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How To Care For Cabbage and Broccoli Seedlings

>13 February 2013
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If you missed my post on How To Start Cabbage and Broccoli From Seed, you’ll wanna go back and check out those step-by-step instructions.

Now that the seeds have germinated and emerged, I thought it might be helpful to show you how the plants progress until transplanting time.


It has been seven days since I first planted my seeds. They have finally germinated, and are just beginning to poke their heads out of the soil. The germination process might have been slowed by the freezing temps I accidentally exposed my seeds to one night when I left them in the unheated greenhouse after the initial planting. Although, you can typically expect these seeds to germinate within 5-10 days.

cabbage and broccoli seedlings sprouting

As soon as any seedlings have emerged, they need to be put under a grow light or in a warm, south facing window if you have one. Don’t worry about the seeds which are still germinating and haven’t showed themselves yet, they’ll pop up in another day or so.


We use a shop light with regular halogen bulbs as our grow light. The light needs to be about 2 in. from the tops of the plants. I usually turn the light on when I wake up in the morning, and turn it off around 8pm.


Keep a close eye on the soil. When it starts to dry out, give it a good spritzing with a water bottle to keep it nice and moist. Just don’t overdo it. You don’t want the soil sopping wet, or else your plants will “damp off” and die.

DAY 10

Ten days after being planted, the first leaves are beginning to form. Since they are both brassicas, the cabbage and the broccoli seedlings look exactly the same. Except for the purple cabbage, which has a purplish stem.


If you planted 2-3 seeds per tray cell, you’ll most likely have some culling to do. This just means that if you have multiple seedlings germinate in a cell, you’ll need to cut the weakest ones out at the soil line. Don’t try to pull them up, or you’ll uproot the other seedling also. You must thin them in this way, or they will fight for nutrients and choke each other out. If you have a lot of thinning to do, feed the culled sprouts to your chickens!

 DAY 20

The plants are growing well, and are developing their first set of true leaves. Make sure to raise the grow light as needed to keep it about 1-2 in. from the plants. If they get too close to the light, they’ll be burned. And if they are too far from the light, they will stretch themselves to try to reach it, and will become “leggy” and fall over.


Day 23

By now some of the plants will have a nice sized set of “true” leaves. It’s time to pinch off the first set of leaves so that all of the plant’s energy is focused on growing the productive foliage.

cabbage seedlings

See the heart-shaped leaves on this cabbage plant? Those are the first leaves. We’re going to pinch them off. Let’s do the ones on the plant in the middle there first.

cabbage seedlings

See the difference? You can either use your fingernail to pinch them off, or a pair of scissors. Whatever you do, be very careful not to tug on the tender seedling and disrupt its root system.

Again, we remove the first set of leaves so that all of the plant’s energy can go into developing the true leaves. It won’t hurt anything if you don’t pinch them off, but it does benefit your plant if you do.

Day 28

The cabbage has two nice sized sets of true leaves now. The broccoli is coming along, just beginning to develop its second set of true leaves.

 broccoli and cabbage seedlings

broccoli and cabbage seedlings

My broccoli and cabbage seedlings are doing great! Looks like I’ve got some pinching and watering to do. The cabbage will be set out soon… I’m so excited!

When the plants have two sets of true leaves, you’ll be ready for the next step: Hardening Plants Before Transplanting.

Have you started any cabbage or broccoli seeds yet?

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  • LindaG said:

    And the whole time you just spritz them with a water bottle?
    Thanks for this timely post!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:


    I used to set my seedling flats in a shallow tray of water and just keep them bottom watered. It was a lot less work, but it seemed to keep them a little too damp. So far spraying them daily with the water bottle has worked well for me. Either way would work, though. Just don’t overdo it ;)

  • Laurie said:

    Thanks Kendra, for the informative post. This is the first year we’ll have a big garden, and the first year we’re starting early from seed, so this info is a huge help to us – thank you!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    I’m so glad to help!

