Chinese cabbage is a popular and delicious vegetable staple in many cuisines. It has an intense mild flavor and crisp texture. This versatile vegetable can be grown in your garden no matter where you live.

In this article, we’ll share all information you should know to produce the best Chinese cabbage heads you saw.

What is Chinese Cabbage?

Maybe you heard of Asian cabbage bok choy or napa cabbage as they have become trendy vegetables in grocery stores and gardens.

This delicious vegetable is often used in Chinese dishes, especially in stir-fries. It is a member of the Brassicaceae family, including kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.

Chinese cabbage’s scientific name is Brassica rapa, a cruciferous vegetable from the mustard family which can be divided into two main groups:

  • Pekinensis Pei Tsai group has broad leaves firmly wrapped and can form a compact head. Napa cabbage belongs to this group.
  • The Chinensis group is characterized by the absence of head formation, while the leaves of these cultivars are dark green and smooth. Bok choy is a member of this group.

History 

As it can be concluded from its name, Chinese cabbage originates from China, where it has grown for over 1,500 years. It was primarily grown in the Yangtze delta area, and the first record of this cultivator dates back to the 15th century.

Naturalist Li Shizhen from the Ming dynasty first noticed its medical qualities. Then the vegetable spread to Korea and Japan to become a staple food in most Asian cuisines.

Why Should You Grow Chinese Cabbage In Your Garden?

Chinese cabbage is a nutritious vegetable that is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It can be eaten raw, cooked, or sauteed, with a pleasant, slightly sweet taste and tender stems.

A couple of factors make this plant a good choice for a cool-season crop in the North: it can tolerate light frosts and cold temperatures and is hardy.

This vegetable is known for its fast-growing high yielding characteristics. It can also take higher temperatures; in fact, higher temperatures can help the plant reach maturity faster.

Chinese cabbage is loaded with vitamins and many other nutrients, making it a healthy addition to your diet. It is not hard to grow and doesn’t need much care. Wide varieties are resistant to most cabbage diseases, making this Asian cabbage an excellent choice for beginner and expert gardeners.

kimchi
Kimchi

Choosing Which Chinese Cabbage to Grow

If you are growing Chinese cabbage for the first time, choosing which type will suit you and your gardening conditions can be difficult.

Bok Choy

Bok choy, also known as Pak-Choi and Chinese mustard, belongs to the Pekinensis group. There are wide different varieties of bok choy. Still, they all have a crunchy texture and a mild, slightly bitter flavor similar to regular cabbage.

There are large ones, baby bok choy, and even dwarf varieties. The bok choy plant grows more quickly than napa cabbages and can be harvested at any stage of its growth. It needs 45 to 55 days to reach maturity and is typically used in stir-fries, soups, salads, and Asian cooking.

bok choy
Bok choy

Napa Cabbage

Napa Asian cabbage from the Chinensis group is more extensive and has darker green leaves than his bok choy cousin. They can reach 18 inches long and 6 inches in diameter but will need 70 to 90 days to reach maturity when grown from seed.

With its sweet, mild flavor, Napa cabbage can be eaten raw or cooked, and its crispiness is excellent for salads. If you are a kimchi fan, grow daikon radish alongside napa cabbage, and you will have two main ingredients for this delicious kimchi recipe.

chinese napa cabbage
Chinese napa cabbage

Chinese Cabbage Varieties

The varieties of Asian cabbages can differ in appearance in different shapes and sizes. Some types will have compact heads, while others will have broad leaves.

Also, we can vary them according to the time of sowing, harvesting, and growing speed. Loose-leaf variants will reach maturity much faster than head shaping varieties.

Michihili 

This is a good heirloom napa cabbage variety, one of the most popular for cooking and canning. Light green, tender leaves grow well in any region but will thrive in milder climates.

