Ornamental Kale And Cabbage For Fall Gardens

ornamental kale and cabbageIt’s time to update those fall garden borders with new bedding plants that will last into the colder weather. While mums may come to mind, ornamental cabbage and kale (Brassica oleracea) can add texture and color without the need for deadheading or other maintenance. The large, distinctive rosettes of these plants outlive many other annuals in the landscape, looking great right through Thanksgiving.

Ornamental kale and cabbage, often called “flowering” kale and cabbage, are brassicas, a genus of plants in the mustard family. Otherwise known as “cruciferous vegetables”, other members of this genus include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, and turnips.

It’s been many years since these attractive hardy annuals first moved out of the vegetable patch and into mass planting beds, containers, and window boxes. While they are admired today for their frilly and ruffled leaves and spectacular late season color, it wasn't that long ago that these ornamentals got no respect.

The Washington Post twice named Japanese hybrid ornamental kale to its “not hot list”. But in 2011, perhaps as vindication, ‘Glamour Red’ F1 Ornamental Kale was named the All-American Selection Cool Season Bedding Plant Winner, the first kale of any kind to do so.

Flowering cabbage and kale care

While flowering kale and cabbage do come under attack by some pests, the insects are relatively easy to control. Most will succumb to colder weather just as the plants display their boldest color. Cabbage worms and cabbage loopers (small green caterpillars) and cutworms (a brown caterpillar), can be hand-picked or controlled with insecticidal soap.

ornamental cabbage pests

Slugs are attracted to rotting leaf debris, so keep ornamental cabbage and kale beds clean. Remove the lower leaves as they yellow or die. Be sure to water the soil and not the leaves of the plants to keep them dry. A layer of mulch will also help.

While they like sun, brassicas do not like heat. Bursts of warmer Indian summer weather can cause “bolting”, when a plant shoots up to produce flowers and seed. Remove any overly tall “bolted” specimens when they are too unsightly. Do not use a flowering plant fertilizer. Flowering kale and cabbage produce the best color when temperatures stay below 55 degrees F.

curly ornamental kale

Can you eat ornamental kale?

While not really meant to be a vegetable garden plant, young flowering kale leaves can be tasty in a salad. However, they will be bitter until “sweetened” by a frost or two.

edible ornamental kale

Look for these flowering cabbage and kale varieties

Sometimes ID tags for flowering cabbage kale for sale at local retail stores may not include specific information. But ask or look for these varieties, as growers continue to introduce new and interesting colors.

  • Color-Up kale hybrids
  • Feather White kale
  • Feather Red kale
    ornamental red kale
  • Peacock kale hybrids

While the size, color and texture of these plants makes them interesting enough when planted as an edging or filling a bed, flowering kale and cabbage also make great landscaping or container accents. Try pairing them with ground covers, sedums, grasses or asters.

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