caring for

Ornamental cabbage: planting and caring for

Origin and Distribution

Ornamental cabbage (bot. Brassica oleracea) is a popular cabbage plant from the cruciferous family (bot. Brassicaceae) that is closely related to the edible kale. There are numerous ornamental forms that adorn flower beds, balconies and vases mainly because of their colorful foliage. The original form of this unusual type of cabbage comes from the western European Atlantic coast, but most cultivars are now grown in Japan and other Asian countries.

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Ornamental cabbage is an unusual ornamental leaf plant in beds and pots. The rosette-like growth and the idiosyncratic coloring attract everyone's attention and can be combined particularly well with tall, slender summer and autumn flowers or shrubs - the eye-catching contrast creates a beautiful contrast. Impressive pictures are also created if you place the ornamental cabbage in groups in the flowerbed - for example as a foreground or frame planting. In a bowl or vase, the plant is characterized by a particularly long shelf life, provided the water is changed daily. Since the colors of the plant only develop at autumn temperatures of less than ten degrees Celsius, the cabbage plant has mainly established itself as an autumn decoration.

Appearance and stature

Most types of ornamental cabbage form a basal rosette of leaves that can be up to 50 centimeters high and just as wide. However, some varieties also develop a stem. The color and shape of the leaves vary depending on the cultivar.


Ornamental cabbage is cultivated because of the strikingly colored rosette of leaves inside, the color of which ranges from creamy white to yellow tones to pink, red or even purple. In contrast, the outer leaves are usually dark to blue-green. The strong colors only appear with the falling temperatures in late autumn or winter, which is why you can only cut the ornamental cabbage as a decorative element for the apartment or for the vase at this time. Depending on the variety, the leaf margins are either slit or entire, the leaves smooth or curled.

Flowers, flowering time and fruits

If you leave the ornamental cabbage in the bed even after winter, the biennial species will develop yellow flowers between May and June, which end up on long stems above the leaves. Then the pods characteristic of cruciferous vegetables develop from it. However, due to the lack of winter hardiness, the ornamental cabbage is usually only cultivated as an annual.


In contrast to other ornamental vegetables (such as ornamental squash), ornamental cabbage is not poisonous, but basically even edible. However, the different varieties are selected based on their appearance and not their taste, which is why consumption is not recommended. The aroma of the ornamental cabbage is quite unpleasantly bitter, and the beautiful leaf colors are lost during heating and take on an unsightly gray color.

Which location is suitable?

In order for the beautiful leaf colors to develop, the ornamental cabbage needs a location that is as sunny and sheltered as possible.

Soil / substrate

Like vegetable cabbage, ornamental cabbage thrives best in nutrient-rich, humus-rich and calcareous soil, which at best contains some clay. A neutral pH value is ideal, but the plants also tolerate weakly acidic or slightly alkaline substrates. Furthermore, the soil should be well permeable so that waterlogging does not arise in the first place - which is why good drainage is essential for plants grown in pots.

Plant ornamental cabbage properly

If you want to plant ornamental cabbage in the garden, you can either buy the young plants you need in stores or grow them yourself from seeds. Plant them out as soon as they have developed at least five to seven leaves, but no earlier than August. The late planting out is important because the temperatures during the growth phase should be below 20 degrees Celsius for the development of the leaf colors. Ornamental cabbage is not suitable for indoor cultivation, as it is simply too warm for him in the apartment. When planting in the bed, keep a planting distance of approx. 20 to 25 centimeters.

Like other cabbage plants, ornamental cabbage also has a high nutritional requirement, which is why you should improve the excavation of the planting hole with manure or ripe compost. If the pH value of the soil is too acidic, you can increase it with appropriate liming. Also, pay attention to the crop rotation, because where cabbage or other cruciferous vegetables have stood before, no such crop may be planted for at least three years - this of course also applies to ornamental cabbage. You should therefore change your location every year.

Good Neighbors / Bad Neighbors

Here, too, you can use the recommendations for vegetable cabbage as a guide and cultivate the ornamental cabbage together with endive, beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, celery, spinach or dill if possible. A direct neighborhood to strawberries and various types of Allium (such as onions and garlic, but also ornamental garlic!) Is not recommended.

Pour ornamental cabbage

Ornamental cabbage not only needs a lot of nutrients, it also needs a lot of water and should therefore be watered regularly for healthy growth. Always allow the soil to dry out a little between the individual waterings, but never dry out completely: In this case, so-called fleas settle in, which practically eat the ornamental cabbage.

