How to Plant and Grow Chinese Cabbage

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chinese cabbage brassica rapa

Chinese cabbage combines the tasty flavor of cabbage with the texture of romaine lettuce to reign as one of the most enticing cool-season vegetables. This versatile vegetable comes in two types: bok choy (aka pak choi), which features tall, narrow heads with thick white stalks and deep green leaves, and napa cabbage, which is more compact and resembles a miniature head of romaine lettuce. Bok choy is often braised (which brings out its mild, sweet flavor) or used in stir-fry dishes. Napa cabbage's mild flavor has a peppery kick that suits salads, stir-fries, and spicy kimchi.

Chinese Cabbage Overview

Genus Name Brassica rapa
Common Name Chinese Cabbage
Plant Type Annual, Vegetable
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 1 to 1 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Propagation Seed

How and When to Plant Chinese Cabbage

Chinese cabbage thrives in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. Pair this nutrient-packed vegetable with other cool-season edibles for a robust backyard harvest at the beginning or end of the growing season. Some easy-to-grow options include radishes, spinach, and leafy greens. They can be seeded directly in the garden or a large container about four weeks before the last frost date in your area, or in late summer for a fall harvest. Broccoli and cauliflower also grow well in cool weather. Start broccoli and cauliflower from seed planted indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date in spring. Or plant transplants in the garden after the heat of summer passes.

Chinese Cabbage Care Tips

Plant Chinese cabbage in moist, fertile, well-drained soil and sun or part shade. It's particularly important to choose a part-shade planting spot if your region experiences hot summers. Part shade helps prevent this vegetable from bolting and turning bitter.

Chinese cabbage also tends to bolt and become bitter when exposed to frost or a week of nighttime temperatures below 50°F. Wait until after the last frost date to direct-seed Chinese cabbage. For fall harvest, plant seeds directly in the garden in late summer. Tip: Chinese cabbage does not like to be transplanted. Seedlings started indoors should be placed in biodegradable pots that can be set into the soil.

When planting in the garden, sow two or three seeds 10 inches apart in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. When seedlings are several inches tall, thin them to one strong plant every 10 inches. (Use the thinned plants in salads, if you like.) To avoid stunting growth, don't let seedlings get crowded before thinning or transplanting. Water plants regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet, to promote strong growth. Harvest Chinese cabbage when heads are plump and well filled out. Finish harvesting before the advent of freezing weather. Chinese cabbage can be stored in the refrigerator's vegetable bin for about a month, or blanched and frozen for up to four months.

Young Chinese cabbage plants can be attacked by aphids and cabbage worms. Hand-pick or hose off the aphids, and control the cabbage worms by spraying Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Harvesting Tips

With a sharp knife, cut mature heads when they are compact and firm. Most varieties are ready to harvest 45-50 days after planting. Direct seed a second crop in mid- to late summer for fall harvest before a hard frost.

New Innovations

Chinese cabbage, along with other green leafy vegetables, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Plant breeders are developing new varieties that are well-suited for container-growing and tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

Garden Plan for Chinese Cabbage

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