How To Grow Cabbage From Seed

A couple of days ago I started my cabbage and broccoli seeds. I know it seems early, but last year I started my seeds indoors on the 22nd of January, and it actually worked out well.

cabbage seedling in raised bed
cabbage seedling in raised bed

They did fantastically… until I fried them by leaving them under a row cover in the heat of the day. Oops. This year, I vow to do better.

Cabbage is a cool weather crop. Seedlings actually need to be planted in your garden about 4 weeks before your last frost date in Spring, and 4-6 weeks before your first Fall frost. (Don’t worry, the frost won’t kill these plants.)

When growing plants from seed, you need to get them started 4-6 weeks before planting time, so they’ll have time to grow their true leaves and will be strong enough to transplant.

Before you ask, yes, cabbage can be direct sowed, meaning you can put the seeds straight into the ground instead of starting them indoors and then transplanting them.

broccoli and cabbage plants growing in raised bed

Direct sowing is definitely lower maintenance. But I’m impatient. And I like to see immediate results when I put something into my garden beds. So I start them early.

At least it’s comforting to know that if my seedlings don’t do well I can always direct sow at a later date and still have time for a harvest before the summer heat causes my plants to bolt. (Bolting is when they go to seed and get bitter.)

Starting cabbage from seed is super easy. Here’s how I do it…

First, get your hands on some containers to start seeds in. I’ve used yogurt cups with great success. I happened to have these trays this time around, so that’s what I’m working with:

seed starting trays next to bag of seed starting potting soil mix
seed starting trays next to bag of seed starting potting soil mix

Fill your containers with seed starting mix. Make sure it specifically says Seed Starting and not just Potting Mix. Plain ol’ potting mix doesn’t have the nutrients seedlings need to thrive. Ask me how I learned that one.

seed starting tray filled with potting soil next to watering can
seed starting tray filled with potting soil next to watering can

Once your containers are filled, soak them thoroughly. If you are on city water, you may need to use filtered water for your plants. There are very harsh chemicals in treated city water which will hinder the growth of your seedlings.

packets of broccoli and cabbage seeds
packets of broccoli and cabbage seeds

Select the seeds you’d like to plant. I’m going with Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage, and Henderson’s Charleston Wakefield Cabbage. Look into which varieties grow best in your area. I chose heirloom varieties so that I can save the seeds from the plants I grow for next year’s crop.

(This will be my first time growing purple cabbage.)

Plant the seeds about 1/4″ deep in your seed starting mix. I like to poke a little hole in the dirt, drop the seed in, then cover it back over. I recommend planting two seeds per container, just in case one of the seeds doesn’t germinate.

Some people do three at a time, but I’ve found that to be quite wasteful- you can only allow one plant per tray cell to grow, and if all three seedlings emerge, two would be wasted.

The soil must stay moist while the seeds germinate. I like to bottom water mine, so as not to disrupt the seeds by watering from above.

Here you can see that I’ve got my seeds sitting in my kids’ play table with a couple inches of water in the bottom:

seeds tray inside container with a few inches of water
bottom watering seeds: the seeds tray is placed inside a container filled with a few inches of water

I’ve seen people spray their trays with a spray bottle, which also works well. I tend to be forgetful, and would probably let my seeds dry out if I didn’t bottom water.

Don’t forget to label your trays. Broccoli seedlings and cabbage seedlings look identical when they come up, making it easy to confuse which is which.

Also make a note of when you started your seeds so you can write in your garden journal how long it took your seeds to germinate. Keep track of how many weeks old they are to best judge transplanting time.

As a side note, I had my seed tray just like this in my greenhouse when it got super cold one night and the water in the table actually froze into a giant block of ice.

large cabbage in the garden
large cabbage in the garden

After it thawed out, I brought my seed trays indoors so they wouldn’t freeze again. So far, they’re taking longer than usual to germinate. I’m sure the freeze set them back.

I usually cover my filled trays with loose plastic bags, to create a mini greenhouse effect, and set them on top of the fridge to germinate in a warm place. I was hoping the greenhouse would stay warm enough, but no such luck for right now anyways.

Do you know a special trick for growing cabbage from seed? Any questions I can help answer for you?

12 thoughts on “How To Grow Cabbage From Seed”

  1. I sprout my cabbage seeds on a covered plate with paper towels and covered with an old pot cover. I use cheap (dollar store) styrofoam plates that can be discarded after each run, in order to discourage contamination by mold and mildew.

    I find seeds bought from a seed catalogue germinate at a very high rate, about 95 % or higher, but this method allows me to choose the (apparent) vigorous growers. I pick them up with a sharp-pointed knife and pop them into seed-starting mix (not potting soil) at about 1/4 inch deep. If you have only potting soil you should plan on fertilizing the seedlings very early on with a very delute solution of soluble fertilizer.

    I plant in used yogurt cups with holes punched in the bottom, and cheap styrofoam cups, also with holes punched. Cabbage plants DO NOT like wet feet.

    “Leggy” seedlings are a problem. I try to plant the seeds deep enough and give them plenty of light as soon as they emerge….otherwise, they just stretch out. If they do get leggy, I keep growing them anyway because they often catch up their growth later on.
    I do not bury cabbage plants deep, as you would with tomatoes, because cabbage will not sprout roots along their stems as tomatoes willl.

    Here in Central Florida, cabbage season is now through the winter months, and they do pretty well.

    Good Luck with those cabbages!

  2. Quick question- hubby didn’t believe that the seedlings would get tall and lanky before their first true leaves when light source was too far above the seedling starter. Now we have broccoli sprouts starting to get true leaves with lanky, skinny stems. When I transplant into bigger pots, can I bury the “stalk” deep in the soil like you would tomatoes?

    • Barb O,

      Oops! Well, lesson learned, right? I actually forgot to check some of my cabbage seedlings for ONE day, and they had sprouted. By the next day, when I checked on them, they were about 2 in. tall and very lanky, or “leggy”. I honestly don’t have experience planted them deep, but I was going to try that with these and see what happens.

  3. How funny… I just placed 2 big seed orders. Have some stuff I am starting today, and the rest will be next week when my seeds come in. We are going to shoot for 3 growing seasons this year!

  4. Thank you! Gotta have some cauliflower this year.

    I have been thinking of getting some greens planted, too. I did plant some onions the other day when we had an unseasonably warm day (over 70F). I had a bag of golf ball-sized onions that had sprouted, so I planted them…. then replanted them when the Boxers decided to help me.

  5. We all must be getting the garden bug at the same time!!!! I have a tip to help seeds germinate faster. Soak the seed in Black tea for about 8 hours or overnight. (any veriety and in separate containers :). I use Luzianne just because that’s what my husband drinks. After planting I water them and slip the tray in a trash bag and fold the end under. Once a day open the bag for a second to get fresh air and close it back up. No need to add more water. This really works.!! Within 4 days tomatoes will be up and looking for light. I always think of seeds as little miracles! It works for all seeds.

  6. Great post! And great timing, too! I have always purchased my broccoli and cabbage plants. It has been awhile since I planted any and last year, when I went in search of those “bundled” cabbage plants, there were none to be found. Looks like they are not longer sold that way. (bummer). Purchasing them in 6-packs was not very cost effective at all, so this year I have seeds to try and start. Although I have started many types of seeds over the years, this will be the first time I start broccoli and cabbage. Thank you so much for this very timely post. Do you start cauliflower the same way and equally as early?


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