For colorful and cold-hardy beauty, plant flowering kale and cabbage

In The Garden

October 24, 2004|By Norman Winter | Norman Winter,Knight Ridder / Tribune

In much of the country the weather has become perfect for planting ornamental or flowering kale and cabbage.

Considered among the best of all the wonderful cool-season plants, flowering kale and cabbage produce foliage in brilliant, colorful shades of lavender, green, purple, pink and white. They last from October or November through April, bringing the winter garden alive.

These plants are native to the Mediterranean and are indeed related to broccoli, cauliflower, collards and another terrific ornamental stock. The plants are tougher than you may have thought -- once acclimated to cool weather, kale and cabbage can withstand temperatures in the mid-teens.

Select a site in full sun with fertile, organic-rich soil. If the planting area has tight, heavy clay, amend with compost or humus to loosen. While preparing the soil, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release 12-6-6-fertilizer with minor nutrients per 100 square feet.

Set out nursery-grown transplants 12 to 18 inches apart and be sure to add a good layer of mulch after planting to help stabilize soil temperatures and conserve moisture. If record-low temperatures are forecast, these plants can be completely covered with pine straw until the weather warms.

Kale and cabbage need good drainage, yet must be kept moist and fed to continue growing vigorously. Pay close attention to dry, cold fronts, which have a tendency to deplete the available moisture significantly. Feed with light applications of the pre-plant fertilizer every four to six weeks. The colors will intensify as the temperatures get colder.

Unfortunately, the same cabbage loopers that attack broccoli can be a problem for these plants as well. Watch and treat as needed with Bacillus thuringensis.

Flowering kale and cabbage excel in beds of colorful pansies, violas and snapdragons. For a really showy display, try bold drifts of pink or purple kale next to another drift of a white variety.

There are many varieties. The Chidori series with its fringed, ruffled leaves and intense colors have become the most popular. The Peacock and Sparrow series also come recommended as some of the prettiest. If your favorites are the round-leaf types, then try the Dynasty series.

Flowering kale and cabbage are not edible, but the leaves do make beautiful decorative garnishes for holiday feasts.

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