Possible Reasons Why Cabbage Won’t Form A Head

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Cabbage is a cool season crop that you can grow twice in a year. Some varieties of cabbage, such as Savoy, will take up to 88 days to form heads. If you’re wondering when will cabbage make a head, you may simply need to wait longer or your plants may be stressed by improper culture or temperatures. When a cabbage does not form a head, this condition is called blindness and can arise for many reasons.

When Will Cabbage Make a Head?

The answer to, “When will cabbage make a head?” is, it depends. The common green cabbages form heads more quickly than the huge Savoy cabbage. You can expect to see heads in approximately 71 days with green cabbage. Red cabbage takes slightly longer and Nappa cabbage will form small heads in only 57 days.

Cabbage head formation sometimes occurs better in the moist, gently warming conditions of spring than in the cooling days of fall. Consult the seed packet for days from seed to harvest and be patient.

Why Cabbage Won’t Form

There are a few cultural and temperature elements that may be the reason for cabbage not growing a head.

  • Excess nitrogen may cause the plant to form more leaves that are loosely held and do not make a head.
  • Early damage by cutworms may prevent the plant from heading.
  • Club rot in soggy alkaline soils is another reason why cabbage won’t form a head.
  • Poor cultivation or planting the seedlings when temperatures are 80 F. (27 C.) or more will also affect cabbage head formation.

How Do I Get Cabbage to Head Up?

Setting out the plants at the right time is crucial to cabbage head formation. Cabbage will bolt or send out flowers to set seed if they’re exposed to temperatures below 45 F. (7 C.). You’ll also find cabbage not growing a head if they are exposed to extremely hot temperatures. An even temperature of 55 to 65 F. (13-18 C.) favors the best cabbage production. Grow plants so they’ll reach harvest well before the crushing heat of summer or prior to freezing fall temperatures.

Fertilizing your cabbage with phosphorus will spur root formation and aid in the growth of the head. Use an 8-32-16 fertilizer to provide minimum amounts of nitrogen and potassium with a power punch of phosphorus.

Water is crucial to head development in cabbage. If you’re asking yourself, “How do I get cabbage to head up?” the answer may simply be water.

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Cabbage prefers fertile, well-drained soil rich in organic matter for best growth. Most soilsin Utah are suitable for cabbage production.

Soil Preparation

Before planting, determine fertilizer needs with a soil test and then follow the recommendations given with the test report. If fertilizer applications are warranted, work the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil. If you fertilize with compost, apply no more than 1 inch of well-compostedorganic matter per 100 square feet of garden area.


Cabbage can be grown from seed or transplants. Seeds should be planted Вј-ВЅ inch deep and thinned to the final stand when plants have 3-4 true leaves. Plants removed at thinning can be transplanted to adjacent areas. Transplants are used to provide earlier harvest. Transplants should have 4-6 mature leaves and a well-developed root system before planting out. Generally 6-7 weeks are required to grow transplants to this size.

Planting and Spacing

Seeded or transplanted cabbage should be spaced 12-18 inches between plants in the row and rows 2-3 feet apart. Cabbage grows best when temperatures do not exceed 80В°F and is not seriously damaged by temperatures down to 25В°F. Transplants should be planted 2-3 weeks before the last frost free date for the growing area. Seeded cabbage may be planted at the same time. For fall maturing cabbage, select early maturing cultivars and plant 50-75 days before the anticipated maturity date. The maturity date should be about 1-2 weeks after the first fall frost. High temperatures reduce growth, decrease quality, and may cause internal tipburn to form.


Water cabbage deeply and infrequently while trying to maintain even soil moisture. About 1-2 inches of water are required per week. Use drip irrigation if possible to conserve water. Applying mulch around the plant also helps conserve soil moisture and reduces weed growth. Moisture fluctuations during heading will cause maturing heads to split open.


