If your cold-weather garden is dreary, consider adding ornamental cabbages for a showy pop of red, purple, pink and white. When done in groupings, these lovely plants make a striking display, and while the cabbages don’t actually flower, the multiple layers of ruffled leaves stand in terrifically. They do best in cool weather so in most places they belong in the fall garden though they can be planted in spring in cooler climates.  Cooler weather promotes greater leaf color so if you’ve planted in spring they may need afternoon shade in warmer climates.

Brassica can be started from seed in July/August in a controlled environment (indoors or in a greenhouse) or, if you wait until cooler weather, the seeds can be planted in the growing medium. They do need light to germinate though so you should not cover them with dirt. Seedlings or purchased plants can be placed in the ground in August/September. Cabbages will last to the end of the year and in warmer climates they may make it through winter and then die in spring. They grow 12-18” tall and wide but they don’t tend to grow much more once planted so choose the largest specimens you can find.

While ornamental cabbage and kale are members of the same family as culinary cabbage and kale, they were cultivated to produce decorative leaves and the taste is quite bitter.   Potential pests are cabbageworms, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, caterpillars, thrips, slugs, and aphids.

Some popular cultivars to look for are:

'Pigeon' series -  a flattened cabbage type with either a purple, pink, red, or white center

'Nagoya' series - a round kale type with heavily crinkled leaves and tight rosette centers that range in color from fuchsia pink
to lavender to yellow green to creamy white

'Crane' series - ornamental kale type with smaller rosette heads on a longer stem. These grow 2-4' tall. Colors range from red to white and bi-color leaves. To heighten the effect, remove the lower leaves once it reaches 6" in height. May need staking.

'Chidori’ series - a mounded kale with purple foliage, extremely curly leaf margins and cream white or deep magenta center.

Ornamental Kale