Landscape Spotlight: Ornamental Cabbage and Kale, ‘Brassica oleracea’

Posted November 22, 2018 in Plant and Tree

This is the time of year when the landscape gets a little sad.  The fall maintenance has taken away any colorful signs of warmer weather, the leaves are almost gone and the grass isn’t as vibrant…but don’t put your gardening gloves away just yet!  There are still a few cool-season plants that will keep the outdoor hope alive just a little longer.  In this instance, let’s chat about ornamental cabbage and kale!

Though sometimes called flowering cabbage and flowering kale, these related cousin-plants hardly ever set flowers, instead, the “bloom” is that of foliage.  These plants absolutely love the winter weather and will hold their own down to about 20°F, while gardeners in warmer weather regions will be able to keep their ornamentals lovely in the landscape throughout the winter.

It may be obvious to some which are kale and which are cabbage, but there is an easy way to remember for those who are not sure.  Even though both are named brassica oleracea, the cabbages have wavy leaf edges while the kales have crinkled or ruffled edges and look a little rougher.  With all the mentions of kale and cabbage, one might get a little hungry and wonder if these plants are edible.  Honestly, that is a great and common question!

It would be wonderful if flowering cabbage and kale could decorate our dinner plates as deliciously as the front porch planters, but unfortunately, you would be disappointed.  Yes, it is completely possible for you to whip up these design plants as a part of your evening meal, being extremely rich in dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, B6, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium, but the taste is known to be extremely bitter.  These ornamental plants have been cultivated specifically for their showy foliage, so you may find them on the dinner plate but only as colorful garnish.  We are pretty positive that there is no amount of spices or salts would be able to mitigate the harsh flavor.

Well, if they aren’t fit for eating, we may as well put them on full display in the landscape!  As mentioned above, these plants not only love the cold but thrive in it.  The ideal growing conditions would include full sun from October-November to saturate the leaves to display rich and vibrant shades of green and blue.  These pretty rosettes of central leaves will eventually lose their chlorophyll as the temperatures drop, ultimately changing their color from green and blue to white and shades of pink, red and purple!  This is where the fall foliage fun begins.

If planted in the landscape, flowering cabbage and kale work well as additions to borders and paths.  Growing no more than 12” tall and wide, it is best to plant about 18-24” apart, to give them room to breathe and grow.  The soil where planted should ideally be well-drained and nutrient-rich.  You may certainly add a layer of mulch around these plants, not just to spruce up the garden bed, but the mulch will help maintain consistent moisture in the soil.  For ornamentals grown in the landscape, pair with other cool-season flowers to create a dynamic statement.  The vivid coloring and exotic look of cabbage and kale make a stunning complement to flowers such as pansies and chrysanthemums!

Incorporating these beauties into your now-bare planters is also a superb suggestion!  You may still choose to pair these ornamentals with other cool season flowers or planted alone with their own kind, but we suggest using the planter’s height to make a dramatic yet lovely statement!  A full base of cabbage and kale will match perfectly with taller evergreens or decorative branches like red twig or yellow twig dogwood, holly, fall grasses, holiday tree clippings or dried eucalyptus!  The options are only limited by your cool-weather imagination.  These planters will be a beautiful addition to your front porch especially on days where it is rainy, cold…and dare I say snow?

So while the days are getting shorter and colder, we can plan to add little touches of beauty and holiday cheer where we can.  Incorporating these landscape design plants is one subtle yet impactful way to decorate and lift spirits in an otherwise dreary part of the year.

Serving the Poconos, Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to be the company you turn to when you are ready to transform your outdoor living spaces.  We seek to inspire our clients through the creation of personalized and extraordinary outdoor living spaces that reflect the true architecture of their home while being the perfect fit their family’s lifestyle!  When you are ready to open a conversation about uncovering the true potential for your backyard, reach out to MasterPLAN!  We would love to build a partnership with you to turn your outdoor living dreams into your reality.

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