Apply ВЅ cup per 10 feet of row of a nitrogen-based fertilizer (21-0-0) 4 weeks after transplanting or thinning to encourage plant growth. Avoid applying additional nitrogen after heads begin to form. High nitrogen levels at this time cause loose heads and splitting to occur. Place the fertilizer 6 inches to the side of the plants and irrigate it into the soil.

Mulches and Row Covers

Plastic mulches help conserve water, reduce weed growth and allow earlier planting and maturity, especially with transplants. Hot caps and fabric covers are used to protect seedlings and transplants from frosts. Fabric covers also protect young plants from insect pests. Apply organic mulches when temperatures increase above 80В°F. Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw, and shredded newspaper help cool the soil, reduce water stress and help control weeds.

Cabbages don't head/ No brocolli either?

Well, my cabbages are doing great, but they are not forming heads. Just lots of loose leaves. While some curl up a bit, there are no heads in sight. These were planted in mid august. Can the leaves just be harvested and used or should I continue to wait for heads?

Brocolli was planted at the same time. While I have plants that are 4 feet across from leaf to leaf, and tons of branchy looking things sprouting out the middle stalks, there are no edible veggies in sight.

If the plants are vigourous they will head eventually, weather permitting. Some cultivars of cabbage and broccoli have a very long season ( 4 months or more) As daylenght decreases they slow down even more. I t pays to pay attention to cultivars, for most of us with hot summers, short season cultivars are best for both spring and fall planting. Tucson may have be warm enough for winter growing, in which case the long season cultivars will do ok harvested in December-January. This is a long season broccoli transplanted in late August (Barbados) and it it just beginning to show signs of heading.

Thanks Farmerdill. Also, about the cabbage, do I just gather the leaves or will there eventually be a head? I'll post picks if I get a chance today.

Cabage will stand temps down to about 20 degrees F. If you don't get a hard freeze they will eventually head. The leaves are edible and can be substituted for collards. Of course I just grow collards in the first place.

Growingup, what broccoli are you growing? I'm trying it for the first time, and my plants are nowhere near as big as yours are. I've got De Cicco and some unknown transplants from a friend.

Are you having any caterpillar problems? I've just discovered holes in my broc leaves, and tiny itty bitty caterpillars that I'm pretty sure are the culprits. Not even 1/2" long, grayish green, with maybe a little webbing action going on? Any idea what they are, and how much damage they're likely to cause?

My fall broccoli, the only thing left standing in my vegetable garden, has started to head, but the heads are developing OH so slowly compared to the rate the broccoli grew in warmer weather. It's a crapshoot whether the freeze will get if first or I will.

Mulch your broccoli plants if you have freeze warning. They don't grow as fast, but I think you'll find you'll have a nicer quality crop when you're all done. If you chose to do a fall planting try using the fast maturing varieties. Not sure what zone you're in LTilton. I actually prefer to grow my cole crops in the fall, I find I have a lot fewer problems with insects and good growth rate. Plus I have more time to putter around with those things. I currently have broccoli, cabbage, spinach, raddico(sp?), just did another sewing of daikon radishes. And will probably replant some lettuces next week if the weather holds.
TucsonJill, those could either be flea beetles or baby cabbage loopers. You can try insecticidal soap for the beetles and BT for the loopers. There are other insecticides, but since I only use organic methods I really don't know what to recommend.

Thanks, doccat5! They're so small right now (the caterpillars) that I can't positively ID them from the pictures I've seen of loopers, but I bet that's what they are. Tomorrow I'm off to buy some BT!

I'm near Chicago, zone 5b. [somehow, I can't find the link to add the zone to my profile]

My fall crops this year got off to a bad start because of the abnormal heat, and now it's time to till the leaves into the garden so I picked everything but the broccoli. I can till around that row.

