Ornamental Cabbage and Kale

Ornamental cabbage and kale available at a Southern California plant nursery.

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

It’s wintertime and peering in the distance I see a wondrous ocean of vibrant and eye-popping floral display but with closer examination I see no flowers at all, but instead they are brilliantly colored leaves. The last time I was at Disneyland literally hundreds of these beautiful plants showed off their appeal as they welcomed visitors from all around the world. The morning dew reveals sparkling water droplets gleaming on the leaves that show off their luster. These botanical wonders have texture, shape, attitude, and personality. Imagine having your front walkway planted en masse with different leaf forms, shapes and colors. These eye-catching round, rosette forming crinkly botanical masterpieces project themselves with purples, creams, lavender, yellow, and all shades in-between. Some selections even have different colors bleeding into one another appearing as a mosaic design intermingled color hues that are pleasing to the eye. Their intrinsic forms range from spidery, lobed, round, ruffled, and conical. They blend well with just about anything and make themselves known by not sporting any flowers but provide warm, outstanding color by themselves or with others by their side. These glorious plants are known to be the cousins of the vegetables called kale and Cabbage you traditionally eat, but instead they are called Ornamental Cabbage and kale, which provide you with healthy garden color. Ornamental Kale and Cabbage is a gardeners dream that provides fantastic color and pizzaz during the colder times of winter. So save a spot in your garden to cheer up a cold and dreary day with some lively color because they don’t develop their full colors unless they get a good chill from a frost.

Ornamental Kale and Cabbage can be used in your garden in so many different ways. Try using them in front of a clipped hedge for a formal appearance. They are useful around and amongst medium-sized boulders. Plant Ornamental Kale and Cabbage in large swaths to make a dramatic statement. These plants work excellent in containers applications with one or two plants. For an easy and attractive container planting, place one in the center of a container and surround it with Pansies. The ever popular Mum works well these ornamental beauties. Believe it or not you can even pair them with succulents for a temporary color scheme. You’ll often see them as edging plants, where their purplish hues blend well with other fall colors. Mix these lovely plants with other annual color like Snapdragons, Iceland Poppies, and Stock. Plant Ornamental Kale and Cabbage around existing trees, garden statues, and figurines. They are also effective when used with ornamental grasses and grey leaf Dusty Miller. Use your imagination with these versatile plants and create a winter wonderland of warm inviting colors, maybe you may want to plant them in a pattern or just sporadically here and there.

So what is the difference between these two showy gems. They are both considered to be cool season annual plants, meaning they live one season and need to be replaced when it gets warmer. Both are the same species, Brassica oleracea, although they are still edible, they aren’t as tasty (they have a more bitter taste), instead they have been bred for looks, not flavor. They were developed by plant breeders from edible varieties by selecting plants with unique foliage colors. These prized plants are often used in a culinary setting as garnishes. Ornamental Cabbage have smooth leaf margins. On the other hand, Ornamental Kale are equipped with serrated or fringed leaf margins and are further divided into the “fringed leaved cultivars” (those with ruffled leaves) and the “feather leaved cultivars” (those with more finely serrated leaves). Cabbages have larger, flat leaves. Kale has curlier leaves. Kales tend to hold their color and shape better than Cabbage. Ornamental Cabbage is native to Western coastal Europe while Kale is native to the Eastern Mediterranean or to Asia Minor. Both Ornamental Cabbage and Kale will grow approximately 18 inches tall and wide, prefers lots of sun or a little shade. When watering, they like to dry out slightly between irrigations but will suffer stress if left dry for prolonged periods. When buying plants, they will probably already be mature and open, although the color will probably intensify as the temperature drops. Look for plants with short stems and relatively uniform length leaves, no holes and at least a hint of color. I prefer to plant these glorious wonders when they show their full color or close it, usually in our mild climate it is just around the corner, cooler weather is coming so save a spot for these treasures. When planting, use Acid Planting Mix. It is best to avoid planting them when daytime temperatures begin to consistently exceeding 80 degrees, because they will do poorly. In our mild climate, plants often survive winter and remain attractive until they bolt (flower) in spring. When this happens, I suggest to promptly remove any flower stems that appear or replace with warm season annuals. Coloration doesn’t begin until night temperatures regularly drop below 60° F, the colder the better, and full coloration takes three to four weeks.

We have a wide variety of colorful and interesting plants to brighten up your day. I encourage you to stop by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and check us out.


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