Ornamental cabbage and kale

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale

Ornamental cabbages and kales are prized for their brightly colored foliage.

Susan Mahr, UW Horticulture
Revised: 5/11/2010
Item number: XHT1163

What are ornamental cabbage and kale? Ornamental cabbage and kale (also known as “flowering” cabbage and kale) are in the same species (Brassica oleracea) as edible cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. While ornamental cabbage and kale are edible, they tend to have a bitter flavor and are often used in a culinary setting as garnishes. Ornamental cabbage and kale are prized primarily as colorful additions to home gardens where they are grown for their large rosettes of white, pink, purple or red leaves. Technically, ornamental cabbage and kale are all kales (kales produce leaves in a tight rosettes; cabbages produce heads). But in the horticultural trade, ornamental kale is the term used for types with deeply-cut, curly, frilly or ruffled leaves. Ornamental cabbage is the term used for types with broad, flat leaves that are edged in a contrasting color. Ornamental cabbage and kale grow approximately one foot wide and 15 inches tall. There are many cultivars that are commercially available.

•The ‘Chidori’ series has mounded kale types with purple foliage, extremely curly leaf margins and cream white or deep magenta centers.
•The ‘Color Up’ series has cabbage types with upright, columnar growth habits and green leaves with colored centers in white, blush pink or fuchsia.
•The ‘Nagoya’ series has round kale types with heavily crinkled leaves and tight rosette centers that range in color from fuchsia pink to lavender to yellow green to creamy white.
•The ‘Osaka’ series has fast-growing, compact cabbage types with bluish-green, semi-waved leaves with pink, red, or white centers.
•The ‘Peacock’ series has compact hybrids with deeply serrated, feathery red or white leaves.
•The ‘Pigeon’ series has flattened cabbage types with red or white centers.
•The ‘Tokyo’ series has nearly perfectly round cabbage types with smooth, blue-green outer leaves and soft pink, red, or white centers.

Where do I get ornamental cabbage and kale? Ornamental cabbages and kales do not tolerate summer heat, so you need to start plants from seed in mid-summer, or purchase transplants at your local garden center. Sow seeds about six to 10 weeks before the expected date of the first frost in your area. Seeds must be sown and young plants kept under cool conditions to thrive. In most climates, this means plants should be started in a greenhouse where the temperature can be controlled. Alternatively, you can place pots with seeds in a refrigerator for several days to encourage germination. In cooler climates, sowing seeds directly in the garden may be possible. Ornamental cabbage and kale seeds require light for germination, so seeds should not be covered with soil.

When purchasing ornamental cabbage or kale transplants, look for large, compact plants that are nearly or fully colored. Plants will generally not get much bigger after they are planted in the garden, particularly if the roots are pot bound. Therefore, be sure to buy appropriate-sized plants for the location where they will be used (even though bigger plants will cost more). How do I grow ornamental cabbage and [email protected] Wait until temperatures start cooling down, then plant ornamental cabbage and kale in a sunny location in a moderately moist, rich soil. Bury stems so that the lowest leaves of the plants are flush with the soil surface. After planting, keep the plants well watered. Until cool weather arrives, plants won’t have much color. White, pink, or red pigments will begin to develop when temperatures dip below 50°F. Once acclimated in a site, ornamental cabbages and kale can survive temperatures as low as 5°F, so plants may last well into November and December.

Ornamental cabbage and kale can have problems with cabbage worms (see University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1029, XHT1031 and XHT1032), cutworms (see University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1030), aphids (see University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1043), and slugs (see University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1040). However, because ornamental cabbage and kale are typically grown late in the growing season, they usually have fewer problems with these pests than if they were grown earlier in the year.

How do I use ornamental cabbage and kale most effectively in my [email protected] Ornamental cabbage and kale are great for replacing worn out summer annuals for a long-lasting fall display. Try to position plants to best expose their colorful centers. Use them in mass plantings, in mixed or single container plantings, and as edgings. They look beautiful in the front of a border, especially when combined with perennials that are at their peak in the fall, such as little bluestem grass (Schizacrium scoparium), tall, dark-leaved sedums (Sedum spp.) or asters (Aster spp.). For an easy and attractive container planting, place an ornamental cabbage or kale in the center of a container and surround it with pansies. Or try them with other plants that can tolerate light frosts [e.g., Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla), snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.), petunias (Petunia spp.), or chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum spp.).

