When to plant rutabaga?

How to Grow Turnips and Rutabagas

Whether you’re growing turnips or rutabagas, these underground brassicas should be planted about three weeks before the last frost date in early spring or, for a (usually better) fall crop, in midsummer. They also are a winter crop in the warmer sections of the South.

The main thing to keep in mind is that these vegetables require temperatures of between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 degrees Fahrenheit to mature, so select a variety with growing needs that correspond to your local climate. (The soil must be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit for seed germination, which generally takes from seven to 14 days.) Hot weather will turn the leaves rank and make the roots woody and bitter.

The most popular turnip is the fine-tasting, fine-storing Purple Top White Globe, which matures in 55 to 58 days and is best for a fall crop. The Japanese, however, have come up with several varieties that mature much faster. For example, the hybrid Just Right (40 days) is remarkable for its tender greens and roots, while the two-inch root of virus resistant Tokyo Cross is ready to eat in only 35 days. Shogoin (30 days), another Japanese offering, is cultivated primarily for its thick, delicious foliage, and if you can nurture your crop for 70 days, its roots are tasty, too. Some turnips, such as Seven Top, are grown only for their greens. Turnip roots can be white or yellow, and, though turnips are classified according to the shape of their roots—flat, round or cylindrical—shape doesn’t make a great deal of difference in their taste. Their tops come in shades of green, red, purple and gold. Certain white varieties with green tops have proved to be the hardiest.

Rutabagas generally take 90 days to mature. Macomber (80 days) and American Purple Top (88 to 90 days) are old favorites.

Turnips and rutabagas are fairly tough crops that can be grown in almost any type of soil, but they thrive best in loose, organically rich, stone-free, water-retentive but well-drained earth that’s been worked deeply. The pH should be between 6.5 and 7.0. Phosphorus (try ground rock phosphate and granite dust) encourages root development. Too much nitrogen will produce thick leaves but puny roots, so don’t fertilize with unrotted manure.

Because turnips and Swedes are such light feeders, they can be rotated with heavy feeders like corn or squash. But don’t plant your crop near mustard greens, which will inhibit its growth, or near other brassica cousins such as broccoli or cabbage, since all family members are susceptible to the same diseases. Turnips and rutabagas can, however, tolerate partial shade, so some people like to grow them between climbing peas. Any type of pea is a good companion plant to these crops.

Neither of these root crops transplants well, so sow your seeds where you intend to grow them. (One seed packet will plant a 50 foot row and will produce 25 pounds of leaves and 50 pounds of roots; the germination rate is over 70%, and the seed will store from two to five years and can be sprouted.) Sow your spring crop 1/4 inch deep; plant fall crops 1/2 inch deep two months (three months for rutabagas) before the first expected frost. Seeds may be broadcast and later thinned to three or four inches apart, or they can be planted in rows 18 or more inches apart. Give rutabaga plants six inches in which to grow. (Use the tender thinnings in salads.)

Keep down weeds and aerate the soil with hoeing and hand-cultivating, and never, at any stage, allow the bed to dry out. You want to keep these vegetables growing fast and continuously, and water is the secret. Constant moisture will produce a good, well-flavored, tender crop, while lack of moisture will make the roots fibrous and strong-tasting and will force the plant to send up a seed stalk. When the leaves are about five inches long, you can mulch the plants to keep weeds down and moisture in.


What Turnips and Rutabaga Problems and Pests to Watch For

You’d expect turnips to be susceptible to all the pests and diseases that attack other brassicas. Theoretically, they are, but scientists have found that the turnip plant has an insecticidal chemical compound in its system that helps ward of such insects as aphids, spider mites, houseflies and beetles. Therefore, root maggots are the most likely cause of problems. They can be discouraged by scattering wood ashes liberally around your plants. Should aphids or flea beetles attack, use hard hose sprays, sticky traps, garlic sprays, diatomaceous earth, wood ashes or ladybugs (for aphids) to get rid of them.

The main disease to watch for is black rot, which turns leaves black and foul-smelling. The only way to prevent this bacterial menace is with strict crop rotation. Specifically, don’t put your turnip or rutabaga patch where it or any other cole crop has grown within the last five years, and immediately remove and destroy any diseased plants to keep this plague from spreading.

How to Harvest and Store Turnips and Rutabagas

Greens can be harvested as soon as they’re large enough to pick, but don’t pluck any one plant too heavily or you’ll kill the root. Turnips should be pulled when the roots are from one to three inches in diameter. (Usually, the smaller they are, the tenderer they’ll be. Very young ones make a fine substitute for radishes and can be carved into decorative garnishes.) To harvest the roots, use a spading fork to loosen the soil around the base of the leaves, grab the tops, and pull gently.