This should help with setting your zone, LTilton. If you go to the Mange my Preferences section, there are subpages of preferences (mine show up in a box on the right-hand side of my screen, yours may be on the left). There's a link for "location"

Don't know if it will help you guy's, but when my cabbage have been slow to heart up, I bring the large outer leaves up and over the top where they heart will grow, pin them together with a cocktail wooden stick and this seems to help the hearting up bit, it also protects the heart from the frost, but some of our cabbage are winter ones and a bit of frost helps the flavour, as for the caterpillars, they could be from the cabbage white moth/butterfly that lay the eggs on the baby plants and as the plants grow, so do the hatched caterpillars, they can decimate your plants in a few weeks if not picked off or killed by other means, My Broccoli was a disaster this year, the florets opened before they were any size, never had this before, but think it was the very dry spring we had when the plants were too young, good luck. WeeNel.

I finally picked one head of broccoli that was large enough to be worth it, and it was indeed good.

But the leaves are looking way droopy now as we get into the low 20s at nite, with only colder weather on the way. That one head was certainly it, until next year.

L Tilton, mulch, side dress and water that remaining broccoli deeply. You might be surprised what you get!

Seems I was wrong all along. My broccoli is heading, but some sort of pest is scooping them out. I have about 3 more one there and a bunch more started in trays. I'm covering mine now with baggies.

It could be bunnies. I've loaded mine down with elcheapo cayanne pepper, which has helped.

Not here. We do see the occasional rabbit, but they cannot get into my garden.

Birds were getting my broccoli before I put bags on them.

Hmm, maybe birds or deer then? I didn't think deer liked broccoli, I know they don't like cayenne either. grin

search under, through and all over the foliage for green caterpillars as they will do more damage than bunnies and deer put together, they are hard to find as they look the same colour as your green veg, that's how they get away with doing so much damage before you spot them, sometimes they are curled up sleeping inside the florets or underside of the leaves, they turn into lovely white dark spot butterflies, then the cycle resumes, good luck. WeeNel.

If you get it figured out, growingup, will you please post? It sounds like my broc's a little behind yours, and if something is likely to come along and munch on it, I'd love a heads'-up on what to do to stop it!

I just cut one of mine and we had it for supper, it was delicous!

I'm jealous! :) I go out and check almost every day, and the plants look awesome, but no signs so far of heading up--sigh.

I've got fast growing varieties, which makes a difference. Nothing is wasted,honey. You'll learn from this experience and next time you can make adjustments.

What ones do you recommend, doccat5? I have De Cicco, and some unnamed transplants I got from a friend. If this goes at all well, I'll be doing it again come spring--I ADORE broccoli and so do the kids, so we eat it a LOT.

Cruiser (58 days to harvest uniform, high yield tolerant of dry conditions)

Green Comet (55 days early heat tolerant)

I'm using these 2. Check the seed catalogs and pay attention to the days to harvest. If you're going to take this on in the spring, invest in some row covers to keep the moths off your heads. Sow wide row and thin once they get 2 true leaves. I'm suppose to be submitting an article on this stuff to DG, but I need to take some time to go back and proof one more time. Hope Dave don't shoot me, but I got busy with some rl issue and everything went to the back burner.

Thanks for the suggestions, doccat5! Those sound like they would work very well here. Definitely ones to remember for the next round of broccoli.

I'll look forward to your upcoming article!

gurl friend, you need to check around, they got yellow, purple and white broccoli, is that too cool or what? I gotta get some just to play. I love the unusual.

I suggested that to my kids, and they freaked. they are so not going there, and I will do nothing that will impair their veggie-eating habits! How many 3- and 5- year olds give broccoli and cauliflower the 2-thumbs up? I've got it good, and I know it! :)

I had 2 of those, they were 9 and 2. And they were teenagers before they tripped that they weren't suppose to like veggies. At one point I was a SAHM and we had a 1800 sq ft garden. The boys helped with the picking and canning etc. Plus we garden organically so it was no problem for them to pick off the vine and eat it right there. Thank god I had a good washer.
What you might want to do is let those 2 help you pick out seeds in the catalog. Visual is always good and they can certainly help you sow the seed. You know how you feel when you get the "prize" at the end. Baby gardeners have to start someplace. My granddaughter thinks it's just too cool and she fusses with her Dad over the veggie treats in the fridge. I have always kept a gal pickle jar filled with fresh raw veggies and plenty of low cal salad dressing. The only rule is you SHALL wash your hands before you touch the food. I started doing it again this summer and my "baby" who is 26 took one look and was washing his hands. (what a hoot, conditioning is everything). So he gets the veggies, takes her in and helps her wash her hands (she just turned 4) and they are pigging out on veggies and watching Winnie the Pooh. My poor DIL was dumbfounded. Ice cold fresh veggies as a snack?? You betcha. good eating and good for ya.