As noted above, ornamental cabbage and kale are edible. To reduce their bitter taste, boil them, discard the water, then either boil them again or sauté them in olive oil prior to serving.


Additional Images

Ornamental kale combined with summer warm season annuals as a foliar contrast.
Tags: selection Categories: Flower Care, Flower Selection

It’s hard to beat flowering cabbage and kale for outright drama in the fall garden.

Sometimes called “ornamental” cabbage and kale, these bold rosettes nearly steal the autumn show from brightly colored chrysanthemums and pansies.

Bring them into your garden individually or make a statement with mass plantings.

Here are five things to know about these beauties.

1. Which is which? Flowering cabbage and kale are similar in color, appearance and size, but the main difference is that cabbage leaves have smooth edges and kale leaves are frilly.

2. Create instant borders. Buy mature plants in fall and plant alongside potted mums for eye-catching color and texture.

3. Container-ready. Flowering cabbage and kale are made for containers. Plant alongside heuchera, pansies, fiery ornamental peppers and cordyline for fall.

4. They love chilly weather. The beautiful blues, purples, greens and whites of flowering kale and cabbage will anchor your garden once nighttime temperatures dip into the 50s. In milder climates, expect them to look good throughout the winter.

5. Edible or not? Yes, flowering specimens may be used, but are not bred for taste or texture. Clean, organically raised leaves can be used as a base on a plate to hold other foods.

Discover more great gardening lists:

  • 6 Bright Ways to Fill a Fall Window Box
  • 7 Healthy Plants to Grow for a Smoothie Garden
  • 6 Veggies That Are Sweeter After a Frost

Plant of the Week: Ornamental Kale (Flowering Cabbage)

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Ornamental Kale, Flowering Cabbage
Latin: Brassica oleracea var. acephala

As gardeners, we’re spoiled by the wide variety of flowering plants for the spring garden. Then fall arrives. Instead of a rich and varied assortment, we have pansies and chrysanthemums in multi-colored hues and very little else. But along with these mainstays of fall, we do have a few minor color items such as the ornamental kales.
Ornamental kale is essentially the same as the kale grown in the vegetable garden, except the ornamental types have been bred to have showy white or reddish-purple leaves. Kale, which a member of the cabbage family, is fundamentally a cabbage that does not produce a head. Instead, it produces leaves in a tight rosette.
The ornamental kales are biennial, which means they produce leaves one year and flowers the next. The plants can get about 18 inches tall their first year. While the ornamental types are technically all kales, by convention the forms with deeply cut incised leaves are called “ornamental kale,” while the types with a rounded leaf are called “ornamental cabbage.”
The common name “flowering cabbage” is misleading because we don’t grow these plants for their flowers, just their showy leaves. If we have a mild winter with temperatures that don’t drop below 15 degrees, the plants will overwinter and produce white, four-petaled flowers on tall stalks. But it doesn’t get that cold very often in most parts of the state, and anyway, the flowers are ugly.
Kale is the Scottish name. It’s adapted from the Roman name cole. The ancient vegetable has been grown for at least 4000 years. All members of the cabbage tribe originated in the Mediterranean region and were scattered to all corners of the world by early travelers.
Kale made its way to China, probably by the 4th century, where it and several relatives became a staple of the Chinese diet. The plants eventually made their way to Japan where ornamental leaf types were selected. They became popular in gardens after the 17th century.
In 1929, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent Howard Dorsett to China and Japan in search of new plants. One of his introductions was the ornamental kales from Japan. The plants first appeared in seed catalogs in 1936, giving us a new item for the fall garden.
The correct season for planting ornamental kale has been debated. In areas with cool summers and far northern locations with early frosts, it’s best grown as a summer annual. In the South with our hot summers but long, mild falls, autumn planting is best.
The leaves of ornamental kale are edible. They’re often used as garnish on plates in place of parsley.
In the garden, ornamental kale is used as a front-of-the-border plant, or sometimes for massing in public displays. It should have fertile soil that’s well drained. It should be situated where it gets at least six hours of sunlight. Ornamental kale can also be grown in pots as a patio plant.
The plant’s main nemesis is the cabbage looper. The green worm is the larval stage of a white moth often seen flying above plants with jerky movements at egg-laying time. The insect can riddle the leaves with holes in just a few days. Spraying with Sevin or dusting with BT spores provides effective control.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – October 6, 2000

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

Kale in containers

Giant rosettes of frilly leaves ― in shades of lavender, deep rose, and pink, as well as crisp white and creamy yellow ― make ornamental kales favorite additions to the winter garden. Because these showy cabbage relatives tolerate cold weather and can hold their brilliant color all the way into spring, they’re ideal for growing in pots to display on porches, patios, or beside entryways, or for massing in garden beds. They grow 1 to 2 feet tall.