Rutabaga roots are much larger-and sweeter-than turnips, but they should not be allowed to grow so big that they become woody, otherwise they’re more fit for cattle than human consumption. However, because of their hardiness, many people leave rutabagas in the ground during the winter, rather than storing them, to be dug as needed.

Turnips are not as long-lasting as rutabagas, but in mild-winter areas, they can be mulched and left in the garden for an extended harvest. With both crops, though, it’s often better to pull up the roots, twist of the tops (but not too closely; leave about 1/2 inch of stems) and store them in layers in boxes of moist sand, sawdust or peat, or in heaps or ridges covered with a layer of soil and straw. Some people cover the roots in wax to prevent dehydration and store them in an area just above freezing. Others simply place them in any cool (32 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit), damp, dark place such as a basement or root cellar. Just make sure you don’t store any that are bruised, cut or diseased.

If an early hot spell hits your spring crop, taste-test the roots daily and harvest the entire crop at the first sign of deterioration. Refrigerated, the greens will keep for up to a week or can be frozen for future use. Store the roots as mentioned above in a cool, moist place.

Freezing, which preserves the most nutrition, is the best way to store turnip and rutabaga tops. Wash young, tender green leaves in several changes of water, removing tough stems or bruised leaves. Blanch each pound in two gallons of boiling water for two minutes, stirring to keep the greens from sticking together. Cool, drain well, and pack into containers, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Seal, label, and freeze. When ready for use, cook for eight to 15 minutes.

The roots, while they don’t can well, can also be frozen. I find it easier just to store them in my cellar, but I do like to add a diced root or two for flavor and texture in each package of frozen greens.

Old-Fashioned Turnip Greens Recipe

1 onion, chopped
3 strips bacon, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of vinegar
3 cups tightly packed chopped turnip greens
1 or 2 eggs, hard-boiled

Fill a large saucepan half-full of water and add onion, bacon, garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Add turnip greens.and cook until tender. Drain (save the liquid), and top with sliced-egg garnish. Serves 4 to 6. (For your next meal, reheat the cooking liquid—called pot liquor in the South—pour into individual bowls, add small chunks of cornbread, and enjoy!)

Rutabaga Casserole Recipe

3 pounds rutabagas, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons brown sugar (divided)
1/2 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/3 cup sour cream

Place rutabagas, 1 teaspoon sugar, dill seed and salt in about 1 inch of boiling water, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain, mash, and stir in remaining sugar, salt, margarine and sour cream. Turn into a 1 1/2 -quart oiled casserole dish, cover, and bake in 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Uncover and place under broiler to brown. Serves 6.

Susan Says

HERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS from MOTHER’S gardener, Susan Sides: It’s not really all that hard to locate the turnip listings in any seed catalog. Let the book fall open to the lavish tomato section, turn the page, and there they’ll be—all two or three varieties.

Now, the flea beetle and cabbage maggot populations think, of course, that we’ve gotten our priorities all wrong. These discerning diners will take a turnip over a “love apple” any day. And if you’re cultivating your own crop of Purple Tops in the spring (when the little pests are most active), they’ll think you’re so very kind to go through all that trouble just for them.

To avoid the worst of the damage, you could plant only in autumn. (Another plus for fall planting is that the vegetables are not nearly as likely to develop a bitter, woody taste as a result of maturing in warm weather.) But some of us become addicted to those spring greens and potlikker, and—lucky for us—there’s more than one way to skin a flea beetle.

One solution is to try sowing seeds three or four weeks before the first fall frost date. Mulch the half-grown plants just before frost does arrive to hold them over the winter for an advanced spring start. (An additional layer or two of spunbond row cover helps in the coldest regions.) Another angle is to plant seeds as soon as the ground can be worked in late winter. (Prepare this area ahead of time in the fall.) Cover with a cloche or cold frame until the nights slip above freezing. A third method for dedicated turnip fans is to start seeds indoors in individual pots eight weeks before the last spring frost date. Transplant to the garden after plants have four or five weeks of growth under their belts.

All three of these suggestions will help you mature an extra-early crop. Then, while sleeping insects only dream of turnips yet to come, you’ll be harvesting them by the armload.

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PHOTO: Penn State/Flickrby Jesse Frost January 12, 2016

Whether you’re looking to grow rutabagas because of their cancer-fighting compounds, because you enjoy them mashed like potatoes, or simply because you seem to fail at growing them season after to season and just need to nail it for once, there is some good news: Rutabagas aren’t hard to grow, but you have to follow the rules.

Rutabagas are essentially long-season turnips. They take a full extra month to grow, but they’ll reward you with sweetness and flavor. They store better than your average turnip—up to six month under the right conditions—so they make a great contribution to your late winter meals in addition to your fall market table.