The Michihili plant has thick, solid, cylindrical heads that average about 16-18 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter. It will reach maturity in 70 to 100 days, but if you grow it in a warm region, it can mature in 55 days.

micihili cabbage in garden

Bilko 

Bilko cabbage produces large, 12-inch-tall heads and has a mild, sweet, and pleasant taste, with a creamy yellow interior. This variant is resistant to club root, fusarium yellows, and black fleck.

A good soil adaptation characterizes it and can tolerate bolting(flowering).

Red dragon

‘Red Dragon’ is a gorgeous, bicolor variety of Napa cabbage. Inside leaves are a deep purple with vibrant, green color on the outside. It can reach 14 inches in height and will mature in 60 to 70 days.

red Chinese cabbage variety

Barrel Head

This variety has extra-large heads almost double the size of regular napa cabbage. It is resistant to club root and downy mildew with good bolting (flowering) tolerance. To reach maturity Barrel head variant needs about 70 days.

Dwarf 

This bok choy variety needs only 30 days to reach maturity. They will form small heads; still, 2 of those are more than enough for four people to enjoy it as a side dish.

Shangai Green Bok Choy

This variety differs from regular bok choy in color and flavor. Shangai baby choy has jade green-colored stalks while bok choy has white. It will mature in 35 to 45 days.

shangai bok choy
Shangai bok choy

How to Grow Chinese Cabbage?

Asian cabbages are biennial plants mostly grown annually. It loves to grow in full sun and rich soil but can tolerate shade and lower quality soils. To encourage faster growth, add fertilizer to and keep the soil moist. Chinese cabbage will tolerate high temperatures better but needs more water than regular cabbage.

Growing in Containers

You can grow Chinese cabbages in containers as long as the container is large enough to allow room for the plant’s root system. Ensure the container is placed in a location with ample sunlight and has a clear, unobstructed view. Spacing is essential; if you space seedlings too tight, you will get smaller plants, heads, and yield.

Growing in Greenhouses

The greenhouse has advantages cause you can grow vegetables all year regardless of external conditions. Whether planting Chinese cabbages in January or during the winter, early spring production requires heating at the facility. Sowing in May does not require heating. Growing cabbages in greenhouses do not differ significantly from growing this crop in the open fields or gardens.

Growing in Garden Beds

The Chinese cabbage must not be planted in the same garden bed for at least 3 years. That’s because to avoid many brassica-related diseases that can occur.

It fits nicely in the crop rotation after potatoes, peas, and legumes, and in autumn leaves a good soil preparation for winter cover crops like hairy vetch or winter rye.

When to Plant?

Chinese cabbage is a fast-growing vegetable that can be grown year-round. Depending on the variety you choose, from sowing seeds to harvesting will pass between 6 and 12 weeks.

By knowing that information, you can start sowing seeds indoors in the early spring period, as well as in the late autumn period. Such production, together with the transplanting seedlings outside in late spring and early autumn, allows you to grow the best quality Chinese cabbages throughout the year.

You can start directly seeding in a garden after the last frost dangers pass and when the soil becomes workable.

chinese cabbage seedling
Chinese cabbage seedling

Soil

The ideal pH value of soil for growing Chinese cabbage is between 6 and 7. A good soil structure is fundamental in direct seeding. But also grows well on all kinds of soil, except on extremely light or heavy soil.

It will grow best in well-drained, rich soil, which keeps moisture. Low pH or dry soils may lead to calcium or magnesium deficiency, affecting plant quality.

Essential soil preparation includes tilling into a well-balanced and refined structure but not deeper than 12 inches.

Sowing seeds

Chinese cabbage is best grown from seed and can be direct-seeded in the garden beds or started from seedlings in pots, trays, or containers.

Before direct seeding or transplanting seedlings, ensure the soil is moderately wet.