Plant kales as soon as possible so heads develop fully; the color will intensify as the weather cools. Set several kale plants of the same color in a large container, as shown at right, or combine them with cool-season bloomers such as fairy primroses, stock, or violas.

Varieties whose leaves are blushed with rose or lavender are especially pretty with blue-flowered violas or lavender stock. Display the pots in full sun or light shade. Water regularly and feed every other week with a dilute liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.


Flowering kale, which has brightly colored foliage, is the most decorative, though some varieties of edible kale are attractive as well. Here are our favorite varieties of each type.

For instant effect, buy the largest ornamental kale plants your nursery sells ― typically in 4-inch or gallon-size pots. Edible kales are generally sold in smaller containers or as seed.

Dinosaur kale
Also known as ‘Lacinato’ or ‘Lacinatao Blue’, this kale has gently arching leaves that can reach 2 to 3 feet. Try growing this blue-green heirloom edible with curly parsley planted at the base. Or combine it with other beautiful cool-season greens, such as Swiss chard or red mustard.

Red flowering kale
Crinkly green heads with vibrant reddish centers can brighten an entire garden. Plant this kale near red winter-flowering shrubs such as grevillea, or grow one in a charcoal-colored pot with a fringe of black mondo grass.‘Redbor’ kale
This blackish burgundy edible kale is striking against nearly any color but especially when paired with other kales in shades of hot pink and white, as shown above, or with pink or lavender pansies and stock.

White flowering kale
Crisp white leaves edged in blue-green look frosty on their own, but they have an especially cool look when paired with white flowers such as Nemesia ‘Compact Innocence’. Other cool-season whites that make pretty companions for this kale include white-flowered forms of cyclamen, fairy primroses ( Primula malacoides), Iceland poppies, snapdragons, stock, and violas.

Ornamental Cabbage & Kale

Ornamental cabbages and kales add wonderful texture and color to winter containers and garden borders. They offer a cooler color pallet in shades of purple, pink, green and white.

Ornamental cabbages and kales add wonderful texture and color to winter containers and garden borders. They offer a cooler color pallet in shades of purple, pink, green and white.

Emperor Red

Textures vary from smooth ruffled rosettes to intensely curled heads. Generally the cabbage cultivars have smooth scalloped leaves and stay lower to the ground. In comparison, kale varieties can be more feathery, sometimes taller, and may hold their color better. Like edible cabbages and kales, ornamental varieties slow down or almost stop growing above ground generally in October. If planted in time, most varieties hold at 12-18” tall and wide through the winter.

Emperor White

With the onset of warm weather the spires of yellow flowers can shoot up to three feet tall. Since they thrive in cold weather they are the perfect accent to pansies, dusty miller, conifers, evergreen grasses and perennials. Also some tall varieties are popular in the floral industry for bouquets and arrangements.

Leaves and flowers of ornamental cabbages and kales are also edible! They are the same species as varieties commonly know as edible. Restaurants have been using the attractive leaves for garnish for years, but they are also tasty in salad, stir-fry and as kale chips.

It is important to inquire at your local nursery whether the plants are safe to eat, or may have residual pesticides that are not intended for consumption. Brassica flowers are also an excellent source of early pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Some varieties you can find at Portland Nursery:

Cabbage varieties:

Dark purple outer leaves and rich pink inner leaves. Large smooth leaves have gently undulating edges which creates a dense texture.

Osaka Red

Same as Osaka Pink but has rich magenta inner leaves.

Kale varieties:

Dark green and white leaves with pink centers. Some of the white tipped leaves even have green dots around the edges. Deeply incised leaves give plants a lacy effect.

Coral Queen

An ornamental kale with dark purple leaves and magenta centers. Deeply incised leaves give plants a lacy effect.