Fertilize ornamental cabbage properly

As a heavy consumer, ornamental cabbage should be fertilized regularly with a low-dose liquid fertilizer during the growing season, which you apply every four weeks until the end of August. From this point on, reduce the amount of fertilizer and, above all, make sure to use a potassium-based fertilizer: nitrogen-based fertilization, on the other hand, has a negative influence on the later leaf color.

What to do if the leaves turn yellow

Leaves that turn yellow and then fall off are common - but not always! - a sign of insufficient fertilization. Until around the end of August, fertilization should be more nitrogen-focused, then low-nitrogen with an emphasis on potassium - and also slowly tapered off.

Propagate ornamental cabbage

Ornamental cabbage can be grown quite easily by sowing it yourself, although collecting your own seeds is rarely possible - in many cases the plants do not survive a Central European winter or do not develop flowers in the following spring. You should therefore purchase the seeds from specialist retailers and train them to become small plants as follows:

  • Date for sowing: not before the end of May
  • Sowing possible until mid-July
  • Spread seeds in a seed bed, greenhouse or sowing pot
  • cover lightly with soil
  • Always keep the soil moist
  • At temperatures between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius, seeds germinate within one to three weeks
  • Isolation of the seedlings as soon as they have formed one or two leaves
  • Now plant them in separate pots in a loose, humus-rich substrate
  • Do not plant out in the garden bed until there are at least five leaves


As a rule, ornamental cabbage is not overwintered, but only cultivated as an annual. Although the bright colors of the plant appear all the more splendid the cooler it is, the plant only tolerates temperatures of around minus eight degrees Celsius. If the thermometer falls well below that, the plants will inevitably perish - even if you protect them with a cover. In spring, simply pull the dead cabbages out of the ground and dispose of them on the compost. If you want to make the ornamental cabbage bloom, you should overwinter it frost-free and light. In this way, with a little luck, you can win your own seeds.

Diseases and pests

Typical cabbage pests such as fleas, cabbage flies (a variant of the whitefly) or the cabbage white butterfly unfortunately do not stop at ornamental cabbage either.

  • Cabbage fly: numerous white flies on cabbage, leaf damage, countermeasures: remove diseased leaves, spray with tansy broth, establish natural enemies (hover flies, lacewing larvae)
  • Ground fleas: show through sieve-like perforated leaves, pollinate infested plants with rock flour (€ 14.95 at Amazon *)
  • Aphids: sprinkle infested plants with nettle or tobacco stock, establish natural enemies (lacewings and hoverflies, parasitic wasps, ladybirds (€ 14.59 at Amazon *))
  • Cabbage white butterfly: attacks ornamental cabbage that is planted several times in a row at the same location, change location in the garden annually for prevention or cultivate ornamental cabbage in pots


High-stemmed ornamental cabbage varieties can also be used very well for extravagant bouquets.

Species and varieties

There are numerous different varieties of ornamental cabbage on the market, which impress with their wide variety. Many of them come from Japan, of which variety names such as 'Tokyo' (red center, smooth leaf edges), 'Nagoya' (white and red center, strongly wavy and / or curled leaves), 'Osaka' (white, pink and red center , slightly curled / wavy leaves) or 'Hatsuyume' (very long-stemmed, white coloring with a pale pink center).

In addition to the popular and proven Japanese varieties, there are a number of newer F1 hybrid breeds that stand out due to their optical characteristics:

  • 'Attraction': white inner leaves, smooth leaf edge
  • 'Coral Prince': white center and heavily slit leaves
  • 'Coral Queen': red colored center and heavily slit leaves
  • 'King Red': red-purple inner leaves, smooth leaf margins
  • 'Peacock': wine-red and white center and long, serrated and slit leaves
  • 'Redbor': purple-red center, curled leaves
  • 'Rose Bouquet': bright red center and smooth leaf edges
  • 'Sunrise': well suited for the vase, as it has long-stemmed, creamy white inner leaves
  • 'Sunset': pink-purple inner leaves, long stem
  • 'White Crane': long-stemmed variety, white basic color with pale pink inner leaves
  • 'White Lady': distinctive white center and curled leaves

Furthermore, the two subspecies Brassica oleracea var. Sabelllica (high or curled ornamental cabbage) and Brassica oleracea var. Acephala (colored ornamental cabbage) can be planted very well in flower borders.