Selecting Rutabaga Varieties

The rutabaga variety called Joan is arguably the most popular heirloom variety on the market, though Seed Savers Exchange also sells a white, albino rutabaga called Macomber that is excellent. Consider Laurentian rutabagas for high yield or Helenor for uniformity. Baker Creek offers a variety called Purple Top—the greens of which are a backcountry favorite in my part of Kentucky—while Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers three other unique heirlooms worth trying. Plant several varieties to see which work best for your soil and market.

Soil Preparation

Like most turnips, rutabagas prefer well-drained soil high in organic matter. Be sure to prepare the beds well with an inch or so of compost and a good preemptive cultivation before planting. Because rutabagas will be in the ground for a long time, thus pinned against both cold- and warm-weather weeds, be sure to prepare the beds as best you can beforehand. According to Johnny’s Selected Seeds, rutabagas prefer a soil pH of 6.4 to 6.8 for highest performance and flavor.

Planting Rutabagas

For most areas, spring planting of rutabagas is not recommended because they tend to become woody in the summer heat. Some areas of the south can overwinter rutabagas, though growing for a fall harvest is still generally preferred.

Rutabagas should be planted 90 to 110 days before the intended harvest. So if you hope to harvest your rutabagas in the beginning of November, they should be in the ground no later than the beginning of August—July is better in most areas. If direct seeding, sow seeds at about an inch apart and thin to about 6 inches. If transplanting, set plants with 6 inches between each. Rows should be 1½ to 2 feet apart.

Rutabagas are semi-slow to germinate, slow growing and susceptible to weed pressure, so be sure to prepare your beds well beforehand. This may involve irrigating, waiting several days and raking before you seed or or transplant. Once seedlings come up, cultivate after every rain to contain weed pressure. This will ensure healthier, more productive plants, a larger yield and a marked reduction in the amount of time spent digging around to find the roots come harvest.

Companion Planting

Because crops of the same family tend to share pests and diseases—not to mention minerals and micronutrients—keep rutabagas away from areas where you’ve grown other brassicas recently. Rutabagas have been known to grow well after or with onions, peas or beans. And according to Louise Riotte in her classic book Carrots Love Tomatoes (Storey Publishing, 1998), hairy vetch seems to make a good companion for the turnip family. Consider a winter/spring cover crop of vetch in any bed you may be planting rutabagas.

Rutabaga Pests And Diseases

The primary pests for rutabagas include flea beetles, cabbage moths, harlequin beetles and cabbage root maggots. Moles, voles, rabbits and deer may also nibble. Row cover is almost always the most effective deterrent for any of those pests, but maintaining healthy soil and following a solid crop rotation plan will help keep the crop ahead of most invasions. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) can be applied, though always avoid adding any pesticide—biological or not—for as long as you can to minimize collateral damage: the killing of beneficial insects.

Rutabagas are not overly susceptible to disease problems unless crop rotations are not strictly adhered to or fertility and drainage are inadequate. Rootnot, white spot and club root are common diseases that may occur. If these are seen, remove the infected plants from the garden and preferably from the farm. Planting in an area with good ventilation, while taking care not to overwater, will help keep plants disease-free.

Harvesting Rutabagas

Rutabagas gain their classic sweetness after a couple frosts so try not to harvest until the plants have had a good chill or three. Cut the greens off entirely, and then move to storage.

Storing Rutabagas

Store rutabagas at 32 degrees F and high humidity for up to six months. Remember that one bad apple, er turnip, spoils the whole bunch, so regularly cull any rutabagas that rot throughout the winter.

Quick Guide to Growing Rutabagas

  • Plant rutabagas in late summer so they mature during the cool weather of fall. A good rule of thumb is to count back 90 days from your first fall frost.
  • Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0.
  • Before planting, give young plants a solid foundation by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil.
  • Productive rutabagas rely on consistent water, so use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep plants happy.
  • Maximize your harvest potential by feeding plants regularly with a continuous-release fertilizer.
  • Harvest rutabaga roots once they’re 3 to 5 inches wide. You can also harvest a few young leaves to enjoy in salads.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Growing rutabagas isn’t hard; the greatest challenge is timing your planting. Because rutabaga roots ripen best in cool weather, they need to be planted in time to mature in cool weather. Rutabagas are perfect for a fall crop in cooler regions or as a winter crop in warmer zones. They need about 80 to 100 days from planting to harvest. In cooler regions, count back 90 days from the average date of the first fall frost, which you can find for your area on our fall frost maps. In warmer areas, time fall plantings by waiting until night temperatures are consistently in the 50- to 60-degree range. They also work as an early spring crop in areas where the ground isn’t frozen so that you can plant early; however, they are subject to early warm spells that take away from the sweetness compared to those planted in fall.