Sow seeds about half-inch deep in rows spaced at 2 to 4 inches wide with at least 1 foot between rows. When seedlings have 3 to 4 leaves and are 4 inches tall, you can thin them 1 foot apart from each other. Water your plants well after thinning or transplanting.

chinese cabbage ready for transplanting
Chinese cabbage ready for thinning and transplanting

Fertilizer

Water-soluble fertilizer is best for gardeners growing in smaller gardens. Liquid fertilizers are available at most nurseries, usually labeled as “plant food. ” As the Chinese cabbage is a heavy feeder, high-nitrogen fertilizer is preferred. A good high-nitrogen fertilizer is 10-10-10 or a 20-20-20. Liquid fertilizer should be applied when the plants are rooted well and then every 2 to 3 weeks.

If you are growing organic cabbage, prepare the soil with compost and aged manure.

Watering

You will need to water it regularly to keep it from drying out. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and do not allow the plant to dry out. In spring and fall, you may want to apply a water-soluble fertilizer.

It’s good to give it light mulch to keep soil moisture and protect roots from drying out during the summer. Chinese cabbage needs about 1.5 inches of water per square foot a week.

Propagation

The Chinese cabbage can go to the flowering stage too early if a violation of the root system occurs during transplantation (the plant does so to end its life cycle earlier). During May, plants can also bolt earlier because of the difference in the length of the day. In order to avoid flowering, plant seeds in early spring or at the end of summer, when the days are not so long. The lack of moisture and significant temperature oscillation can also cause bolting.

If you want to collect seeds for next year’s growth, you can allow flowering, but make sure you planted heirloom seeds, not hybrid or F1 seeds.

Companion plants

Chives, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, melons, parsley, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips are some of the best companions to grow with Chinese cabbage. Each plant type works differently, but collectively they help each other out.

Avoid planting any of the following alongside Brassicas: beans, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. These plants can inhibit the growth of Asian cabbages.

When to Harvest?

Depending on the variety, Chinese cabbage is ready to be harvested when the heads are about 2 to 6 inches wide, and the first leaves begin to yellow. Pick them when it achieves the necessary size and compactness of the head. You should harvest before the heads start splitting to ensure the best flavor. The heads should feel firm to the touch and should be easy to detach from the main stem without tearing the leaves.

Storing

You can store your Chinese cabbage wrapped in plastic foil in the vegetable section of the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Or you can also freeze leaves and heads to keep them fresh for months.

Before freezing, you should blanch them first. To do that, sink shredded cabbage in boiling water for 3 minutes and then chill it out in ice-cold water.

bok choy harvested and ready for consuming

How to Care for Chinese Cabbage

Chinese cabbage is a hardy vegetable that will grow well in most zones and does not require a long growing season or much maintenance. However, it needs regular watering with attention to soil not to dry out.

When inspecting the plants for diseases, remove infected ones from the garden bed. If there is a problem with the pests, cover vegetables under the row cover or thin netting. Place mulch around the plants to reduce the weeds’ growth and retain moisture in the soil more easily.

Common problems

The most common growing problems include pests, weeds, and diseases. Insects and weeds are the most common problems with most Asian cabbage crops. Other issues you may face include root rot, seediness, and yellowing. You would like to mulch your vegetables as it helps them to grow better and healthier.

Chinese cabbage growing problems

Diseases that can plague Chinese cabbage include: 

  • Alternaria leaf spot
  • Clubroot 
  • Blackroot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Downy mildew
  • Cabbage yellow
  • Blackleg
  • Purple blotch
  • White mold

It’s also not uncommon to have pests, such as aphids and cabbage loopers but also:

chinese cabbage pest infected
Pest infected Chinese cabbage

Conclusion

Due to its low price, high yield, and ease of growing, Chinese cabbage has become one of the most popular vegetables in China and later in the world. Growing Chinese cabbage in your garden is easy and requires no special equipment. The first thing you need to do when planting is to determine which variety of Chinese cabbage suits you better. If you like the less intense flavor with a sweeter taste, you should go with the napa-type Pekinensis group. On the other hand, if you prefer the crunchiness and fast-growing bok choy, go with the Chinensis group varieties.