Sometimes called Chinese cabbage, bok choy is a non-heading member of the turnip and cabbage family of plants. However it bears little resemblance to either the turnip or the common western cabbage; the leaves and stalk are more like celery. While it can be a bit finicky to grow, with a little extra care and attention it’s not particularly difficult. Here are some basic instructions on how to grow bok choy at home.
The main difference between most varieties of bok choy is size. Smaller varieties are prized in China for their tenderness, while the larger, dark green variety is most common to the west. But there are actually over 20 varieties of bok choy, each with their own specific characteristics. Check with local growers to see if there’s a variety best for your area.
WHEN TO GROW
Bok choy does best in the cool of late spring and early fall, in temperatures of 50° F – 70° F. Warm weather can cause the plant to prematurely bolt, but luckily little time is needed from planting to harvest (30-50 days). For best results, sow seeds or set out transplants after the last frost day for your area since frost and extended temperatures below 50° F can also cause premature bolting. Bok choy can also be started indoors 4 – 6 weeks prior to the last frost of winter or 1-2 months prior to the first frost of the fall.
Soil temperatures should be between 50° F and 70° F for proper germination, which takes 4 – 7 days.
WHERE TO GROW
Plant bok choy in the full sun, though they can tolerate partial shade. Partial shade may be best for summer crops or in areas with a particularly hot spring or fall season. This can help prevent bolting. In general, plant bok choy in a space where it will receive 6-12 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Bok choy should be grown in well drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 – 7.5. Add plenty of mature compost before planting. PLANTING Bok choy does best if seeds are directly sown into a fertile, well-tilled garden bed. Transplanting can cause shock, which can lead to bolting. Sow seeds ¼ – ½ inch deep 1 inch apart. Thin to 6-12 inches between smaller varieties and 18-30 inches between larger varieties.
If you are transplanting, set them out at these spacings after the danger of frost has passed. Be sure to harden them off to limit the risk of transplant shock.
WATERING & CARE
Bok choy needs ample moisture to thrive and prevent premature bolting. Keep the soil moist with regular, even watering, usually about 1 inch per week. Use heavy mulch. This will also help with keeping down weeds.
Bok choy will benefit from a feeding of organic fertilizer that contains more nitrogen than phosphorus after thinning or transplanting. HARVEST Most bok choy is best harvested when it reaches 12 – 18 inches tall. Be sure to harvest it before the weather turns too warm.
TIPS & ADVICE
Bok choy thinnings work great in salad. Alternatively, they can be tossed in the compost.