New Ornamental Kales

Kale-00When we want to add texture and color to the fall landscape we turn to ornamental kale and ornamental cabbage—they liven up autumn beds and containers and keep the interest going right into the next season. Both are extremely cold hardy; they thrive in fall and can be left outdoors all winter. These plants actually love the cold—their colors will intensify as the mercury goes down and it’s not unheard of that they’ll look great until Thanksgiving or Christmas—even well into January, if the weather is mild enough. Plant them in full sun for the best performance. This week let’s talk about kale.

As opposed to cabbage, ornamental kale tends to have curlier, ruffled leaves that form a tight rosette. They retain their color and shape better than ornamental cabbage leaves do and are extremely showy. Like ornamental cabbage however, ornamental kale is grown for its intense leaf color, not taste. The flavor is usually quite bitter, so it’s used more often simply as a frilly garnish. This year we’ve expanded our selection of textures as well as colors—here are 3 attractive new ornamental kale varieties we’re working with:

‘Coral Prince’ 

‘Coral Prince’ produces nice large heads with creamy white middles and a hint of pale rose in the center. Outer leaves are dark green and deeply serrated—the contrast of creamy white against dark green is eye-catching. Plants grow about 8–15 inches tall and have thick, strong stems. It’s a classic ornamental kale with beautiful ruffled leaves.

‘Red Russian’

Another new variety is atypical: lush gray-green leaves make ‘Red Russian’ stand out. They’re shaped like large oak leaves and have striking purple stems. As far as ornamental kales go, the leaves are fairly flat and the plants are larger with upright, leafy growth, reaching 2–3 feet high. One other reason it’s exceptional: this ornamental variety is actually good to eat. The large leaves are surprisingly tender and after a frost they get nice and sweet—they’re often used raw in salads and are popular for cooking, too. 

‘Chidori Red’

‘Chidori Red’ is another classic ornamental variety, with a vibrant purple-red rosette center surrounded by extra frilly dark green leaves. Heads are dense and plants grow about 12–18 inches tall. 

In the landscape, all of these varieties look right at home next to the flowers in autumn beds and décor plantings. A row of ‘Coral Prince’ or ‘Chidori Red’ makes a tidy edge along the front of a border; rows of a solid color can be used to create geometric designs in beds as well. Warm harvest tones glow when set against the gray-green and purple shades of ‘Red Russian’. 

Ornamental kale looks charming around the base of a tree and works well in containers—either alone or mixed with other autumn accent plants. Try combining some with asters or pansies and dianthus—then add some ornamental grass or Swiss chard for height. One of those mums in a pumpkin would look great next to a planter full of colorful kale. 

‘Coral Prince’ and ‘Red Russian’ are both available in the 6-inch pot. ‘Chidori Red’ is shipping in the 8-inch size.