Caring For Chinese Cabbage – How To Grow Chinese Cabbage

Caring For Chinese Cabbage – How To Grow Chinese Cabbage

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By: Kathee Mierzejewski

What is Chinese cabbage? Chinese cabbage (Brassica pekinensis) is an oriental vegetable that is used a lot in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce. The leaves are tender like lettuce even though it is a cabbage. Unlike regular cabbage, the thick veins in the leaves are actually sweet and tender. Growing Chinese cabbage is a great addition to any vegetable garden.

How to Grow Chinese Cabbage

When considering planting Chinese cabbage, you have to remember that you can grow an early winter or mid-winter crop or a spring crop. Just don’t plant your cabbage too late or it will send up flower stalks before making heads, which robs the plant of nutrients.

One of the steps to grow Chinese cabbage is to prepare the soil. Planting Chinese cabbage requires heavy soil that holds moisture. You do not want the soil too wet, however, because it can rot the plant. To keep your Chinese cabbage growing well during the season, you should fertilize the soil before planting. Also, make sure plants get enough water, but not too much, throughout the season.

Planting Chinese cabbage can be done in late summer to fall (August through October) for an early winter or mid-winter crop, or in winter (January) for a spring crop. It all depends on when you want your cabbage to be harvested. When you plant in winter, you want your growing Chinese cabbage where it is protected from cold, ice and frost as it matures.

Growing Chinese cabbage is done best when the plants are 10 inches (25 cm.) apart. This gives smaller heads which are great for home use. Also, you want two- to three-pound heads, so plant them in double rows to keep the size of the heads smaller.

If you plant from seed, be sure to put the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.6 to 1.2 cm.) deep and 3 inches (7.6 cm.) apart. When the growing Chinese cabbage is 4 to 5 inches (10-13 cm.) tall, you can thin the plants to about 10 inches (25 cm.) apart.

Harvesting Chinese Cabbage Plants

When you harvest the cabbage, be sure to pick Chinese cabbage growing from the first planting you started, if you have staggered plantings for continuous crops.

Take the heads and clean them of browning or bug damaged leaves on the outside and wrap them in plastic firmly so they keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Chinese cabbage is a great vegetable to include in all your salads.

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How to Grow Vegetables: Chinese Cabbage

Chinese cabbage, scientific name Brassica rapa subspecies chinensis and pekinensis, refers to two different varieties of Chinese vegetables commonly used in Chinese cuisines. Such green leafy vegetables are related to the commonly known western cabbage and are of the same species as the turnip.

The foliage is usually light to medium green with white veins, plants reach a height of 1 to 2 feet (30 – 60 cm), with a spread of 12 to 18 inches (30 – 45 cm). Stalks are usually white.

The most common variant is known as the Napa cabbage, pac choy, or bok choy. Chinese cabbage is actually a cold-weather vegetable that is best grown in cool temperatures during a long growing season of 50 to 85 days.

For best results it is best planted near coastal locations as the sea breeze helps in making the plant cool.

For cold regions, seeds should be sown four to six weeks before the last frost ready to be harvested before the outside temperature reaches above 75°F (24°C). For the more common western species, see this article on how to grow cabbage plants.

Chinese cabbage has broad, thick, tender leaves with heavy midribs. It is a hardy biennial grown as an annual plant. Several varieties are available some are tight headed while others are loose headed. Plants can grow from 15 to 18 inches (38 – 45 cm) tall.


Cabbage is in the same family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and collards. It can be eaten raw in cole slaw, fermented to make sauerkraut or kimchi, or cooked into a variety of dishes. Cabbage is high in vitamins, particularly vitamin C.

This is a perfect vegetable for those who like their edible gardens to be both functional and beautiful traditional cabbage looks lovely as it grows larger with a few loose leaves around a growing head, plus it can be found in shades of green, red, or purple. Chinese cabbage can be found in two types, heading (Pekinensis) or open-leaf (Chinensis). Open-leaf types form looser heads, giving you lovely large leaves to look at in your garden. Bok Choy is an open-leaf type of Chinese cabbage, while Napa and Michihili form tighter heads.

Head cracking or splitting occurs due to excessive water uptake and growth near maturity. Root-prune with spade or trowel or twist the stalk to break some of the roots and reduce water uptake.

Several worms (imported cabbageworm, cabbage looper, diamondback moth caterpillar), harlequin bugs, cabbage maggots, aphids and flea beetles are the major insect problems. For more information, see HGIC 2203, Cabbage, Broccoli, & Other Cole Crop Insect Pests.

Common disease problems include black rot, wire stem, damping-off, downy mildew, Alternaria leaf spot and watery soft rot. Cabbage is more susceptible to wire stem and downy mildew than Chinese cabbage. Chinese cabbage is more susceptible to Alternaria leaf spot.

Black rot causes the most serious damage and appears as V-shaped lesions down the leaves and spreads into the water conducting system of the plant. Black rot is caused by a bacterium that is seed-borne or that can be transmitted by transplants. Warm, moist weather favors the disease. There is no control for black rot once it is established in a planting. Prevent black rot by purchasing transplants that are marked with a tag indicating that they are certified disease-free or plant western-grown chemically treated seed.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.

Original Author(s)

Powell Smith, PhD, Retired Extension Associate, Clemson University
Nancy Doubrava, Former HGIC Horticulture Information Specialist, Clemson University

Revisions by:

Barbara H. Smith, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.

Harvesting and Storing Chinese Cabbage

Harvest. Cut whole heads at soil level when they are compact and firm and before seed stalks form usually 50 to 80 after sowing. Complete the harvest before the arrival of freezing weather. If the first fall frost arrives before heads form, Chinese cabbage can still be harvested for greens.

Storing and preserving. Chinese cabbage will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 4 weeks. Chinese cabbage can be blanched and frozen for 3 to 4 months.

4 plants to NOT grow next to your cabbages

Naturally, there is always a handful of competitors or unfriendly neighbors in the garden.

Here are a few plants that prefer to be further away from your cabbages, to keep peace in the garden.


It is common knowledge that lettuce appreciates being planted with chives and garlic. Cabbage, however, does not like garlic, nor does it enjoy the company of lettuce. In some cases, root secretions from members of the cabbage family can prevent lettuce seeds from germinating.

Leave the lettuce to be planted with turnips, parsnips and radishes instead.

I highly encourage you to perform your own experiments. You may find that what doesn’t work for others, may just work for you.


All members of the cabbage family can be detrimental to the health of your lush strawberries.

Brassicas are said to impair the growth of strawberry plants, so if you want a mouthwatering harvest, plant them elsewhere!

If you are going to companion plant anything with strawberries, make it borage.


If you get carried away each year with planting tomatoes in your garden, know that you are not alone. We all desire that bountiful harvest with bucketful after bucketful of tomatoey goodness.

Keep in mind that broccoli, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi and other Brassicas are to steer clear of tomatoes, as the relationship is not beneficial, particularly for the tomatoes. Experience indicates that members of the cabbage family inhibit tomato growth. This is true of planting fennel next to tomatoes as well.

Finally we are left with rue – and whether or not it should be planted next to cabbages. Articles and experts alike tend to agree that they shouldn’t be planted together, though “why” remains unclear.

What is clear about companion planting, however, is that it is okay to not understand every plant relationship, or try to guess what may be going on between them.

Let the plants keep some secrets to themselves.

Watch the video: How to Grow Napa. Chinese Cabbage 101 - Seed to Kitchen! Everything You Need to Know


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