Today, I want to give you a complete garden guide on how to grow napa cabbage from seed.

First, I’ll show you the best varieties to grow from seed.

Then, I’ll walk you through the process of growing it in your home garden.

Finally, I’ll give you tips on planting and caring for it.

What is Napa Cabbage?

Napa cabbage, Brassica rapa ssp. pekinensis is an annual or biennial vegetable in the family Brassicaceae grown for its large edible leaves. The napa cabbage plant develops from a shallow taproot, and its head is tightly wrapped in its bulky, oblong wrinkled leaves.

The stalks are nearly white, and the leaf’s color varies depending on the variety, from light green to purple. The plant produces well-known yellow petals with four crosses present in other cruciferous plants.

napa cabbage flower
Napa cabbage flower

The napa cabbage, also known as pe-tsai, is usually grown annually and is native to China. It is typically used in Chinese cuisine as a staple food and a major ingredient in kimchi, the Korean pickled vegetable dish.

Napa cabbage is a great vegetable for gardeners since it is simple to cultivate and can yield big healthy crops. It grows similarly to regular cabbage, and gardeners who have previously grown bok choy will be familiar with it. Napa is also called white Chinese cabbage and tastes sweeter than traditional cabbage.

napa cabbage heads

Napa Cabbage Varieties

It is important to mention that not all napa cabbages varieties will form compact heads.

Chilili – produce cylindrical heads, also known as semi-heading varieties:   

  • Michihli
  • Market Pride
  • Shantung
  • Chilili
semi head nappa cabbage
Semi head nappa cabbage

Che foo – produce compact round heads, including varieties: 

  • Wong Bok
  • TokyoGiant
  • China King
  • Winter Giant
Round head nappa cabbage
Round head nappa cabbage

But also, there are loose-leaf varieties that don’t form heads at all, like:

  • Round leaf
  • Shirona
  • Tokyo Bekana
  • Hiroshimana
chinese napa cabbage
Loose-leaf napa cabbage

Why Should You Grow Napa Cabbage in Your Garden?

Napa cabbage is a hardy, low-maintenance crop ideal for the small gardener.

You’ll notice a mild and slightly sweet taste the first time you eat a piece of napa cabbage. But the real deal of this vegetable is its versatility. You can use it instead of any other leafy green vegetable in salads, sandwiches, soups, smoothies, and stir-fries. You can even stuff it into tacos or burritos. And no matter how you cook it, it will always be delicious.

According to the U. S. Department of agriculture, cooked napa cabbage is a great source of vitamin C, Potassium, and Calcium. It’s also a good source of folate and fiber.

napa cabbage salad

How to Grow Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage is a cool-season hardy vegetable that will tolerate cold and shade. You can plant it directly in the ground, in containers, or in hanging baskets. It grows similarly to regular cabbage, and gardeners who have previously cultivated bok choy will be familiar with it. Napa is a great crop to grow for its head size and the delicious flavor of the leaves.

To get a high yield, you should grow this crop in fertile, well-drained soil. Napa cabbage grows best when given plenty of sun and water and will thrive in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

When to Plant?

You can plant Napa cabbage at any time of the year. However, you’ll get great results if you sow it in spring or early fall. But the best strategy for a robust harvest is direct seeding in the fall.

In the spring, plant the seeds about one week before the last frost in your area.

Or, for fall seeding, start 90 days before your area’s anticipated first frost date.

If the frost comes early, you should protect them with a floating row cover.

A light frost won’t harm plants, but a prolonged one will cause bolting (flowering). Bolting is especially common in spring crops. We must adapt because most of us do not reside in an area with perfect weather for the bulk of the year. Keep in mind that high temperatures might also trigger bolting. If the weather forecast announces high-temperature oscillation, give them shade or cool the leaves with water in the evening.

All of these typically mean that the greatest seasons for growth are spring and fall, but it actually depends on the region where you live.

Good to know

Buying transplants might be a better option for those with short growing seasons. With this alternative, you can shorten the outdoor growth period by a month or more, and transplants are easily accessible.
chinese cabbage ready for transplanting
Napa cabbage ready for thinning and transplanting

Soil

Napa cabbage prefers rich, well-drained, fertile soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. In addition to rich soil, it is important to keep the soil well-fertilized.

Cabbages have shallow roots, so it is essential to prepare the soil by tilling into the fine structure up to 12 inches deep.

Do not grow napa cabbages in the same garden bed or soil for at least 3 years. Rotate them every year with another vegetable family plant. If you are unsure how, check crop rotation examples here.

