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Ornamental Cabbages & Kales
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For cool weather color, texture, and fantastic container displays, few plants can compare to the Ornamental Cabbages and Kales. 

Both Ornamental Cabbage and Ornamental Kale are members of the Brassica, or Mustard family, which includes ordinary cabbages, kales, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips.  As would be expected, Ornamental Cabbage and Kale are both edible, but they are usually used for decorative purposes because of their wonderful versatility in the home landscape.  The other members of this family of plants are much more tasty and economical as food crops. 

Ornamental Cabbages and Kales are used in the landscape for their remarkable foliage.  They develop large rosettes of colorful and decorative leaves variegated with cream, rose, pink, and purple.  They make wonderful mass plantings, mixed or single container plantings, and edgings.  Another great feature of these plants is that their color becomes more intense after the first few hard frosts.  In the more temperate areas, they will retain their color all the way until spring.  Some gardeners in the colder areas dig the plants and use them as very decorative houseplants through the holiday season.  Inside, they require bright light and moist soil.   Outside, they prefer full sun, as they will grow leggy and become unattractive if situated in an area that is too shady.  Plant in fall or early spring, and prepare the bed well, as you would for  any other vegetable crop, adding a balanced fertilizer at planting time. 

Ornamental Cabbages and Kales are very similar in appearance.  Both can have ruffled or frilly leaves, but they can be differentiated in that the cabbages don't form as tight a head. The Cabbages have solid colored leaves that are not as ruffled as the Kales, and are usually edged on the outsides in a contrasting color.  The Cabbages and Kales grouped together work very well in the landscape, and can be mixed or used separately for an equally beautiful effect. 

Both Ornamental Cabbages and Kales can be started from seed.  Sow the seeds in late summer, trying to time transplanting to a few weeks before the first hard frost.  One interesting fact to remember when buying these plants from a nursery is that once they become root-bound, they will not increase in size, even when transplanted into a larger pot or into the garden.  Therefore, buying plants in the size you desire for the garden may be the most prudent strategy, even though this may seem more expensive at first glance.  Ornamental Cabbages and Kales appreciate full sun and rich, well drained soil. 

In the more temperate regions, once the weather has warmed, Ornamental Cabbages and Kales will bolt, much like any of the other cole crops.  They are actually quite attractive when bolting and make interesting additions to the spring garden, so don't be too quick to add them to the compost heap.  One way to tell when it's time to pull the plants is when they start to smell like cooked cabbage. 

For container plantings, few arrangements are as easy or as attractive for the fall patio or deck as a pot centered with an Ornamental Cabbage or Kale, and ringed around the edges with pansies or violas.  Even single container specimens make wonderful centerpieces, so be sure to make the Ornamental Cabbages and Kales a part of your decor next fall. 

 

 

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