  • Susan b said:

    If you plug your shop light into a wall socket, you could also get a timer and have it automatically turn your plant light on and off. Timers are fairly inexpensive and can be used around the house for other uses.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    That’s a good tip, Susan b :)

  • Megan @ restoring the roost said:

    We have broccoli seeds and several other cold-tolerant plants started indoors, but not cabbage. Ours look about like yours but I think we need to thin ours out- thanks for tip about cutting and not pulling!

  • Charlsi said:

    Thanks so much for this post! This is the first year I’ve ever tried to grow anything myself and it’s been quite a learning experience so far. My seedlings have been doing poorly and I didn’t know why, but as I kept reading through your post I was thinking woops shouldn’t have done that over and over again. Now I know what NOT to do. Thanks again!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Oh good, Charlsi! I’m so glad to be able to help. When I first started growing plants from seed, I made SO many mistakes, lol. It’s a learning process, but you can definitely master it!

  • Julie said:

    I have the perfect example of what NOT to do!! Three years ago I was starting my seeds in my laundry room. I went down one morning to turn on their light and spritz them with water. I was spritzing my little heart out until I realized that the room shouldn’t be smelling like it was. I looked at the bottle in my hand and it was Shout!!!! All my babies died within the hour! I now keep the shout on the other side of the room :)

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Oh no, Julie!! Bummer, LOL! Yep, that’ll do it ;)

  • Michelle said:

    I started broccoli in the late fall from seed and had very little growth for quite a while. It has just now in the last month began showing broccoli crowns starting to develop. We live in north alabama and really haven’t had a bad winter, so I’m wondering if you know if this could be normal that it would be almost dormant and then start growing like this.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:


    Yep, that’s normal. Broccoli takes several months to get large enough to begin bearing. You were smart to start it in the Fall, as you probably know, broccoli does not tolerate heat well. I hope you have a good harvest!

  • Preppy Pink Crocodile said:

    Great post! I started broccoli last year and will do it again next week. However last year, even though my plants grew great- tall and healthy- they never grew broccoli on them. Still not sure where I went wrong but I will try them again this year anyway.


  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    That’s strange, Preppy Pink Crocodile. My first suspicion is where your seeds came from, do you remember? I hope you have better luck this year!

  • Beth said:

    What zone are you in? We are in 5b and we have snow on the ground. Not quite time to start hardening off the broccoli and cabbage. I’m itching to get outside in the dirt!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:


    We’re zone 7. Our last frost is usually mid April, but I’ll have my cold hardy crops out before then.

  • Mary said:

    plants getting to top heavy and not thick enough in the stem. Any thoughts?

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:


    If they look like they’re being “pinched” at the soil and are falling over, that’s called “damping off” and is a result of overwatering.

  • T.M.T. said:

    Thanks for the lovely blog. I’d never heard of taking the first pair of leaves away. Will do that when my broccoli and other brassicas are at that stage. Just bought the seeds today. Would that be worth doing to tomatoes as well?

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    T.M.T., I don’t always remove the first leaves from my tomatoes. If you don’t, they’ll fall off eventually. I think it helps, though :)

  • Kay said:

    So do you suggest starting broccoli in the fall or winter in colder climates then? Mine started producing in October and was killed by the frost.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Kay, it sounds like you might want to stick with Spring plantings then. Or plant your broccoli in a bed where you can cover it with row covers when it gets too cold for the plants to tolerate.

  • TScrogham said:

    My cabbage is tall, skinny and falling over. The soil felt dry so I watered with a spray bottle morning and night. Did I overwater them? Did I dry them too much? Did they just need more light? I’m so new to this.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    TScrogham- It sounds like your plants are getting “leggy”, which is a sign of not enough light. If they are under grow lights, make sure the seedlings are 1-2″ from the light source (meaning the tops of your plants should be no more than 2″ from touching the bulbs). Also, a fan gently blowing on the plants will help strengthen their stems. Keep at it!! :)

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