As fall has arrived in our backyard and you admire your seasons work on your landscape canvas, it isn’t a time to get depressed as another growing season gone by. Instead paint a new picture in your gardens and planters. Replace your flowering annuals with ornamental cabbage or kale.
Ornamental cabbage and kale are coming increasingly popular with gardeners looking for a cool weather decorative plant that can replace tired flowering annuals or mums. They also act as a great accent to fall mums and pansies. They actually come from the same species of cabbage we grow to eat, and although they are edible, they aren’t as yummy as their relatives in the cabbage family. I think that if a plant has the word “ornamental” in it, it would probably be best to use it just as that, an ornamental. You also don’t know what, if any, chemicals or fertilizers they used to grow it. We prefer to grow our “edibles” organically.
The plant with the large smooth leaves is considered the ornamental cabbage while the plant with the fringed ruffled leaves is considered the ornamental kale. They are considered an annual which means they will not grow back the following season. They basically come in three colors, purple, white or pink. Cabbage and kale prefer the cool weather that can survive to temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. You can start planting them in your garden but their bright colors will not show much until the frost starts and we have prolonged cool weather. Mature healthy plants can get as high and wide as 18 inches. When choosing plants for your garden, size matters. Look for larger plants in decent size containers such as a 6 inch to 8 inch grower’s pot. This pretty much assures that you will not be getting a root bound specimen. Large plants grown in small containers that are not in proportion, tend to get root bound (crowded overgrown root system). This usually leads to an unhealthy plant that is much smaller on top.
I feel the best show is to use these as a mass planting in the garden. The fact that they last very late into the fall and early winter, pretty much assures you will have color in your garden for a good chunk of the year. They also work very well as a border up a pathway. If you only need one or two plants, this is where they work great in your containers as a compliment to fall mums. I can see it now. In the center of your planter a purple fountain grass as the center piece surrounded by some assorted fall mums in yellow and bronze. Mix in a purple cabbage along with a white kale and a dash or two of English ivy on the edge and even Martha will be jealous. Who knows, you could even do a guest spot on the show. Plant them in a sunny to part sun area with well-drained soil. The cool weather keeps the pests away but they are occasionally susceptible to aphids.
So as we get into those cool crisp days of autumn, break out the canvas and brush (aka garden bed and shovel) and paint your own Picasso using the wonderful cool weather plants of ornamental cabbage and kale.