How to Grow Ornamental Kale and Cabbage


Last week we discussed kale as one plant that will add some attractive cool colors to your fall arrangements. This week we will learn more about this perfect fall plant and how to care for it.

Kale is all the rage right now in culinary circles. It is well known for its nutrient packed leaves. In addition to being a super food, kale is also a beautiful fall foliage plant. It is very hardy and will outlast most other fall plants. Keep in mind that ornamental kale is bred for its looks and not for its taste. You can certainly eat ornamental kale, but it will not have the same taste or texture as garden varieties.

Cool Weather

Ornamental kale and cabbage, which is very similar to kale, thrive in the cool weather of autumn. Their purples, pinks, burgundies, and creams are brought out by the cool weather. Until the temperature drops a bit a night the plants may not have as brilliant color. If the temperature stays too warm for too long, the plants may become leggy. Kale and cabbage will thrive even when temperatures fall consistently to 40 degrees. The plants will also survive several light frosts.


Both cabbage and kale form beautiful rosettes. Usually showing off their color toward the center of the plant. The leaves are usually ruffled or lobed. Cabbage leaves are generally more broad and flat while kale leaves are typically very ruffled. Depending on the variety they will grow between a foot and 18 inches tall. If the weather warms up or the plant makes it through the winter it will produce a flower. Be sure to cut away any signs of a flower to keep your plant looking healthy and full and producing more leaves.


Kale starts can be purchased from nurseries and garden centers, but you can also start kale from seed. You can often find greater varieties in color and form from specialty seed retailers. Start your seeds indoors in July to have them ready for a fall outdoor planting. Lay the seeds on top of your potting medium and do not cover the seeds with soil because they require light to germinate.

Kale and cabbage prefer sunny, cool locations. They should be kept moist in a rich, yet well draining soil. Too much moisture will cause the plants to rot. Cabbage worms and cabbages loopers can be a problem for kale, but they will not survive after the first frost.

Plant several different varieties of kale in a small rectangle container for plenty of lush texture and color. You can also use kale or cabbage as a filler in larger container arrangements.


Better Homes and Gardens recommends ‘Peacock Red’ kale. It has an intricate rosette with very prominent veins and icy blue green leaves. ‘Chidori White’ kale has bright green leaves with a creamy colored center. The rosette grows tight and thick with ornately ruffled edges. Dave’s Garden suggests ‘Redbor’ kale as a variety that is both ornamental and delicious to eat. It grows upright with deep purple, fancy ruffled leaves.

If you are looking for the perfect cold hardy plant to last throughout the fall and into the winter, fill your arrangements with ornamental kale and cabbage. What varieties of ornamental kale do you like to use? What other foliage plants do you plant for the fall?


Kale” Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia. <>

“How to Grow and Care for Ornamental Kale and Cabbage.” The Garden Helper. <>

“Brassica oleracea (Ornamental Cabbage and Kale Group).” Missouri Botanical Garden.   <>

“Eat More Kale – But Make Sure It’s Edible Kale.” Dave’s Garden  <>

Photo “Kale” courtesy of Clyde Robinson.


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