Cabbage Plant Growth Stages | Life Cycle

Cabbage, also known as Brassica oleracea, is a versatile, nutritious, and widely cultivated vegetable crop, renowned for its unique flavor, versatility, and health benefits.

For successful cultivation, it is important to understand the different stages of cabbage plant growth, as each stage has unique requirements and challenges.

In this article, I have provided an in-depth explanation of each growth stage, from seed germination to maturity covering the duration, growth characteristics, environmental requirements, and the care strategies required for optimal growing.

Conditions for Growing Cabbages

A popular crop that grows in vegetable gardens around the world, cabbages, just like all other brassicas (Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Kale, Broccoli), have specific environmental conditions that need to be met to thrive. Growers must understand these conditions if they wish to provide developing crops with the best chances of growing success.

Soil: Grown best in fertile, well-draining soil that can retain some moisture without becoming waterlogged. Cabbages prefer soil rich in organic matter, and a soil pH range of 6.0-7.0. The University of Minnesota recommends adding compost or well-rotted manure before planting and regularly testing soil pH levels.

Temperature: As a cool-season crop, cabbages prefer milder climates ranging from 45 to 75°F. They can tolerate light frost, but not extreme conditions. It’s best to plant them in early spring, so they have enough time to mature before the heat of summer.

Light: To develop properly, cabbages need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, in hot climates, it is best to plant them in a location with shade in the afternoon to avoid the potential for bolting.

Water: Consistent moisture is crucial, especially during the vegetative stage of growth, so it is best to water deeply (but with caution) with 1-2 inches of water per week.

Cabbage plants have shallow root systems which absorb moisture more readily than other vegetables. Waterlogged soil can be problematic, causing overwatering that can quickly lead to diseases. On the flip side, drought conditions can result in a small or bitter-tasting head.

Nutrients: These leafy greens are heavy feeders, meaning they require a lot of nutrients to grow properly. Adding compost or well-rotted manure or fertilizing the soil with a balanced fertilizer before planting is advisable. After planting, top dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer part way through their vegetative stage to help replenish depleted soil nutrients.

Cabbage Plant Growth Stages

Cabbage is a biennial crop that is commonly grown as an annual vegetable. This means that it completes its life cycle in two years but is harvested during the first year before it has a chance to go to seed.

During the first year, cabbage plants grow vegetatively and produce large leaves and a tight central head. Once mature, this is the stage when cabbages are harvested for consumption.

If left to grow, the plant will enter its second year and will continue to grow, eventually producing a stem and yellow flowers (often referred to as bolting), which will be followed by the production of seeds.

Seeds can be harvested and replanted, and this is how cabbage is traditionally propagated.

However, in modern agriculture, cabbage is mostly grown as a first-year crop, with the plants being harvested before they have a chance to bolt or produce seed. This allows for a higher yield and more efficient use of the land.

It’s important to select a cabbage variety that suits your local climate and growing conditions.

For example, summer cabbages should be sown indoors during February/March ready for transplanting in May/June and harvesting from the start of September.

If you are in a warmer and frost-free climate, you can plant winter cabbage varieties in late Fall for a spring harvest. 

1.   Germination

The successful germination of cabbage seeds depends on the quality of the seeds and the growing conditions provided.

You can test seed viability by placing a few seeds on a moist paper towel and storing it in a warm, dark location. Seeds that sprout after a few days are generally viable, those that don’t are unlikely to be worth planting.

Seeds should be sown in a well-prepared seedbed or trays, typically in early spring, around 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. The soil should contain a good balance of nutrients and should be well-draining to reduce the risk of seedlings suffering from waterlogging.

Soil temperature should be maintained in the region of around 70°F for optimal germination, and they should be planted around 6mm deep. Once planted, the seeds should be covered with soil or compost, and lightly watered.

After planting, the seedbed or trays should be kept moist but not waterlogged, and the emerging seedlings should receive adequate sunlight, ideally about 16 hours of light a day in temperatures ranging from 60-80°F.

Lack of sunlight, over-watering, or poor temperature can result in poor germination rates.

Interestingly, the University of Minnesota advises against using a heating pad as you might for other seeds as this excessive temperature can lead to a tall weak plant that is vulnerable to damage. 

Seeds typically germinate 5-7 days after sowing when two cotyledon leaves begin to emerge. At this stage, they have no true leaves and rely on energy stored in the seed.

It is advisable to thin the seedlings out to avoid overcrowding and ensure that the remaining seedlings have adequate space to grow.

2.   Seedlings

The seedling stage is when young cabbage plants are transplanted from a seedbed to a more permanent location, such as a garden bed or container.

Seedlings should only be transplanted when they have four to six true leaves and when the weather is mild and there is no further threat of frost.

