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Gardening with Laurie: Ornamental cabbage, kale add beauty to garden

By By Laurie Garretson
Nov. 8, 2012 at 5:08 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

The weather has finally cooled down enough to start planting all the beautiful cool weather annuals. This time of year there are so many wonderful plants that will add color to all types of landscape areas and even indoors. Plants that will keep on blooming all through our fall and winter months. The biggest problem with all these cool-season plants is which ones to choose for your situation.

One of my favorites, and I have many, are the ornamental cabbages and kales. These varieties of the Brassica family of vegetables can be eaten, just like their relatives, but are not as tasty. The ones I'm referring to are grown for decorative purposes.

Ornamental cabbages have a smooth leaf margin. Ornamental kales have serrated or fringed margins, which are then placed in two categories: fringed, which have ruffled leaves, and feather leaved, which have more finely serrated leaves and a looser head. All types form big beautiful heads similar to the edible types. The ornamental varieties come in different colors: red, pink and white.

All ornamental types of cabbages and kales can be grown from seeds just like the edible types. Expect 10 to 12 weeks from seeding to full maturity. If planted too early, the plants will become leggy and unattractive. Most gardeners choose to start their ornamental cabbages and kales from transplants.

Each year, around the first of February, I have lots of gardeners wanting to know where to find the beautiful cabbages and kales like they are seeing in many gardens around town. By that time of the year, it's harder to find the plants; most garden centers have had them and are then out of them for the season. Now is the time to purchase all ornamental cabbages and kales. The weather is right, and they are readily available.

All varieties of ornamental cabbages and kales need cold weather to bring out the most colors in their leaves. Planting now gives them time to get established and ready for the cold. Plant them in a sunny well-drained area. They do not want to stay wet. Let them dry out between watering, but if left dry for too long, they will get stressed and limp.

Ornamental cabbages and kales make beautiful mass plantings and are also great edging plants since they stay shorter than most other cool-season annuals. They can individually be planted along with all the other common seasonal plants: pansies, snapdragons, stocks, etc. Ornamental cabbages and kales look really nice planted in containers, alone or among other plants. These versatile plants can also be grown as house plants in bright light areas indoors.

Like most plants, especially vegetables, watch for pests. Aphids can sometimes be a problem as can cabbage loopers. Keep the plants fed and watered as needed to keep them healthy. You can expect to enjoy these beauties until spring. Once temperatures start to warm up in the spring, these ornamentals will begin to bolt and that's when you'll want to replace them with warm season annuals.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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