Ornamental Kale – Who knew a vegetable could look like a rose?

Ornamental Kale in Your Potted Desert  Garden

Kale with Red Cyclmen in a Desert Winter Potted Garden The Potted Desert

Ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) is a wonderful plant for your winter garden. Hardy in most desert freezes, it becomes a star performer and can be given center stage in a container with a combination planting or with a potful of different varieties and colors of Kale. Potentially an ideal winter plant for many climates, it has been reported to withstand temperatures down to 5°F!

Kale as the show stopper in a winter combination pot The Potted Desert

Ornamental Kale is related in appearance to edible cabbages. You can eat them but they have been hybridized for appearance, rather than flavor. They can be tough and sometimes bitter to taste.

Plants with smooth leaf margins are called flowering cabbage, while those with serrated or fringed leaf margins like the plant at the top of this page are considered flowering kales. I am not sure I can remember that! From my experience, the smooth leaf kales will grow taller rather than broad while the serrated leaf plants will grow up to 18″ wide!

Tall Bouguet of Rose Kale

Photo by Stokes Seeds

I have never seen any tall Kale in our desert nurseries but I keep looking. Perhaps if you grow some of the newer smooth leaf varieties, you will find that you have a plant like this one in your garden!

Kale will do best planted in full winter sun and their color will be enhanced as the temperatures drop. Colors range from white to pink, rose, and purple with gradient shades often throughout the plant.



Follow my normal instructions on planting in pots as well as your regular fertilizing routine.

Plant Kale when nights are steadily in the 50’s. If you plant it too early in the desert winter season, it will bolt and your plant will be done. If you wait, and we don’t have an early spring, it should be able to continue its spectacular performance until April.

Dig holes that are no larger than the rootball. Space the holes in beds 12 inches apart. In pots, place them six to eight inches apart. Plants can get 12 – 18″ in width depending on the variety. Check the nursery tag for the selections you have made.

Kale bolting at the end of the season

Bolting Kale is finished with its growth cycle


There is nothing to deadhead with Kale as the flower only appears when the plant is finishing its growth cycle. But you want to check under the plant to see if there are any dying or dead leaves that need to be removed.


Kale likes to dry out a little bit between waterings. I say that carefully because I never want you to allow any of your annuals to dry out fully. Constant wet feet will create an environment that can lead to rot A good combination planting based on water needs would be Snapdragons, Ornamental Kale and Alyssum.

Buying Ornamental Kale

As I said above, don’t bring Kale home until the nighttime temperatures are in the 50’s. In the middle-desert, you will be able to plant Kale in November and all through the winter. Look carefully at the varieties you find in different nurseries so you can take advantage of the many beautiful plants!

Added Benefits of Ornamental Kale

  • Play with the different types of Kale in your pots and beds. From whimsical to symmetrical, you can mix and match them alone or with other flowers.

Click on this link  to see more pictures of Kale from the Potted Desert