Ornamental kale is one of those plants that’s so weird, it’s cool. With a heart of neon pink, purple, or white surrounded by kinky, curly leaves, it’s easily the biggest, coarsest “flower” in your garden—but it’s a vegetable, not a flower. Ornamental kale is easy to grow and hard to kill. As most annuals are preparing for certain demise with the first hard frost, cultivars of Brassica oleracea are getting brighter and bolder. The frilly foliage brings a note of fairyland fun to a somber autumn yard, and that’s what’s made this oddball a gardener’s favorite for fall.
Common name: Ornamental kale, flowering kale
Botanical name: Brassica oleracea
Plant type: Annual
Height: 1 to 3 feet, depending on cultivar
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average
· Moisture: Medium
· Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed.
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to many diseases, including powdery mildew, white rust, and black leaf spot.
· Common pests include caterpillars, cabbage white butterfly, and aphids.
· Ornamental kale thrives in cool weather, so plant it in early spring or late summer for the best color. If it’s grown during the hottest part of summer, the inner leaves won’t have the deep, rich color the plant is known for.
· Although ornamental kale is edible, it’s not grown for the dinner table—gardeners like it for its decorative foliage.
· Grow ornamental kale in containers or in a fall flower bed. Its bright colors can become a focal point among the muted fall colors of grasses and shrubs, or it can be part of a cheery chorus of chrysanthemums and asters.
· ‘Redbor’ has tightly ruffled, upright, reddish purple leaves.
· The Nagoya series has large, round heads of ruffled leaves with bright purple, white, or pink hearts.
· ‘Sunset’ grows 3- to 7-inch heads on tall stems. Each head looks like a flower, with a red heart surrounded by green outer leaves.
All in the family
· Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and Brussel sprouts are all variants of the species Brassica oleracea.
· Stock, alyssum, candytuft, and honesty (Lunaria annua) are also in the Brassicaceae family.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Brassica oleracea ‘Nagoya Red’ by Tracy Poser)