Ornamental Cabbage

Dannette Hunnel

Ornamental cabbages are unique, healthy-looking, and a surprisingly pleasant sight to see in the middle of winter. Ornamental cabbages are also known as kale, wild cabbages, or brassica and are plant-able in October and November and again after the last frost. This perky, uprising flower, growing tall and tiered, looks similar to a wedding cake with firm curled foliage. At times, their leaves look almost rubbery. The flower part will rise up approximately six inches tall and eight to ten inches wide. Upon maturity, they will send up straight flower stalks yet another six inches high. It is your choice whether to leave the stalks in place or cut them. Seeds collected from the stalks can be used as starter plants.

There are three varietals available locally: Pigeon White Flowering Kale, a lovely, creamy, off-white varietal with serrated green foliage; the Emperor Red, a gorgeous purple/lavender cabbage with minty green leaves; or the Osaka Red with a deep red center and purplish, grey wavy leaves. It is the chilly air that brings out their deepest colors. The needs of ornamental cabbage to thrive in the Sun Lakes area are full sun, all-purpose potting mix, and consistent moisture. They should be damp but never soggy. They may acquire root rot if left soggy and/or develop fungal or bacterial infections. The winter morning dew helps to keep them damp. Watch for yellow leaves, as this means they need fertilizer. Nitrogen is the fertilizer of choice for ornamental cabbage. Cabbages are subject to pests, and this is evident by holes in the leaves. To eliminate pests, spray hard with a mixture of vinegar, water, and a drop of dishwashing liquid or by using a store-bought pesticide or horticultural oil. Ornamental cabbages blend well with pansies, dusty miller, snapdragons, asters, ornamental grasses, and mums. These plants look nice when sporadically placed throughout a garden plot. The cost to purchase an ornamental starter plant is roughly $5 to $6. Winter is a great time to enjoy these quirky, colorful conversation pieces.

Ornamental cabbages are not recommended as houseplants due to their need of really bright sun and fresh, cool air.