Crane or Pigeon Kale

Tall varieties used in floral arrangements. Generally they grow a tall stem topped by a foliage rosette in a variety of colors.

Glamour Red

An award winning variety with unique shiny fringed leaves. Center leaves are bright magenta surrounded by green leaves with outer leaves a dusty purple. Mature size is 10-12” tall and wide.

Purple Peacock

This variety is most reminiscent of its edible cultivars. Finely dissected purple leaves and bright magenta centers. Leaves are loosely arranged on 18-24” tall 12-18” wide.

White Kamome

An extremely tight head of green outer leaves and white inner leaves. Individual leaves have heavily ruffled edges.

White Peacock

Similar to Purple peacock, but has green leaves with white veins and white specked center leaves.

Ornamental cabbage is an annual plant that is very beautiful, with leaves that either stand straight or spread out, that are smooth or ruffled up, and come in many colors.

Ornamental cabbage facts list

Name – Brassica oleracea
Family – brassicas
Type – annual
Height – 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – cool, moist
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – fall, spring

It is very easy to care for from planting or sowing all the way to blooming.

Sowing and planting ornamental cabbage

Ornamental cabbage can be planted in the ground directly if purchased in a nursery pot, but it can also be sown in spring.

Sow at the end of spring in a nursery and transplant directly to the plot about 1 month after sowing.

  • Placing them usually happens in spring, after the last frost spells.
  • Bury the root crown deep, because the head of ornamental cabbage can grow quite heavy.

It is also possible to sow directly in the ground when the last frosts are past, towards May or June.

  • Ornamental cabbage loves rather rich and cool soil.
  • Avoid waterlogged soil in winter.
  • A good deal of sunlight is preferable, even though it can tolerate part sun.
  • Space plants at least 20 inches (50 cm) apart.

Potted ornamental cabbage is ideal for garden boxes, pots and other containers. It makes for a perfect addition to terraces and balconies in any region.

Learn more about ornamental cabbage

Ornamental cabbage is special in that many diverse colors are available, such as red, yellow, green, all colors that lack in the usual winter and fall scenery.

Surprising and colorful, it will decorate your pots, flower beds and edges. Bouquets can even be prepared from them, especially from long-stemmed varieties.

You’ll also notice that frost spells will have no impact on your plants: your ornamental cabbage will stay as beautiful as ever when the temperature drops below freezing!

Smart tip about ornamental cabbage

Space them well upon planting, at least 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 cm) apart, because ornamental cabbage grows very large leaves!

Edible Kale Flower Buds

We’re often told that once a brassica bolts, that signals the end of its life. But to me, those first few kale buds (also known as kale raab) are the start of a new life — in the form of edible flowers that are surprisingly tender and sweet (especially if you’ve had a very cold season, which brings out their sweetness more).

Raab (derived from rapa, Italian for turnip) is just another word for the flowering tops of plants from the brassica family, such as kale, broccoli, mustard greens, and Chinese cabbage. You might be more familiar with broccoli raab, which is often sold in supermarkets as bundles of stems with tight clusters of buds, some with tiny yellow blossoms. Gailan (also called Chinese broccoli) is enjoyed for these little buds as well.

Being a cold-hardy biennial, kale (and other brassicas) survives winters in most climates. It spends its first season developing a strong root system and healthy head of leaves. From early spring to early summer as the weather warms, kale flower buds appear after the plant has completed its life cycle. Before it sets seed, it sends up a flower stalk and the buds can (and should) be harvested for one final hurrah before the plant expires. You can even pinch the buds back to encourage more flower heads to form in the last couple weeks.

I use both the buds and the flowers, which need no more than a simple dressing to bring out their flavor: some olive oil and garlic, sauteed with a squeeze of lemon. Toss the kale raab with a warm brown rice salad and a handful of wilted greens, add it to a stir-fry, or serve it as a side dish.

I used to sigh when I looked out my window at the end of the season and faced a bed of flowering kale, but now all I see is a delicious new crop!


Flowering Kale

Flowering Kale

With its ruffled leaves drenched in pinks, purples, and reds, flowering kale is a decorative and easy-to-grow addition to container gardens and garden beds. Also called ornamental cabbage, flowering kale is in the same plant family as edible cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. Flowering kale is edible, but a bitter flavor means leaves are usually reserved as culinary garnishes—not as food.

