Chinese cabbage is a diverse group of brassicas with fresh green leaves and crisp stems. Leaves can be loosely arranged or tightly packed and can be used in stir fries, dumplings, soups, pickles and ferments, including traditional kimchi.
Binomial name: Brassica sp.
Life Cycle: Annual
When to Sow Chinese Cabbage Seeds
Chinese Cabbage can be grown year-round in most climates. Avoid planting in extremely hot or cold weather which can affect germination and growth. Use the table below to identify the best time of year to sow Chinese cabbage in your climate.
Low humidity with most rainfall in winter; hot dry summers and cold winters. Some regions will experience frosts and snow. Includes coastal areas of south-eastern Australia and alpine areas of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.
Chinese Cabbage plants are best grown in full sun or part shade. Choose a location that will receive at least 3 hours of full sun each day.
Chinese Cabbage plants need a well drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. Prepare soil by weeding it thoroughly, digging it over to loosen it and adding aged animal manure or compost. Keep the area free of weeds until planting.
Chinese Cabbage plants can be grown in containers. If possible choose a variety that’s recommended for container growing. Use a good quality potting mix and make sure your container is large enough for mature plants; a minimum of 20 litres is recommended for Chinese cabbage. During the growing season, keep in mind that container grown plants may need additional fertiliser to encourage healthy growth.
How to Sow Chinese Cabbage Seeds
Chinese Cabbage seeds do not require any treatment (eg soaking, stratification) before sowing.
Chinese Cabbage seeds can be sown directly into the garden OR seedlings can be raised in trays or other containers and transplanted to the garden once established.
Sow seeds directly in the garden 6mm deep and 25-40cm apart, with rows 40cm apart.
Keep soil moist but never wet or dry.
Seeds should germinate in around 7-14 days at a soil temperature of 7-23°C.
Young seedlings will need protection from pests, pets and weather until they are established.
Fill trays, punnets or jiffy pots with a good quality seed-raising mix, or use soil starter pellets.
Sow seeds 6mm deep.
Keep soil moist but never wet or dry.
Seeds should germinate in around 7-14 days at a soil temperature of 7-23°C.
Transplant seedlings to the garden once they have their first true leaves and are large enough to handle (usually 5-10cm tall).
Plant out, spacing plants 25-40cm apart, with rows 40cm apart.
How to Grow Chinese Cabbage
Chinese Cabbage plants may need watering during the growing season. Water when the soil is dry about 5cm below the surface (test this by scratching away a little soil with your finger). Water deeply in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid watering the leaves of plants to avoid fungal diseases. Learn more about watering here.
If soil was well prepared no extra fertiliser should be necessary. In poor soil or to give your plants an extra boost, application of a high-nitrogen fertiliser or one formulated for leafy greens or herbs can be beneficial:
Apply slow release fertiliser at the recommended rate when transplanting or when seedlings are 5-10cm tall.
Apply liquid fertiliser at the recommended rate and frequency during the growing season.
How to Harvest Chinese Cabbage
Chinese Cabbage should be ready to harvest in approximately 40-100 days.
Non-head forming varieties can be harvested when the leaves are large enough to eat. Outer leaves can be harvested individually by cutting them at the base just above soil level. Alternatively, harvest the whole plant by cutting it at ground level. Head-forming varieties are ready to harvest when the head has formed and the leaves are tightly packed. Harvest whole heads by cutting them at ground level. Chinese cabbage can be stored short term in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge. For long term storage Chinese cabbage can be fermented or pickled.
Common Problems when Growing Chinese Cabbage
Like all plants, Chinese cabbage is susceptible to some pests, diseases and other problems. Below is a list of the most common problems gardeners encounter when growing Chinese cabbage plants:
Bitter taste can be caused by plants growing too slowly, suffering a setback in growth or being harvested too late. Enrich soil with aged manure before planting, ensure plants are watered deeply and regularly, and harvest when they are young and tender.
Bolting is when a plant prematurely flowers and goes to seed. Bolting can be caused by a period of extreme weather. Avoid sowing seed until after the danger of frosts has passed or in very hot weather. Water plants regularly and deeply in hot weather to prevent them suffering heat stress.
Cabbage moth and cabbage white butterfly have white or grey wings with distinctive markings. They lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. Their caterpillars feed on the leaves, creating large holes and sometimes skeletonising the leaves. Use netting to exclude butterflies and moths or decoys to deter them. Pick the caterpillars off the plants or use an appropriate spray in a selective and targeted way. Read more about cabbage moth and cabbage white butterfly here.
Heads not forming is usually caused by warm weather or by growing plants too slowly, without adequate water or nutrients. Check to make sure you are growing a head-forming type of Chinese cabbage. In warm climates, grow Chinese cabbage in autumn and spring to avoid extreme temperatures. Water regularly and ensure adequate compost or fertiliser is applied.
Slugs and snails are molluscs that feed on tender leaves and shoots, mostly at night, leaving slimy trails behind them. Control them by removing their hiding places, keeping free range poultry, collecting them by torchlight or by placing traps. Read more about slugs and snails here.
Whitefly is a sap-sucking insect related to aphids. They are often found in large numbers on the underside of leaves and will swarm in clouds when disturbed. Plants may have yellowing leaves or may wilt, and growth will be slowed. Whitefly can be removed with a garden hose or sprayed with soap spray. Badly affected plants should be destroyed. Attracting beneficial insects that will prey on whitefly can be beneficial. Read more about managing whitefly here.
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