Cabbage is a popular leafy culinary vegetable that is used throughout the world, but have you ever wondered about the growing stages of cabbage?

If you consider planting these in your garden, knowing about the growth stages can be essential to know when to transplant, fertilize and harvest the perfect head.

Let’s find out more about cabbage growth stages! 

Cabbage Growing Stages Infographic

Like many other vegetables, cabbage goes through a life cycle from infancy to maturation, where it can reproduce. The life cycle of cabbage consists of 4 growth stages starting as a seed, germinating into a tiny plant, developing basic structures as a seedling, vegetatively growing until maturation, and flowering to produce new seeds at the end of the cycle.

This infographic will show you what to expect as it grows and the critical things during the plant lifecycle.

cabbage growing stages infographic

As you see above from the infographic of cabbage growth, there are four main growing stages:

  •  germination stage
  •  seedling stage
  •  vegetative stage
  •  flowering stage

Pre-Growth: Seed and Planting 

Seeds are in a dormant stage and can remain so for long periods of time. They contain stores of essential nutrients to keep themselves viable for when the right conditions arise in order to germinate. A seed’s dormancy is similar to that of an animal in hibernation; they both need stores of nutrients as they remain in a dormant state for long periods.

Planting

To start germination, you must plant seeds. Cabbage loves well-drained and rich soil in organic matter. The best time to plant seeds is early spring or late summer.

If you are a new gardener, check out our how-to-grow cabbage guide with more detailed information on soil conditions, water requirements, plant maintenance, and possible problems.

You can plant cabbage in trays, pots, containers, or directly in garden beds.

Stage 1: Germination Stage

Germination refers to the seed coming out of dormancy. For cabbage seeds to germinate, they need four key factors to be satisfied.

  • Moisture
  • Temperature
  • Sunlight
  • Nutrients

Only when all of these are present will a cabbage seed germinate and begin to grow. Cabbage seeds need a temperature of 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of about seven days to trigger this process. The germination process can last 10-14 days before the plant shows signs of growth.

This process results in the emergence of the initial leaf-like structures known as cotyledon, which are very sensitive and can quickly die if you stress them by pulling, touching, etc. 

cabbage seedling with 2 cotyledons and one true leaf
Cabbage seedling with 2 cotyledons and one true leaf

Stage 2: Seedling Stage

The seedling stage refers to the transformation of a cabbage seed into an infant plant. Cabbage now grows small structures that eventually form into the root system, leaves, and stems.

Cabbage seedlings still rely on the stockpile of nutrients from the seed because they cannot yet photosynthesize and make food. From here, the cabbage will begin to develop more sets of true leaves which will be more prominent.

Transplanting

Now it is time to transplant your young plants into their final positions. If you sow seeds directly in the ground, thin and give them enough space for further foliage and heads to develop. Make sure to water thoroughly after transplanting and keep the soil moist.

Young embryonic leaves will start transforming into true leaves, and the plant will enter the vegetative stage when you can feed them more extensively.

transplanting cabbage seedlings

Vegetative Stage

The vegetative stage refers to the structural growth of a cabbage plant as it ages toward maturity. In this stage, the plant will gain the majority of its size as the leaves, stems, and roots grow larger.

Cabbage plants will develop the ability to carry out the basic physiological processes that all plants possess, including:

  • photosynthesis
  • water/nutrient absorption
  • transpiration 
  • water/nutrient distribution

The plant now enters the precupping stage, where heart-shaped leaves growing upwards from the stem start forming outer leaves of the future developed head. That process is visible, and you can move the leaves to see the stem from above.

cabbage precupping stage
Precupping stage

Developing Heads

In the cupping stage, heart shapes leaves are still growing upwards, but now they are blocked by previously grown foliage. Young leaves are now concealed as the plant develops from inside, and you can see the head become more significant and extensive. This process will form the compact head, and during this time, it is necessary to fertilize and water your plants regularly in order to grow healthy cabbage.

Nutrition demand

Cabbage plants are heavy feeders and need plenty of nitrogen. It would be best if you fed your plants every couple of weeks during this vegetative stage of growth. Stop to fertilize about 2 or 3 weeks before harvesting, especially if you are not using organic fertilizer.

You should harvest cabbage when the head is compact and firm, which can be tricky as it looks like the heads will just continue to grow bigger and bigger.

cabbage head developing cupping stage
Cupping stage

Flowering Stage

Cabbage is a biennial plant mostly grown annually, which means in the second growth year, the plant will push flower stalks instead of a head.

The flowering stage refers to the maturation of the cabbage plant as it ceases to grow structurally and begins to flower. Flowering is the process that plants go through to reproduce. Cabbages will produce seeds before they reach the end of their life cycle and die off.

During this stage, cabbage will grow a long stalk with yellow flowers on end, easy for pollinators to reach. Once they have been pollinated, the flowers will die back, and the seedpods will remain.

Seeds will fall from the seedpods and back into the soil to start the entire cycle all over again. This process is how the plant ensures the survival of its species for generations to come.

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Napa cabbage flower

Seed Production

If you are growing an heirloom cabbage variety, you can leave the plant to overwinter after harvesting. The plant will have plenty of yellow flowers followed by green seedpods. To collect seeds, you should leave the plant to dry out, and the seedpods become brown. If you collect green seedpods which are not dry enough, the seeds won’t work.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Times Does Cabbage Produce?

Cabbage will produce one head per growing season; however, we can trick the plant into making multiple heads during its first growth year. When cutting the head, don’t cut below the bottom leaves. That way, plants will have enough foliage nutrients to continue producing heads. The heads will be smaller than the first one, but that way, you can extend the growing season in your garden.

How Long Does Cabbage Last In The Ground?

Cabbage can survive in the ground for two years when it finishes its lifecycle. After overwintering plant will bolt and enter the flowering stage. The plant is preparing for reproduction and seed production in the second year.

Cabbage growing time lapse

Conclusion

The growth stages of cabbage mirror those of many other vegetative plant organisms. They start out as dormant seeds, waiting for the right conditions to grow. When these conditions are met, the cabbage seed germinates and begins its life cycle. It continues to grow vegetatively until it reaches maturation, when it will flower and produce seeds.

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