How to Grow Ornamental Kale as a Border Plant

How to Grow Ornamental Kale as a Border Plant

How to Grow Ornamental Kale as a Border Plant

Introduction to Growing Ornamental Kale

Ornamental kale is a cold-hardy leafy green that can add unique colors and textures to the autumn garden. With ruffled leaves in shades of green, white, pink, and purple, ornamental kale brings visual interest to borders, containers, and more.

Though edible, ornamental kale is typically grown for its ornamental foliage rather than culinary purposes. When grown as a border plant, ornamental kale can provide a striking contrast to other plants. Its relatively small size makes it suitable to plant in the front of borders.

Ornamental kale thrives in cool weather and can withstand light frosts. With proper care, it can last well into winter in many climates. Here is a complete guide to successfully growing ornamental kale as an ornamental border plant.

Choosing a Planting Site

When choosing a site to grow ornamental kale, opt for a location that receives at least 6 hours of full sun daily. Kale prefers fertile, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0-7.5. Avoid planting kale in areas that collect standing water.

For use as a border plant, focus on planting kale in the front of garden beds and borders. Choose sites near paths or walkways where its colorful foliage can be admired up close.

Be sure to rotate crop locations each year to prevent disease. Do not plant kale in areas where other brassicas like cabbage or broccoli were grown in the past year.

Selecting Varieties

Many ornamental kale varieties are available to grow as border plants. Some top options include:

  • Redbor – Ruffled leaves in shades of pink, red, and white. Grows 12-18 inches tall.

  • White Peacock – Light green leaves with white margins. Compact at 10-12 inches tall.

  • Pigeon Purple – Deep purple ruffled foliage on plants reaching 16 inches tall.

  • Nagoya – Green outer leaves with pink centers. Grows 14-18 inches tall.

Choose shorter varieties like White Peacock for the front of borders and taller options like Pigeon Purple for the middle or back.

When to Plant

Ornamental kale is best suited for fall planting in most regions. Direct sow seeds or set transplants into the garden around mid-summer. The optimal planting window is 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost date.

This timing allows plants to mature and reach peak color in the cool fall weather. Kale will deteriorate quickly if temperatures rise above 80°F.

How to Plant

Ornamental kale can be grown from seeds or transplants:

  • Seeds – Direct sow seeds 1⁄4 inch deep in the garden. Space seeds or thin seedlings 12-18 inches apart.

  • Transplants – Set out nursery-grown transplants when plants have 6-8 true leaves. Handle transplants gently by the leaves, not the stem.

Water newly planted kale well and continue regular watering until plants establish. Adding a layer of mulch around plants helps retain soil moisture.

Caring for Ornamental Kale

Ornamental kale requires minimal care to thrive:

  • Watering – Provide regular irrigation, about 1-2 inches per week. Water at the base of plants, avoiding wet foliage.

  • Fertilizing – Apply a balanced fertilizer once 3-4 weeks after planting and again halfway through the growing season. Compost and fish emulsion also supply nutrients.

  • Pruning – Remove any yellow or insect-damaged leaves. Cutting off flowering stems extends the lifespan of the foliage.

  • Pests – Watch for cabbage worms, aphids, and flea beetles. Use organic controls like Bt or insecticidal soap. Slugs can also damage young plants.

Overwintering Kale as a Perennial

In warmer climates, ornamental kale may continue growing year-round and function as a perennial. To overwinter kale:

  • Leave established plants intact over winter. Add a winter mulch layer for insulation after the ground freezes.

  • Prune any dead growth in late winter. Resume fertilizing and watering as new growth appears in spring.

  • Protect plants with row covers or low tunnels if hard freezes are expected during winter.

With protection, kale may last for 2-3 years before needing to be replaced with fresh transplants.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Issues like wilting, yellowing leaves, and poor growth can occur. Common causes are:

  • Under-watering – Kale relies on consistent soil moisture. Wilting and stunted plants can indicate inadequate water.

  • Extreme temperatures – Kale struggles in heat over 80°F and cold under 20°F. Move pots to protected areas or use row covers.

  • Nutrient deficiencies – Yellowing leaves may indicate low nitrogen. Fertilize more regularly or add compost.

  • Pests – Cabbage worms and aphids cause chewing damage and leaf curling. Apply organic pest controls promptly.

With proper site selection, planting, and care, ornamental kale can add striking beauty to fall and winter garden borders for multiple seasons. Adjusting care and troubleshooting issues promptly keeps plants looking their best.


With its colorful ruffled foliage, ornamental kale is the perfect choice for adding eye-catching appeal to garden beds and borders in autumn. Follow the tips in this guide regarding variety selection, planting, care, and troubleshooting to successfully grow ornamental kale as an ornamental border plant. Given the proper growing conditions, your ornamental kale is sure to stand out as a beautiful addition to the landscape.