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How Do Cabbages Form – From Start To Finish!

Everyone knows what a cabbage looks like: green, round, and dense. You may not know what a cabbage looks like when it isn’t fully grown, so you may start to ask yourself, how do cabbages form? 

Cabbage heads form as leaves grow and curl in on themselves tightly. Outer leaves continue to grow until the leaves form a ball shape. 

Even though most of us haven’t seen small cabbages, they do indeed exist. Let me tell you about how cabbages form so you, too, can become an expert on cabbage plants! 

The Process Of Cabbage Growth

Growing conditions affect how your cabbage plant grows from the beginning to harvesting. Without the proper soil, lighting, water, or nutrients, it may never form the way most gardeners imagine. Let’s talk about the soil first!

Get The Soil Right

First, cabbage requires a particular soil to give it the best chance of growing well. 

Here are some of the soil requirements that you should consider when you are planning to grow cabbage:

  • Well-draining soil
  • Fertile soil
  • Soil that has a pH of 6 or 7, which is slightly acidic or neutral
  • Add compost throughout the growing season
  • Use fertilizer with nitrogen to replace depleted nutrients 

Your cabbage may still grow without these requirements, but better soils mean a better growing crop. Do not overlook the kind of soil that you are using to plant your garden for the season.

Plant Seeds When It Is Cold

The seeds need to be planted for cabbages to form when the temperature is below 45 degrees. This will allow your cabbage to become hardy against the cold. 

Your cabbage plant will be able to root well in the colder temperatures and begin a strong, healthy start. 

For many places in the United States, you should plant your cabbage seeds in July or August or a fall harvest. You can also start your seeds indoors to be later transplanted after your last spring frost for a summer harvest.

Your cabbage plant will grow a stem, which is essential to your cabbage as it begins to grow leaves.

Inner Leaves Begin To Grow Around Stem

Leaves will start to grow and curl around the stem. This forms what will be the inside of your cabbage.

Don’t worry if your cabbage leaves grow outward and look bushy at first. As the season continues, the leaves will turn inward to the stem. 

Outer Leaves Continue Growing

There will still be outer leaves that grow on your cabbage.

When you see cabbage in the supermarket, it is usually perfectly round, like a head of lettuce.

Growing your cabbage, your cabbage plant will have outer leaves that do not form the head of the cabbage. Although it may look strange, this is normal for home-grown cabbage plants!

Farmers cut away the outer leaves before sending them to the grocery store to look more attractive. Plus, you only eat the inner head of the cabbage, so you don’t need those outer leaves anyway.

Inner Leaves Get Compressed Tighter 

Inner leaves will grow tighter in the middle of the bushy outer leaves. 

Your cabbage head will not stay small; it will continue to grow until it is ready to be picked. Again, this inner head of cabbage is what you will eat when it is ready.

At this stage, do not feel you need to cut away those large outer leaves to give your cabbage head more room to grow. The outer leaves will protect the cabbage head, so you do not want to get rid of them too early. 

Only remove outer leaves that are damaged or infested with pests.

Harvest When Hard And Firm

You will need to harvest your cabbage when it is hard and firm when you touch it.

You may want to see how large your cabbage will grow if you don’t bother it, but you do not want to do this.

A cabbage that is left to grow too long can split open. The exposed inner leaves can quickly rot, and you will not be able to eat the cabbage.

If you eat lettuce more often than cabbage, you can liken this to a head of lettuce that starts to get brown and slimy after you cut into it. 

When Will My Cabbage Form A Head

Cabbages take about two and a half months to form a head.

You’ll need some patience when waiting for your cabbages to begin to form heads.

How long your cabbage takes will depend on the variety of cabbage you are attempting to grow. 

Check out this chart with three common varieties of cabbage:

Savoy70-75 days
Red 80-90 days
Nappa55-60 days

Do All Cabbages Form Heads

Healthy cabbages should form heads, but there are situations where cabbages won’t form heads.

AilmentWhat Happens To Cabbage
Lack of waterLeaves won’t form. If they do, the head of your cabbage will be small.
Too much waterToo much water can also prevent your cabbage leaves from growing. 
Excess nitrogenCabbage plant leaves will grow, but they will not be tight, meaning there will be no head shape to your cabbage. 
Planted in high temperaturesCabbages are cold weather plants, so warm weather can shock the plant as a seedling. This means that the cabbage head won’t form.
PestsCabbage can be damaged by garden pests at any stage of growth, but it is particularly detrimental when pests strike a young cabbage. 

Most ailments affecting your cabbage plant can be fixed throughout the growing season. 

Not having a perfectly formed head of cabbage doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have one, so keep trying each season! 

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