If you have heavy or bad soil, you should try to grow it in raised beds or containers. As the roots spread, plants can grow twice as tall as those grown in the fields.

Watering

Napa cabbage grows faster than regular cabbage, so it needs more water. You should water your plants regularly, best in the morning, and keep the soil moisture. Don’t allow the soil gets draught cause it can also trigger bolting.

Plant needs about 1.5 inches of water per week.

napa cabbage leaves harvested

Sow Seeds

Napa cabbage is best grown from seed and can be direct-seeded in your garden ground or started indoors in trays or seed beads for transplants.

Sow seeds 0. 5 inches deep in small groups of 1–3 seeds allowing 2 to 4 inches between. When they emerge in about a week, thin them to a final spacing of 1 foot within the row, allowing at least 30 inches between rows.

Your plants’ heads will be smaller but also tastier if you thin them closer together, but don’t go less than 12 to 18 inches to prevent diseases.

Water well and keep the soil evenly moist after sowing seeds, thinning, and transplanting.

You can transplant seedlings raised indoors when they have 3 to 4 leaves and are about 3 to 4 inches tall.

chinese cabbage seedling
Napa cabbage seedling

Fertilizer

Napa cabbage is a heavy feeder and must be fed every 2-3 weeks, although more frequent feeding is sometimes necessary for poor soils.

The secret to growing large heads of beautiful napa cabbage is to feed your plants with a healthy dose of nitrogen.

Blood and bone (an organic liquid fertilizer) is a good choice, but you might want to add some compost to your organic fertilizer mix if your soil is low in organic matter.

Tomato and onion compost are a great choice for napa cabbages as this study show that compost will increase the proliferation of Trichoderma sp. in soil. Trichoderma species are beneficial fungi in the soil that can significantly raise plant development.

Companion Plants

Plants that grow well near cabbage include onions, melons, parsley, radishes, and rutabaga. Other good companions to grow with cabbage include turnips, cucumbers, eggplant, and chives.

Napa cabbage also works well with broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, but some gardeners say it is not good to grow them together as they all are heavy feeders which will fight for the nutrients.

Napa cabbage doesn’t like being planted near beans, peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes.

When To Harvest?

Depending on the variety, napa cabbage is ready to harvest in 65 to 100 days. You can start picking when the heads are 4 to 6 inches wide and the leaves turn yellow.

Harvesting them while the heads are still firm and the leaves aren’t yellow will help keep the heads from splitting and developing a bitter taste. You can cut the heads off the plant by grasping the base with your hand and gently pulling the plant up.

A napa cabbage’s size is not the only factor to consider. Feeling a head is the best way to determine whether it is ready for harvest. The head should feel dense, solid, and feel firm to touch. Loose-leaf varieties mature earlier than head or semi-head types, and you can start picking leaves in just 35 days.

harvested napa cabbage

Care 

As your plants grow, you mostly need just to keep an eye on them. Look for pests or disease indicators and remove any yellowing or browning leaves.

Leaf pruning is especially necessary for loose-leaf varieties as it will help you to inspect for insects, water them more thoroughly and improve the health of your plants.

You can cut all the leaves touching the ground and the ones overlapping between plants. These leaves are edible; you can make a healthy smoothie from them, feed the chickens, or just discard them in the compost bin.

The soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry up, but you also don’t want it to become soggy.

Common problems

Napa cabbage is not very sensitive to many problems, but certain pests and diseases affect the product’s quality. The most common problem is cabbage pests like cabbage worms, loopers, and aphids. Sometimes I feel they travel hundreds of miles just to land on my brassicas. Other problems your vegetable can have are related to weather conditions and diseases.

Common pests are:

chinese cabbage pest infected
Pest infected napa cabbage

The most common diseases are:

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

Conclusion

Napas are delicious, nutritious, and easy to grow in your garden. This plant grows fast and requires little care, so it’s a good choice for beginners who want to try their hand at growing a vegetable. Napas also produce a large amount of food, making them perfect for feeding families.

The most important thing you need to know to grow perfect napa cabbage is preparing the soil and good timing for sowing seeds. It will thrive in moderate climates as a cool-season vegetable, but it is also a hardy plant for cooler climates. You can also grow it in warm climates, but give them some shade when hot weather arrives.

Growing Napa cabbage is easy because it requires no special equipment or knowledge. You just need to ensure enough sunlight, water, and nutrients.

Are there any tips or tricks you’ve learned along the way? Please share this article in the links below.