Flowering kale thrives in cool weather, which means it takes center stage in the gardens during early spring and fall. It will tolerate light frost with ease, keeping its good looks through winter in Zones 8 and above. Add flowering kale to container plantings for instant texture and color. Grow it in garden beds, planting groups of three to five plants for a bold display of early- and late-season foliage.

genus name
  • Brassica oleracea
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Annual
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • 12-18 inches wide
foliage color
  • Purple/Burgundy
season features
  • Colorful Fall Foliage
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Good for Containers
  • Seed

Garden Plans For Flowering Kale

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Best Garden Companions

In cool regions, add flowering kale to containers in early spring—pairing it with pansies and other spring bloomers. When nighttime temperatures reach the 60s on a regular basis, kale will begin to look bedraggled. Remove it and replace it with a warm-weather-loving plant, such as begonia, coleus, or geranium. When nighttime temperatures dip in autumn, flowering kale once again comes into play in containers. In fall, flowering kale adds texture to pretty pots of chrysanthemums, black-eyed Susans, and ornamental peppers.

Flowering kale is right at home in garden-bed plantings, too. Use it as a statement plant near entryways or patios. This frilly, colorful plant will amplify interest in early- and late-season gardens when perennials are slow to emerge in spring, and annuals and perennials are languishing at the end of the growing season in fall. Flowering kale grows slowly, so purchase large plants if you plan to enjoy them for just a few weeks in spring or fall.

Make a stunning kale wreath fit for any season!

Flowering Kale Care Must-Knows

Flowering kale grows best in sunny locations and moist, rich soil. It will tolerate light shade but develops richer color in full sun. When planting flowering kale, sink the plant into the ground so the lower leaves are flush with the soil surface. Sometimes kale expands in nursery pots, creating a leafless stem. Bury this stem and enjoy the plant’s foliage.

Keep flowering kale well-watered, delivering an inch or so of water a week. Plants begin to develop their colorful foliage when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Once acclimated to a site, flowering kale can easily withstand frost.

More Varieties of Flowering Kale

‘Chidori White’ Kale

Brassica ‘Chidori White’ offers blue-green heads with large, bright creamy-white centers.

‘Glamour Red’ Kale

Brassica oleracea ‘Glamour Red’ is an All-America Selections award-winning ornamental variety with great heat tolerance, intense red-purple coloring, and glossy, frilly leaves. Zones 6-11

‘Peacock Red’ Kale

Brassica ‘Peacock Red’ offers feathery leaves with rich purple-red centers.

‘Pigeon Red’ Kale

Brassica ‘Pigeon Red’ offers purple-tinted leaves with rich purple-red centers.

‘Redbor’ Kale

Brassica ‘Redbor’ offers ruffled leaves in a rich, dark purple shade that mixes well with just about everything.

Plant Flowering Kale With:

For a fall show, plant leadwort. Its gentian-blue late-season flowers often continue to bloom even as the foliage turns brilliant red-orange in fall, making an outstanding autumn display.This plant is also sometimes called plumbago, but it’s different from shrubby tropical plumbago. Use it as a groundcover that spreads well when in conditions it likes — dry sites in full sun to partial shade.

Chrysanthemums are a must-have for the fall garden. No other late-season flower delivers as much color, for as long and as reliably as good ol’ mums. Beautiful chrysanthemum flowers, available in several colors, bring new life to a garden in the fall. Some varieties have daisy blooms; others may be rounded globes, flat, fringed, quill shape, or spoon shape. They work exceptionally well in container plantings and pots. Learn more about using mums for a fall-flowering garden.

From tiny, cheerful Johnny jump-ups to the stunning 3-inch blooms of Majestic Giant pansies, the genus Viola has a spectacular array of delightful plants for the spring garden. They’re must-haves to celebrate the first days of spring since they don’t mind cold weather and can even take a little snow and ice!They’re pretty planted in masses in the ground, but also cherished for the early color they bring to pots, window boxes, and other containers. By summer, pansies bloom less and their foliage starts to brown. It’s at this time that you’ll have to be tough and tear them out and replant with warm-season annuals, such as marigolds or petunias. But that’s part of their charm — they are an ephemeral celebration of spring!

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