Ornamental Kale and Cabbage

It’s hard to beat flowering cabbage and kale for outright drama in fall and early winter gardening.

Though botanically termed “flowering,” we mostly know them as “ornamental” cabbage and kale. And whether by themselves or mixed with other fall and winter staples, these bold rosettes can often steal the show from brightly colored mums, snapdragons and pansies.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the winter color we typically see along the Gulf Coast from November to February, take a chance - make a statement with mass plantings of these sturdy, splendid additions.

But, before you run out to your favorite garden center or nursery to stock up, there are a few things to know about these beauties.

  • Which is which? Don’t laugh … this is important, because most people avoid kale in the kitchen and are unfamiliar with it. Flowering cabbage and kale are similar in color, appearance and size, but cabbage leaves have smooth edges while kale leaves are frilly.
  • I love both when used in borders. You will need to buy larger, more mature plants, but they can be highly eye-catching in a border mixed with plants like mums.
  • I also think they are great in containers, and I have mixed them with other color plants for a striking look.
  • They love chilly weather. Their beautiful blues, purples, greens and whites get even more vibrant with cooler temperatures. They survive light frosts and can take some freezing weather. If we don’t get a “killing” frost before February, they will continue to thrive until summery temperatures return.
  • Edible? Yes, but they aren’t bred for taste and texture. You won’t get sick from eating ornamental kale or cabbage, but they won’t taste like those intended for culinary purposes. If raised organically, however, I think the leaves can be used for decorative or presentation purposes … maybe as the base on a plate of food or to hold foods in place.
  • You can feed them anything and everything! Slow-release blooming plants foods like Nelson’s Color Star are good. Or liquid organic fertilizers like Medina Hasta Gro. Or general all-purpose organic granules like MicroLife. Feeding them once a month should be enough to carry them through to April.
  • Plant them in genuine landscape soils, if they are in going into beds. Rose and azalea soils are good, too. Potting soils are fine if you’re using them in containers, but be sure it is as peat-free as possible.Their root systems won’t handle peat-heavy potting mixtures very well.

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