Rutabagas can grow in ordinary soil, but you’ll get a bigger and better harvest when you work a layer of compost or aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil into the existing soil to add nutrition, increase its ability to hold water, and allow air to circulate. (Another option is to plant rutabagas in large containers filled with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which is also enriched with compost.) Poor soil yields roots with a woody texture. Ideal soil pH is 5.5 to 7.0; add lime to acid soil. Prior to setting out your Bonnie Plants, remove any large rocks that might interfere with root growth. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.

A steady source of nutrition will work hand-in-hand with great soil to produce an impressive rutabaga crop. Feed plants with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules, which will provide plants with all the food they need for strong growth. Plus, it feeds beneficial soil microbes that help plants absorb all those nutrients.

Rutabagas need consistent moisture during the growing season. An old rutabaga-growing adage says, “If in doubt, water.” Spotty watering that yields alternating wet and dry soil can cause roots to split. This is where a soaker hose or drip irrigation is invaluable to keep the soil moist but not soggy.

The humble rutabaga is often called a turnip, but rutabagas are much more useful in the kitchen, are more nutritious, and store well. Amazing yields of flavourful roots are possible in a small space. Introduce rutabagas on dip trays (like carrot sticks), soups and stews, and raw in lunch boxes. Follow along with this handy How to Grow Rutabagas from seed Guide and grow great storage vegetables for your root cellar this season.

Brassica napobrassica


We Recommend: Laurentian (RU692) has been a WCS favourite for many years. It’s hard to imagine improving on this reliable workhorse.

Season & Zone
Season: Cool season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: 2-10

Direct sow mid-June to July 15th. Optimal soil temperature: 18-21°C (65-70°F). Seeds should sprout in 7-15 days.

Sow seeds 5mm-1cm (¼-½”) deep in rows 60-75cm (24-30″) apart. Thin seedlings to 15-20cm (6-8″) apart in each row.

Ideal pH: 6.0-6.8. Rutabagas are moderate to heavy feeders that do best in rich, loamy soil amended with composted manure. Add 1 cup complete organic fertilizer beneath each 3m (10′) of row. Lime beds several weeks before planting. Rutabagas appreciate lots of organic matter in the soil. Water copiously in hot, dry weather.

Pull up rutabagas when they are larger than tennis balls. Store in paper bags in a cool, dry place. Storing in dry sand or peat moss may conserve moisture and freshness. Otherwise, leave in the ground for fall harvesting. The leaves are also tasty and nutritious.

Seed Info
At least 60% of seeds should germinate in optimal conditions. Usual seed life: 4 years. Per 100′ row: 300 seeds, per acre: 65.4M seeds.

Diseases & Pests
Use a floating row cover to protect seedlings from root maggots and flea beetles. Full sized plants are not badly damaged by these insects.

Tips For Growing And Planting Rutabaga

Growing rutabagas (Brassica napobassica), a cross between the turnip and the cabbage plant, isn’t much different from growing a turnip. The difference is that growing rutabagas generally takes four weeks longer than growing cabbage or turnips. This is why fall is the best time when to plant rutabaga plants.

How to Grow Rutabaga

Remember that these plants are not much different from turnips. The difference is that the roots are larger, firmer and rounder than turnip roots and the leaves on the rutabaga are smoother.

When planting rutabaga, plant about 100 days before the first frost in late fall. Prepare your soil as you would when growing any vegetable; rake the soil and remove any debris and rocks.

Planting Rutabaga

When planting rutabaga, throw the seed down in the prepared soil and rake it in lightly. Plant the seeds at a rate of three to 20 seeds per row and rake them about half an inch deep. Allow enough room to put one or two feet between rows. This allows space for the roots to plump up and form rutabagas.

If the soil isn’t moist, water the seeds to germinate them and establish healthy seedlings. Once seedlings appear and are about 2 inches tall, you can thin them to about 6 inches apart. One of the great things about planting rutabaga and turnips is that when you thin the plants, you can actually eat the thinned leaves as greens. This is true for both rutabagas and turnips.

Cultivate between the plants that are left to a depth of 2-3 inches deep. This helps aerate the soil and gets rid of weeds. Also, it loosens the soil around the root of the growing rutabagas allowing for larger root growth. Since rutabagas are a root vegetable, you want the dirt to be firm around the bottom of the leaves but looser underneath so the root is not stopped in growth.

When harvesting rutabagas, pick them when they are tender and mild. Growing rutabagas are ready for harvest when they are about medium sized. Harvesting rutabagas when they are about 3-5 inches in diameter will yield the best quality rutabagas. Be sure the rutabagas you harvest have grown without any interruptions in the growing season.

