Ornamental kale and cabbage: Gems of the winter garden
Nothing lights up the winter garden like ornamental cabbage and kale. Plant kale or cabbage in groupings, along borders, or in containers. Basically, plant them anywhere you want a splash of bright color!
This cold-hardy plant with the fancy, ruffled leaves is available in white or rich, creamy yellow, or shades of brilliant rose, pink, purple and magenta. Outer leaves may be bluish-green to bronze.
Usually, flowering kale and cabbage hold their color until they bolt in spring. Did I say the plants are tough? Yep! If the plants are gradually acclimated, they will tolerate cold in the single digits. They are rarely bugged by bugs.
Wondering about the difference between kale and cabbage? The two are closely related, but unlike cabbage, kale doesn’t develop heads.
Most gardeners prefer to buy ornamental kale or cabbage bedding plants. Yes, you can plant seeds. (Are you crazy?) It probably isn’t really that hard, and there is plenty of information if this is what interests you.
Spend a little more money and get good-sized plants, as kale and cabbage are slow growers. Start with 4-inch plants and it may be nearly spring until you get that full, glorious appearance you’re hoping for. If you can, spring for plants in one-gallon containers. Don’t worry if the nursery plants don’t show a lot of color. The brilliant shades intensify with cold weather.
Planting and Caring for Ornamental Kale and Cabbage
Dig a few shovels of compost into the soil before planting, along with a little rotted manure or an application of general-purpose garden fertilizer. Kale or cabbage in pots do fine with any lightweight commercial potting mix.
Locate the plants in full sunlight or light shade. Sunlight brings out the intense color. With too much shade, the plant will bend towards the sun.
Plant kale or cabbage about 12 to 18 inches apart to prevent overcrowding. In pots, figure one plant for every eight inches of container diameter.
Remember to water the plants whenever the top inch of soil is dry, even during cold weather. The soil should be consistently moist but never soggy. Feed the plants every other week, using a dilute water-soluble fertilizer or fish emulsion.
Keep in mind that the plants are cold-tolerant once hardened. However, freezing rain may turn the foliage to mush when the ice thaws. Cover the plants loosely if freezing rain is in the prediction, but remember to remove the covering after the ice has melted.
Also, the plants may be damaged by unexpected warm snaps followed by a hard freeze, but they will usually rebound.