Very few flowers cheer up the landscape during the cold winter months – so try a vegetable. Once the vibrant colors of Fall foliage have fallen there are very few plants to fill this winter time void at your local nursery. In the Washington DC area, look for Brassica oleracea…. more commonly known as cabbage.
By cross pollination, botanists were able to hybridize the many colors and textures of Flowering (Ornamental) Cabbages (wavy edges) and Kale (crinkled edges) that we grow today.
These plants are very showy in color and form, and come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to pinks, purples or reds.The bloom, of course, is not a flower but foliage — a rosette of central leaves that lose their chlorophyll as the mercury drops, changing from green to white, pink, purple, and near-red. The ornamental cabbages and kales look much the same as their edible cousins, but the ruffled foliage is much fancier and more colorful.
Ornamental cabbages and kales do not tolerate summer heat, but are extremely cold-tolerant. They can survive winter temperatures as low as 20 F or even lower in protected areas if they are gradually acclimatized. While a sudden cold snap can finish this biennial that you’ll most likely treat as an annual, light and moderate frosts will intensify the brilliant coloring of these plants.
When purchasing ornamental cabbage or kale, look for a plant with a short rosette-type stem. Generally, if these plants were allowed to become root-bound in their pots, they will not get much larger after they are planted, so buy the largest you can find.
Kale and Ornamental cabbage plants prefer cool weather. Although Kale plants may be set out in the spring and allowed to grow through the summer, the best time to plant them is in the early fall. We have seen ornamental cabbage in all its glory way into a mild winter in this area before.
Planting Kale in August or early September will allow the plant to become established, but if the temperature isn’t cool enough, this will result in a leggy, relatively colorless plant. Planting before the first frost also means that you will have to contend with cabbage loopers, which bore unsightly holes through the plant.
The intensely colorful pigmentations that Kale plants are known for do not appear until after prolonged cool weather and a few frosts so it’s perfect for November/December.
Ornamental Cabbage and kale is best planted in a sunny location in a moderately moist, rich soil – in the landscape or in pots. You’ll enjoy the rich colors (with good weather luck!) throughout the season’s holiday time. – and yes, they are as edible but we doubt you’ll want to end the show early.