Dictionary of Flowers: Brassica Oleracea

Ornamental cabbage is not glamorous-sounding, but the plants are lovely

Ornamental cabbage is not glamorous-sounding, but the plants are lovely
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  • Brassica Oleracea
  • Common name: ornamental cabbage, ornamental kale
  • Family: Brassicaceae
  • Category: biennial, grown as an annual
  • Height: 18"
  • Width: 18"
  • Sun
  • Blooms: grown for foliage.
  • Growth habit: mound forming, low growing. Used as a filler in container combinations
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average to fertile, well drained. Water regularly if grown in containers.
  • Garden uses: containers, front of border and beds, mass planting
  • Diseases: leaf spot, downy mildew, root rot, stem rot
  • Pests: aphids, caterpillars, beetles

Ornamental cabbage with smooth leaves (brassica o. capitata) and ornamental kale with curly leaves (brassica o. acephala) are excellent ornamental biennials grown as annuals for fall and spring color.

The leaves are blue-green, white and pink to magenta. When first planted, they resemble edible cabbages, then with the cool temperatures of fall and even the first light frosts, the color starts to intensify.

Temperatures need to be below 50 F. for best color. Some varieties are grown as cut flowers, having long stems and small heads (they can reach two feet).

They are available as small plants in nurseries in spring and they can also be easily grown from seed. They work well to replace summer annuals for fall color in both containers and ground plantings, and also when planted in spring, they provide bright color early in the season.

Ornamental cabbage can survive mild winters and bloom the next spring. The blooms are small, yellow, but if allowed to go to seed, the seed can be collected for propagation.

Initially the color is dark, kale-like green, but the colors begin to emerge later in the season

Initially the color is dark, kale-like green, but the colors begin to emerge later in the season
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They require average water and average to fertile soil. They need to be fertilized once a week with a liquid formula fertilizer or once when planted, using a granular slow-release fertilizer.

Plant the seed indoors for four to six weeks before the last frost. Place seeds in moist starting mix about one quarter inch deep. They germinate in about a week.

Keep the sprouts in a cool environment. When plants are big enough to handle, separate and pot in larger containers. Plant outdoors when all danger of frost has passed, or keep in pots until fall to replace other annuals.

Do not allow the plants to become root-bound; move to larger containers if you see roots coming out of the container's drainage holes. Keep the pots in part shade and water well. Ornamental cabbage grows in full sun, but prefers a part sun spot in areas with hot summers.

They are affected by the same pests and diseases as edible cabbages do. Aphids and caterpillars can be treated with plant insecticide. Beetles should be removed by hand.

Root and stem rot can be controlled by judicious watering and good drainage. Leaf spot and downy mildew need to be treated with fungicide. Remove all affected parts and discard.




Disease can also be avoided by not reusing potting soil used to plant ornamental cabbage the year previous. If planting in the garden, don't plant in the same area each year.

Popular varieties:

  • Brassica o. capitata 'Tokyo' - wavy leaves, early bloomer, heat resistant
  • Brassica o. capitata 'Osaka' - early bloomer, short, wavy and fringed leaves
  • Brassica o. capitata 'Pigeon' - slightly wavy leaves, dwarf
  • Brassica o. capitata 'Sunset' and 'Sunrise' -cutting varieties, small heads on two foot stems
  • Brassica o. acephala 'Peacock' - feathery leaves, compact variety
  • Brassica o. acephala 'Kamone' - fringed leaves, compact variety
  • Brassica o. acephala 'Nagoya' - very fringed leaves
Stunning pinks are not colors you normally associate with cabbages!

Stunning pinks are not colors you normally associate with cabbages!
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