Chinese cabbage—also called Napa cabbage—offers a sweeter flavor than traditional cabbage varieties. This Asian variety is just as easy to grow in a home garden: it’s just more exotic and flavorful. Read on for handy tips and tricks for growing it yourself.
Best Chinese Cabbage Plant Varieties
Napa cabbage plants have large, oblong-shaped leaves that tightly wrap themselves around the plant’s head. The stalks are usually white, with pale green leaves stemming out, and the flowers are yellow. These bear a commonly crossed petal found in other plants from the Brassicaceae family.
Some cabbage plants have loose heads, while others are wound more tightly. However, they all tend to grow around 15-18 inches tall.
There are many varieties to choose from, but the best types of Chinese cabbage include:
- Chinese Express: This late-season variety has glossy leaves, and it is resistant to disease.
- Blues F1: An early-season variety that’s perfect for planting in the spring. It has blue-green leaves and is resistant to disease as well as bolting. This variety also only takes about 57 days to grow.
- Monument: A mid-season variety that’s tall with a narrow head. It takes about 80 days to grow, which is the most extended amount of time, but this variety resists bolting.
How to Plant Chinese Cabbage
When you plant your Chinese cabbage will depend on the type you choose to grow. Most plants do well if you sow the seeds during the spring, while the soil remains cool. To harvest in the fall, you would plant another crop during late summer.
This type of cabbage is a biennial, which means it can grow during the colder winter months with the right cover. It tolerates a little frost, but too much is detrimental to the plant’s health. This cabbage thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 4–7.
Make sure your cabbage plants are in a full sun location. Partial shade is okay as long as they receive a minimum of 4-5 hours of direct sunlight every day, and plenty of water.
With a longer growing season than many plants, this cabbage will require a soil rich in nutrients. A well-amended and well-draining soil with several inches of organic matter in the form of compost or manure is highly suggested. The soil needs to drain well but still hold moisture.
For the best results, add aged compost to your planting bed before planting cabbages. Then compost again around the middle of the growing season.
Although the pH balance isn’t a huge concern when growing this vegetable, it does best if it balances around a pH of 6.5-7.
Space Between Plants
Expect to grow around 6-8 plants for each member of your household, and select the number of plants you want to grow based on your particular needs and eating habits.
If you choose to grow your Chinese cabbage in the spring, the best method is to sow the seeds directly. You can also start them indoors in a biodegradable paper or peat pot around 4-6 weeks before the final frost of the season. This cabbage is difficult to transplant, but the biodegradable pot will help.
Sow the plants outdoors after the last freeze has taken place in your area, and make sure you have row covers to protect the plant from unexpected dips in temperature.
Sowing the seeds directly into your garden is the easiest way to plant them, as seedlings are often shocked immediately into bolting. Make sure each plant has at least 40 centimeters of space in all directions. They should be sown around 1/2 an inch deep, at least 6 inches apart. If you grow the cabbage in rows, space them 30 centimeters apart, with a 60-centimeter gap between rows.
You may also plant Napa cabbage in a container that’s at least 8 inches in diameter. A larger container that’s at least 10 inches across is ideal, and growing in containers can allow you to move them to safe settings when winter strikes. They’re sensitive to heat though, so make sure to place the pot in a shaded area when the weather warms up.
Depending on the variety, your cabbage should be ready for harvest around 50-85 days after planting.
Napa cabbage typically takes around 70-80 days to mature fully. Once the heads are about 20 inches tall and approximately 5 or more inches around, they’ve grown to adult size.
Because the weather is unpredictable, this timing may change depending on the seasons you plant as well. Autumn, for example, is the best season to grow this cabbage because the plants grow better. Early spring can come with unpredictable frostings or colder temperatures at night, which will cause the plant to start seeding and bolting. Warmer temperatures signal to the cabbage that it’s time to stop growing.
It’s not impossible to grow this cabbage in the spring or beginning of summer. Just be aware that doing so may cause a few more hurdles you may have to jump over, depending on the weather. Planting in the middle of summer or autumn will allow the plant to fully mature as the days cool off.
You can check to see how mature the cabbage heads are by gently squeezing them. A mature head will feel dense and firm.
How to Care for Chinese Cabbage
Napa cabbage doesn’t require much tending. As a result, caring for your cabbage variety is simple: it really just needs a little regular water.
You want to make sure the soil remains moist at all times. When the weather reaches scorching temperatures, make sure to water the cabbage and keep it out of direct sunlight for more than 8 hours each day. Any drought periods will result in bolting, which is the plant’s way of attempting to reproduce before it’s harvested.
Fertilizer usually isn’t needed if you amend your soil. However, if you use a normal potting soil mix or the cabbage begins to appear like it lacks nutrients, try a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen. Soy meal or fish emulsion is an easy way to boost the soil’s nitrogen levels.
Some gardeners also suggest using a liquid plant fertilizer when the cabbage heads begin to form.
Because Chinese cabbage doesn’t grow as quickly as many other types of Asian greens, it often falls victim to a typical array of brassica diseases and pests. For this reason, it’s essential that you don’t plant Napa cabbage in a location where you’ve previously grown other brassicas.
Diseases known to affect this cabbage include:
- Cabbage yellows
- Cabbage soft rot
- Brassica black rot
- Brassica Alternaria Leaf (leaf spot)
Some varieties are more resistant to disease than others. To boost your chances of growing healthy cabbage though,avoid handling the plants while they’re wet. In addition, make sure to remove any infected plants immediately before disease can spread.
Although whiteflies and aphids are less of a pest problem than with other greens, there are still some other pests to look out for. Cabbage white butterfly caterpillars, for example, are common pests that can wipe out your crop in no time. Some other pesky insects to watch out for include:
- Cabbage root maggots
- Cabbage loopers
- Flea beetles
- Cabbage worms
Slugs may be one of the most significant problems you may face while growing this vegetable. Hand pick them from your plants, catch them in homemade beer traps (slugs can’t resist yeast), or spray them using a homemade coffee solution.
Most pests are easy to hose off with a blast of water, and cabbage worms are controlled using a Bacillus thuringiensis spray.
Best Companion Plants
Always keep Chinese cabbage away from plants like potatoes, tomatoes, okra, or peppers. In contrast, the best companion plants include:
- Traditional cabbage
- Brussel sprouts
Cooking with Chinese Cabbage
When cooking with this vegetable, you can substitute it in recipes that call for traditional cabbage or bok choy. It also works well in any Asian dish (like Kimchi), and it tastes well grilled, steamed, or blanched.
To explore some fresh meals you can make at home, check out these awesome recipes.
Storing Your Cabbage
Harvest “white” cabbage before the weather begins to reach freezing temperatures. This type of cabbage is easy to store, as it will keep in the vegetable compartment of a typical refrigerator for around four weeks. If you want to freeze the cabbage, blanch it first and place it in the freezer where it will keep for about 3-4 months.
Follow these steps to harvest and store cabbage easily:
- Harvest the heads that feel firm to the touch by cutting the stems near the soil level.
- Remove the outer leaves from the head.
- Wash it well and pat it dry.
- Place the cabbage inside a plastic bag and store in the veggie compartment of your fridge.
- Eat it raw or cook it in a more substantial meal.
Chinese cabbage can open your culinary world up to new possibilities, and your taste buds will thank you. As an added bonus, it causes less stomach upset than European cabbages.