Rutabaga – Key Growing Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Brassica napus
CULTURE: Rutabagas prefer well-drained soils abundant in potash and phosphorus, with a pH range of 6.4-6.8. For customary fall and winter use plant in late spring or early summer, or about 90 days before intended harvest. Sow 6 seeds per foot, 3/8″ deep, thinning to 6″ apart, in rows 18-24″ apart.
DISEASES: Soft, brown interior root spot indicates soil boron deficiency, corrected by good compost or agricultural borax. Diseases include black leg, black rot, and turnip mosaic virus. Practice crop rotation (as with all Brassicas). Dispose of infected plants and do not allow any to survive the winter to infect a new crop.
INSECT PESTS: Protect from cabbage root maggots and flea beetles with floating row covers at time of planting.
HARVEST AND STORAGE: After at least two good frosts, cut tops, and store washed or unwashed at 32°F (0°C) and 95% relative humidity for up to 6 months. Waxing (dipping clean roots in paraffin) is done prior to delivery to prevent drying of roots in store displays.
AVG. DIRECT SEEDING RATE: 1M/166′, 1 oz./1,400′, 131M or 14¼ oz./acre at 6 seeds/ft. in rows 24″ apart.
SEED SPECS: SEEDS/LB.: Avg. 168,700.
PACKET: 100 seeds, sows 16′.

Learn About Rutabaga

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Anthracnose: This fungus disease causes circular or irregularly shaped dry spots gray to straw color on the leaves. The lesions may coalesce and form dead tissue that turns yellow, or they may split or crack in the center. The fungus overwinters in diseased plant debris. Burpee Recommends: Provide sufficient space between plants for good air circulation, avoid overhead watering which can spread the fungus spores, keep a clean garden, remove and discard all diseased plant material and rotate crops.

Cercospora Leaf Blight: Small flecks which develop a yellowish halo appear on the leaves and turn brown and coalesce. They cause the leaves to wither and die. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and destroy all plant debris. Rotate crops.

Clubroot: Leaf symptoms include stunting, yellowing and wilt. When the plants are removed from the soil the roots may have galls, swelling and distortion of the roots. Burpee Recommends: Test the soil pH as clubroot is most common in acid soil. Add lime to raise pH. Avoid planting where brassica plants were grown the previous year.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish gray patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Cutworms: These insects cut off the seedlings at the soil level. Burpee Recommends: Place a paper cup collar (use a coffee cup with the bottom cut out) around the base of the plant. They are usually mostly a problem with young seedlings. You can also control by handpicking and controlling weeds, where they lay their eggs.

Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.

Root Maggots: Leaves wilt and growth is stunted. These maggots are white and feed on the roots. They leave brown tunnels in the root. Burpee Recommends: Introduce natural enemies to the area. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations which must be applied prior to planting.

Wireworms: These insects live in the soil and kill seedlings by girdling their stems at the soil line, bore into stems, roots and tubers. They may be found around the stems in the soil are and ¼ to ¾ inch long, thin, yellow brown worms with a shiny skin. The adults are called click beetles, and are about 1/3 inch long, reddish brown with a hard shell. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations which must be applied prior to planting.

How to plant:

Propagate by seed

Germination temperature: 45 F to 85 F – Will germinate at soil temperatures as low as 40 F. 60 F is optimum.

Days to emergence: 4 to 7

Maintenance and care: Plant seed 2 inches apart and ½ inch deep in rows 18 to 24 inches apart in early to mid-summer, about 3 months before expected harvest for most varieties. Thin to 6-inch spacings. Frost improves quality and flavor.

For early crops, sow seed as soon as you can work the soil in spring. Do not wait until fall to harvest as roots will become woody and fibrous.

Larger seeds germinate faster and may be ready for harvest as much as 5 to 6 weeks sooner than smaller seed.

To help reduce disease, do not plant rutabagas or other cole crops in the same location more than once every three or four years.

Use floating row covers to protect crop from early pests.

Sustained mean temperatures above 80 F can cause excessively fast growth and root cracking.

Pests: Flea beetles – Use row covers to help protect plants from early damage. Put in place at planting and remove before temperatures get too hot (midsummer). Control weeds.

Cabbage root maggots – Use row covers.

Diseases: Black leg
Black rot
Turnip mosaic virus

Rutabaga is a hardy, cool-weather biennial vegetable grown as an annual. Sow rutabaga seed in the garden 4 to 6 before the average date of the last frost in spring. Sow rutabaga also in late summer for autumn or winter harvest. In mild winter regions sow rutabaga in autumn for winter harvest. Grow rutabaga so that it comes to harvest before temperatures average above 75°F; rutabaga requires 60 to 90 days to reach harvest.

Description. Rutabaga is a biennial vegetable grown as an annual. Rutabaga is grown for its large swollen root which has a purple or creamy brown or combination of both skin and yellow or white flesh. It is larger, denser, and sweeter than a turnip. Rutabaga has a rosette of smooth, deeply lobed, deep green leaves that grow from the swollen root. The rutabaga also can be distinguished from the turnip by the leaf scars on its top.