My MIL is astounded that I serve the kids red pepper slices with their grilled cheese (instead of chips) and they eat it right up and ask for more! I started keeping a big bowl of washed fruit, whatever's in season, on the counter for easy snacking. Made life easier for everyone.

My kids are already getting pretty good at the seed-sowing bit. They've helped with tomatoes, peas, carrots (although those are coming up all over the garden, I think maybe something got spilled) and lettuces. They're also better about watering them than I am! Unfortunately, I tried the choosing-the-seeds-out-of-the-catalog approach already, and they still weren't going for the fun-color veggies. I did get a catalog (TGS, maybe?) with "watermelon" radishes--white on the outside, pink on the inside--that I want to try for myself. Also the Bright Lights chard, and, and, and--oh, drat, gotta go place another order! :)

Have you tried Gurney's. Great seed there and good service. I also use Johnny's Select Seeds a lot. Was disappointed in Burpee this year. They always have high quality seed, but had a couple questions and basically got a very snippy run around from the customer service plp. When I asked for the supervisor I got hung up on. So I can still use snail mail. haven't heard anything back as yet, but that should be interesting as I'm an old and valued customer, allegedly.
That is great with your lil ones eating good stuff!
And you just reminded me. I want to grow chocolate peppers from seed this year and need to get those ordered! They are tooooooooooooo yummy. They not only look like hersey's, they smell like it too and have a very mild sweet taste. I like to stuff these with a hamburger/saffron rice mix. my youngest just gobbles them up.

i bought a few "plants" this year- i never have luck with cabbage- brussel sprout, brocolli and caulifloer from seed..so I treid again. it was the weirdest ever!
all were plants in rows next to each other.
the cabbage died
the brocolli 1 grew 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide..seriously! with tons of brocolli- the rest were nothign to sneeze at.
the califlower same thing- 1 grew enormous- look at the photo- it was a record I swear I have NEVER seen a huge califlower like this? the rest were pathetic..and the brussel sprouts did nothing.. like always?
How nice to be growing veggies in November! heard you got rain in AZ yesterday- that is GOOD..[lotsa family-there]

Oh, nice one! Sounds like you didn't stagger the plants out far enough from each other, honey. Broccoli and cauliflower are heavy feeders as well, you need to side dress those regularly. Plant them in a stagger pattern, and then mulch the devil out of the bed. You can use something like Miracle grow as a side dressing. They like cool footies
I would certainly recommend going with plants in the spring, it's a lot easier on the gardener, Just ask for early maturing varieties. Cole crops have a tendency to "bolt" in hot weather and taste yucky.

dreamingflowers, What a beautiful head of cauliflower. I have not tried to grow cauliflower yet. What was the name of that one? Thanks deanna

Looks like a winner, dreamingflowers! I've got a little bit of the same problem with my broccoli plants in all different sizes, but not so much difference as you're seeing. I'm looking at it as built-in staggering of crop maturity--nothing'll be ready all at the same time!

Doccat5, I'm off to check out Guerneys! Thanks for the tip!

Thanks for the info-- i wonder if there is any companion plants between them? or just mulch! Sorry- I don't know they variety- if I find the tag- I will post it for you.. we got snow and I dont think I will be out in the barn today mesing around. it's cold.
I filled up at elast 8 baggies full for the freezer- sure is nice- we've had some and it was very tasty. my freezer [chest] is full of veggeis! i was very happy with my yields this year. already planning next year, but like every year, i want-need more room! we had a fairly mild summer so they grew well.

careful with gurneys- i used to always have good luck, then 2 years ago the seeds were terrible- packets were not anyhere near what was advertised. i wont go back.