When transplanting cabbage seedlings, it’s essential to handle them with care, as they can be delicate and vulnerable to damage.

Choose a location that can provide afternoon shade and is shielded from strong winds. Prepare the soil in advance of planting by adding compost or well-rotted manure and removing any weeds or debris.

Transplanting cabbage plant seedlings - Cabbage Plant Growth Stages
Transplanting cabbage plant seedlings

Once transplanted, cabbage seedlings need consistent moisture, good drainage, and protection from pests. They also require at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.

During the seedling stage, it’s also crucial to monitor the plants for signs of stress or disease. Common issues to watch for include wilting, yellowing, or spotting of leaves, all of which can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, pests, or fungal infections.

3.   Vegetative Growth

The vegetative growth stage is a vital part of a plant’s development. During this phase, the cabbage plant produces many leaves and undergoes significant growth in height and width.

It is during this growth stage that the cabbage plant establishes its root system, which will absorb the water and nutrients needed for growth. The root system should be checked regularly for any signs of disease or damage, as this can affect the plant’s growth and productivity.

Additionally, this is when adequate water, nutrients, and sunlight are all required to support the plant’s rapid growth.

Optimum temperatures during the vegetative growth stage of a cabbage plant are between 60 and 80°F. Extreme temperatures – either too low or too high – can affect the growth and development of the plant.

Mature cabbage ready for harvesting
Mature cabbage ready for harvesting

This growth stage lasts for approximately 60 to 90 days, after which the plant will have reached maturity and will be ready for harvesting. If left unharvested, the reproductive stage will commence.

Harvesting before the reproductive stage begins is ideal to ensure the best quality and flavor.

4.   Flowering

The flowering stage of a cabbage plant is a critical phase in its development, characterized by the emergence of a long, thin, flowering stem from the center of the plant. This stage marks the end of the vegetative growth phase and the beginning of the reproductive stage.

During the flowering stage, the cabbage plant diverts its energy and resources from leaf growth to the formation of flowers. The stem grows upwards, reaching up to 1 meter in some cultivars, and starts producing small, yellow flowers at the tip of the stem. The flowers are self-fertile, meaning they contain both male and female reproductive structures.

Once the flowers are pollinated, they gradually develop into small, round seed pods that contain the cabbage plant’s offspring. These seed pods are harvested when they change color from green to brown, which usually happens around 50 to 60 days after the flowers appear.

cabbage flowering
Cabbage plant flowering

Cabbage plants need to be monitored during the flowering stage as some cultivars can become vulnerable to diseases or pests that can damage the flowers and reduce seed production.

However, many commercial cabbage varieties are bred to suppress or eliminate the flowering stage to avoid diverting the plant’s energy away from leaf growth, which can result in a higher yield of more desirable cabbage heads.

Cabbage Plant Lifecycle Time Lapse

Growing Cabbage in 100 Days Time Lapse

Different Varieties of Cabbage

There are many different cabbage varieties to choose from, each with unique characteristics that suit various culinary requirements. The following is a list of common cabbage varieties and their unique features, seasonal preference, and time from seed to harvest.

Early Jersey Wakefield: This is a classic cabbage variety with a conical shape and tender leaves that are perfect for salads or slaws. Providing temperatures consistently exceed 50°F, this will mature in approximately 65 to 80 days and is best grown in late winter to early spring as a winter crop.

Napa Cabbage: Napa cabbage is a commonly used vegetable in Asian cuisine, featuring long, oblong leaves that are softer and more delicate than traditional green cabbage. It matures in approximately 75 days and can be successfully cultivated as both a winter or summer crop as long as temperatures can average 50 to 80°F throughout.

Savoy Cabbage: Savoy cabbage is a crinkly and curly-leafed variety that is often used for cooking. It has a more delicate flavor than regular green cabbage and matures in approximately 80 to 90 days, and makes an ideal choice for both winter and summer cultivation in milder climates.

Red Cabbage: This is a vibrant and colorful variety that is often used for making pickles, slaws, and salads. It matures in approximately 80 to 100 days and can be grown as either a summer or winter vegetable in mild weather conditions.

Late flat Dutch: This is a large, solid round head variety of cabbage that is ideal for slow cooking. It has a slightly sweet flavor and matures in approximately 100 to 120 days as an ideal winter crop option.

Pointed Cabbage: The pointed cabbage is a variety with a conical shape and sweet flavor with a slightly nutty texture. It matures in approximately 80 to 100 days with suitable year-round cultivation in milder regions and temperatures no lower than 50°F.

For more articles about growth cycles, here is a link to Spinach Plant Growth Stages that you may also enjoy.


University of Minnesota – Growing Cabbage

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.