Yield. Plant 5 to 10 rutabagas per household member.

Site. Rutabagas grow best in well-worked, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing. Remove soil lumps and rocks which could cause roots to split or become malformed. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and as a side dressing at midseason. Rutabagas prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5.

Planting time. Rutabagas grow best in cool weather. Sow rutabaga seed in the garden 4 to 6 before the average date of the last frost in spring. Sow rutabaga also in late summer for autumn or winter harvest. In mild winter regions sow rutabaga in autumn for winter harvest. Grow rutabaga so that it comes to harvest before temperatures average above 75°F; rutabaga requires 60 to 90 days to reach harvest. Rutabaga roots will become grow small and stringy in hot weather.

Planting and spacing. Sow rutabaga seed ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart. Thin successful seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Thinning is important so that roots have room to develop.

Companion plants. Beets, carrots, turnips.

Container growing. Rutabagas can become quite large–often reaching 3 to 5 pounds–and are not a good crop for container growing.

Caring for Rutabaga

Water and feeding. Give rutabagas regular, even water so that roots growing steadily. Do not let the soil dry out. Roots that grow too slowly will be tough. Sporadic watering can cause developing roots to crack.

Care. Grow rutabagas in cool temperatures or they will be small and bitter. When roots start to swell, trim the outer foliage to enhance root growth.

Pests. Aphids and flea beetles can attack rutabagas. Pinch out foliage infested with aphids or spray them away with a stream of water.

Diseases. Rutabagas have no serious disease problems. White rust, a fungal disease, can cause small cottony blotches on the upper surfaces of the leaves.

Sliced rutabaga

Harvesting and Storing Rutabaga

Harvest. Rutabagas are ready for harvest 60 to 90 days after sowing. Lift rutabagas when they are 3 to 5 inches in diameter and tops are about 12 inches tall. Rutabagas can remain in the ground as long as the soil temperature does not dip below 24°F. Mulch roots remaining in the ground.

Storing and preserving. Rutabaga will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for 2 to 4 months. Rutabaga can be diced and frozen.

Rutabaga Varieties to Grow

Varieties. ‘Altasweet’ (92 days); ‘American Purple Top’ (90 days); ‘Laurentian’ (90 days); ‘Swede Purple Top’ (100 days).

Common name. Rutabaga, Swedish turnip, Swede, Russian turnip, yellow turnip

Botanical name. Brassica napus, Napobrassica group

Origin. Northern Europe



Rutabaga, (Brassica napus, variety napobrassica), also known as Swedish turnip, wax turnip, swede, or neep, root vegetable in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), cultivated for its fleshy roots and edible leaves. Rutabagas likely originated as a cross between turnips (Brassica rapa, variety rapa) and wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and are thought to have been first bred in Russia or Scandinavia in the late Middle Ages. A good source of fibre, vitamin C, and potassium, the roots can be eaten raw or pickled and are commonly cooked with other root vegetables or mashed. The leaves are usually cooked like other mustard greens.

rutabagaRutabaga.© Brzostowska/.com

Rutabagas are biennial plants that feature smooth glaucous (having a waxy coating) leaves and an enlarged root that bears a distinct neck with well-marked leaf scars. The root flesh is firm and stores well during winter. White-fleshed varieties have a rough green skin and are of irregular form, while yellow-fleshed varieties are more regularly-shaped and have a smooth skin of a green, purple, or bronze colour. If left to grow a second season, the plant bears cross-shaped flowers with four petals that range from pale to bright yellow to pale orange in colour.

The rutabaga is a cool-season crop and requires a long growing season owing to its slow growth. They are sown only as a main or late crop and are hardy to cold. The plants are extensively cultivated, often as a cattle fodder crop, in Canada, Great Britain, northern Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Rutabagas don’t get the love they deserve. The lumpy veggies are fall treat that is endlessly versatile in the kitchen. No really. You can grill them, roast them, steam them, sous vide them, smoke them, fry them, and mash them up. You can even eat them raw. I’m telling you, they should get a more prominent spot in the garden. Growing rutabagas seems complicated because its a root crop, but they’re surprisingly easy.

One of the reasons I love rutabagas so much – beyond the incredible taste – is because they give you a fresh veggie option even as the winter comes rolling in. After the first fall frost, rutabaga stays in the ground for a later harvest, taking on a richer flavor as it ages in the cold.

People often call rutabagas by other names, such as Russian turnip, Swedish turnip, Canadian turnip, and yellow turnip. As you can tell, rutabagas are related to turnips. They’re actually a cross between wild cabbage and turnip. Compared to their cousin, rutabagas are larger with a sweeter, starchier flavor thanks to their cabbage heritage, and they take weeks longer to mature.