I'm sorry to hear that you had a lousy experience with Gurneys, I had the same kind of problem with Burpees which really shocked me.
I'm not sure what you mean by this:
"I'm looking at it as built-in staggering of crop maturity--nothing'll be ready all at the same time!" ??
I was talking about staggering the location of the plants, not the planting time, though you can succession plant for bigger yields. It takes some planning to set it up and you need to make sure you are adding lots of additional feed to the area, but it works.
I do interplant with my crops, I hate leaving the soil uncovered. Usually with cole crops I use spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips etc. and heavily oversow those. Then thin them with the granddaughter's child's garden rake. All those thinnings are good eating. I have little problem with weeds, except for the accursed quack grass but I'm winning that fight, LOL If I don't have the seed or the need than yes, I mulch heavily to conserve moisture and keep the weeds at bay.

Sorry to confuse,doccat5--I was talking about a sort of inadvertent succession planting. My plants are all growing at different rates, which I think means they'll head up at different times--just the same as they would if I were intentionally doing succession plantings. Different cause, same effect--I hope!

Thanks for the warning about Gurneys--did you post it on the Watchdog? I took a look at their site, and found some things that look interesting. I think I'm going to go ahead and place an order with another company, though. There are several things I want, and Totally Tomatoes seems to have all of them-one stop shopping!

BTW-- I checked the DTM on my De Cicco broccoli--48-50. I should be in business, and if that's at all accurate, should start to see heads in the next 2 weeks or so. How exciting! :)

Just for information, open pollinated cultivars do often mature less uniformly than the hybrids. In broccoli, Green Goliath, DeCicco, Green Sprouting etc are great for backyard gardeners because they don't all head at the same time. of course if you are growing for market or freezing, it is a disadvantage.

Glory of Enkhuizen

There are many types of cabbage based on the time of harvest. Late cabbage is usually larger, hardier and often good for storage.

In mild winter areas cabbage is a good winter crop, planted in late summer or early autumn. This will mature in late autumn and then stand right through the winter in good condition. Such plants can get very big.


Cabbages are very hardy and can be frost tolerant.

Start indoors 8 weeks before last frost, or outdoors March through June. Fast growing or stressed cabbages tend to split and bolt cutting into the root system will slow growth and prevent splitting. Provide transplants with cutworm shield collars.

Cabbage prefers rich, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5. Water heavily from planting to head formation, then water moderately to prevent splitting. Cabbage is a hardy crop, grown best in cool spring and fall temperatures.

If you are growing cabbage in cool weather, they should be planted in a warm sheltered place, with full sun.

Cabbage doesn’t do well in hot weather, as it causes excessive transpiration from the large leaves. It really needs cool weather and short days to head up satisfactorily.

Fun sun or partial shade in warm climates

Cabbages need a regular water supply to grow well, so keep the soil evenly moist. Heads may split if a heavy rain follows a long dry spell without irrigation.

Cabbages are hungry plants and must have rich soil if they are to produce well. They prefer heavy soil with lots of organic matter to retain moisture and lots of available nutrients (especially potassium and phosphorus). They don't need a lot of nitrogen however, as this can lead to sappy growth that isn't very hardy. Early varieties require a higher soil fertility than mid or late-season varieties.

Cabbage does quite well in containers, so long as they are big enough. The ideal container for cabbage is at least 8 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter. In order to prevent root damage, make sure your container drains well. This can be done by lining the bottom of your container with a layer of small stones, or by placing holes in the bottom to ensure drainage of excess moisture. Maintain regular watering and keep the soil moist but not soaked. When your cabbage forms a head, gradually decrease watering to keep your heads from splitting.

Wendy Van Wagner, the owner of In the Kitchen Cooking School, along with Joe Meade, an instructor at the school, teach you how to make lacto-fermented sauerkraut with a Harsch fermenting crock.

Watch the video: How To Save Your Garden Seeds

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