Rutabaga Plant Info

  • Hardiness Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Soil: Loamy, PH between 5.5 to 7.0, fertile, loose, well drained
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Planting: 4 to 6 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring
  • Spacing: 4 to 6 inches between plants and 18 to 24 inches between rows
  • Depth: ¼ to ½ inch seed depth
  • Best Companions: Beets, carrots, turnips, peas, onions
  • Worst Companions: Potatoes
  • Watering: Copiously during hot weather, at least 1 inch per week
  • Fertilizing: Side dress with compost at midseason
  • Common Problems: Alternaria leaf spot, anthracnose, black rot, cercospora leaf spot, downy mildew, cabbage aphid, flea beetles, root maggots, wireworms,
  • Harvest: 90 to 120 days after planting, when rutabagas are 3 to 4 inches in diameter

Rutabaga Varieties

You can find several rutabaga varieties to grow in your garden. Here are a few of the most popular picks.

American Purple Top Rutabaga

This variety is a tasty, mild, and sweet rutabaga that tastes excellent cooked or raw and looks pretty on the plate thanks to its bright yellow flesh. It’s a pre-1920 heirloom seed perfect for your fall garden.

Champion Purple Top Rutabaga

Champion rutabagas mature in 80 days, growing large, smooth roots that are pale ivory with purple tops. The flesh is fine-textured, mild, and sweet. This variety is more common in Europe.

Laurentian Rutabaga

It takes 90 days for this variety to mature. When it does, it produces a purple crown that’s light yellow below the top. The roots are about 5 inches in diameter.

Navone Yellow Cabbage Turnip

Often called Swedish turnip, this rutabaga variety is a delicious winter crop that produces deep golden-yellow colored roots with a rich and sweet taste. They taste delicious roasted, baked, mashed, and more.

How to Plant Rutabaga

Did you know that rutabagas are part of the brassica family? It makes sense because they’re a blend of cabbage and turnips. That doesn’t mean you grow them just like cabbages, but they do prefer similar temperatures and conditions.

Growing Zones

Rutabagas grow well in zones 2-10.

Soil Requirements

Growing rutabagas are happy in average soil without much preparation, which is great for beginner gardeners (or lazy ones). You’ll get a bigger harvest if you work in a few layers of compost or composted manure into the existing ground to add nutrients, increase water retention, and add more air circulation.

Poor soil leads to a woody texture that you might not like. You should also look at the soil pH level; ideally, you should aim for 5.5 to 7.0. If you need to increase the acid in the soil, mix in lime.

The most important thing to do when preparing the soil is to remove any large rocks and make sure the soil is loose. Rocks interfere with root growth, so you’ll end up with strangely shaped or stunted rutabagas. Hard soil will restrict the size of your veggies.

Sun Requirements

The ideal location to plant rutabagas is in full sun, but if you do plant them in the spring, having a bit of shade helps to mitigate the heat as spring gets warmer.

When to Plant Rutabaga

When you plant rutabaga, sow seeds directly into the soil. The biggest challenge to growing rutabagas is appropriately timing your planting. Rutabagas are a root crop that ripens best when in cold weather, so they have to be planted in time for the mature before the hot weather or hard freeze. That’s why they’re a perfect fall crop in colder regions or winter crops in warmer zones.

Take a look at your calendar. Rutabagas need around 80-100 days to mature. So, if you live in a cooler region, count back 90 days from your average first frost date. For those in warmer areas, plant when night temperatures are 50-60℉.

You can also plant as an early spring crop when the ground isn’t frozen. However, the problem with spring planting is that warmer weather will arrive, which takes away from the sweetness of the crop.


Sow the seeds half an inch deep and 4 inches apart. The rows need to be 7-inches apart for maximum growth, with 24-inches between rows. Then, as the seedlings pop up through the ground, thin them to 8 inches apart when they’re 3-4 weeks old.

How to Care for Rutabagas

Once planted, caring for rutabagas centers around keeping the ground moist and weed-free. You can fertilize throughout the season for maximum growth. Caring for these crops is almost as easy as learning how to grow rutabaga.


Rutabagas prefer cooler temperatures and consistent moisture throughout their growing season. When in doubt, water your rutabaga. Spotty watering that causes alternating wet and dry soil leads to the roots splitting open. Many gardeners lay a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep the soil moist at all times without getting soggy.


Like many root crops, rutabagas benefit from having a steady source of nutrition. Feeding your plants a continuous-release fertilizer, such as all-purpose plant granules, will provide all of the nutrients needed for a steady growth pattern.

Rutabagas are known for having boron deficiencies, which can lead to a condition called brown heart. Brown heart leads to a discolored hollow in the middle of the rutabaga. You can sprinkle household borax into the roots during planting for supplemental boron, or mix borax with water and spray the young rutabaga seedlings.

Common Pests & Diseases

Alternaria Leaf Spot

This fungal disease destroys a wide variety of plants. It usually shows up as spots on a plant that turns from yellow to black with yellow halos. These lesions can turn necrotic and can kill off the entire plant.

You can use liquid copper fungicides or sulfur fungicides to control it. Help prevent it by keeping away pests, since they can spread the disease.

Black Rot

Black spot pops up as yellow lesions that eventually turn black and necrotic. Practice good sterilization techniques, maintain good crop rotation, water at the base of plants in the morning, and give plants plenty of space when planting to help avoid it.

Downy Mildew

Downy mildew looks like yellow or white fuzzy patches on leaves. It can cause leaves to turn brown and fall off the plant. It tends to impact rutabaga more than other plants because it attacks during cool, wet weather – just kind of conditions rutabaga prefer.

The best defense is a good offense. Keep plants well spaced and trimmed back if necessary. Water in the morning at the base of plants. Both of these techniques help keep moisture from accumulating. Destroy any impacted plants. If you’ve struggled with downy mildew in your area, use a copper spray preventatively two weeks before the disease normally starts to show up in your garden.

Cabbage Aphids

Large populations of cabbage aphids can stunt growing rutabagas and even make your plant die. Aphids are tiny and hard to spot. They’re small, grey-green and are covered with a white waxy coating. Once you spot where the cabbage aphids are located, knock them off with a strong jet of water. Insecticides are only needed for large infestations. Another trick is to plant nasturtiums throughout the rutabaga patch as a trap crop for aphids.

Root Maggots

Root maggots create feeding tunnels on the surface of the rutabaga, and root damage can be extensive. The larvae are white or white-yellow, reaching 1 cm in length. Adult root maggots look like a small housefly.

Prevention is vital with root maggots. Never plant root crops in the same area the following year. If the vegetables are severely damaged, harvest and remove the roots, destroying all crop debris. The use of floating row covers can help hep to reduce damage to crops by preventing the female adult flies from laying eggs. Unfortunately, there are no pesticides for use on root maggots.

Flea Beetles

If you notice small holes or pits in the leaves, you might have flea beetles. Young plants and seedlings are the most vulnerable to flea beetles, and they cause reduced plant growth. If infestations are too large, it can kill the plant.

Flea beetles are small, dark-colored beetles that are shiny in appearance. You can use floating row covers before the emergence of beetles to protect the young plants. For mature plants, you can use trap crops as a measure of control as well as applications of neem oil.


This disease occurs when soil is poorly draining and acidic, and clubroot can linger in the ground for up to 20 years. Clubroot leads to distorted roots, stunted growth, wilting, and ruined crops. Never plant rutabaga in a bed that had clubroot in the past.

Companions for Growing Rutabagas

Rutabagas grow best with:

  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Turnip
  • Peas
  • Onion

Don’t plant rutabagas with potatoes.

Harvesting and Storing Rutabagas

Rutabagas are primarily grown for their roots, but the leaves of the rutabaga plants are edible as well. You can add them to salads and soups for a bit of zest. You can remove a few leaves from each growing rutabaga, but make sure you leave more than a few leaves left per root. Once you harvest, don’t toss all the greens. Keep some wrapped in a cotton cloth in the refrigerator.

Harvest rutabaga roots when they’re 3-5 inches in diameter, roughly the size of a grapefruit. Early, small roots have a tender flavor, but leaving the roots to mature creates a delicious sweetness.

You can harvest rutabagas as you need them, leaving the rest of the crop in the ground. To harvest them, carefully hand-pull them up or dig the roots up. If you live in the coldest zones, you can prolong the harvest by snipping the leaves back to a few inches tall and heavily mulch the beds with straw. Once the winter freeze arrives, you need to pick them.

Rutabagas store well for months. After harvest, cut the tops off and store them in a cold, moist root cellar that is as close to 32℉ as possible.

You can also store them in the refrigerator by keeping the roots in storage bags and keeping them in the crisper. Larger harvests should be stored somewhere cool in moist peat moss, sand, or sawdust.

Cooking With Rutabagas

Rutabagas are endlessly versatile in the kitchen. You can treat them like potatoes and french fry them, roast them or mash them.

They also make a tasty meat substitute. You can sous vide them or chop one up and serve it ceviche style. Try treating a thickly sliced rutabaga like steak, marinating it in barbecue sauce and grilling it.

Rutabaga makes a nice soup, is delicious shredded raw in a salad, and fried into chips.

The Last Word

Rutabagas aren’t a popular root crop in the United States, and that’s a shame. Gardener in Europe have grown them for decades in their vegetable gardens, and their popularity is finally moving over to the United States.

Rutabagas are a tasty fall crop that can be stored for months at a time. You can use them to make soups, stews, casseroles, and more. Try growing rutabagas in your fall garden this year.

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