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How To Grow Turnips In Your Garden

Turnips have been underrated in popularity in the veggie world.  This forgotten veggie is never front and center in the produce section, but mashed turnips can make a tasty dish that rivals mashed potatoes.  This lovely root veggie can be cooked in similar ways as a potato, but it has the bonus of fresh greens that can be enjoyed raw or sauteed.  So let’s learn how to grow turnips for an abundant harvest!

If you have a memory of a bitter turnip, you may need to try a homegrown turnip.  Younger tender roots and leaves are less bitter.  As a gardener and cook, I like to experiment with harvesting turnips at different stages of growth to see how the flavor develops and when I prefer to eat the plant.

Growing turnips is a great way to diversify your garden. Turnips prefer the cool season and can be planted for a spring and fall harvest.  It is a quick-growing root crop that is valued for its dual-use of edible roots and leaves. Soon you will be growing turnips in your garden every year and cooking them in replace of your potato dishes. Or for a fall crop, try carving turnips into jack-o-lanterns rather than using a pumpkin for Halloween festivities!

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Quick Care Guide

How to grow turnips
Learning how to grow turnips supplies you with greens and root veggies. Source: Sunfrog1
Common Name(s)Turnip
Scientific NameBrassica rapa subsp. rapa
Days to Harvest40-75 days
LightFull sun, can tolerate partial shade
WaterConsistent, moist, 1 inch per week 
SoilLoose, fertile, well-drained loamy soil
FertilizerOrganic matter or compost when sowing
PestsAphids, flea beetles, root maggots, and wireworms
DiseasesAnthracnose, clubroot, white rust, and turnip mosaic virus

All About Turnips

Gold ball turnips
Gold Ball is a popular yellow turnip cultivar. Source: anneinchicago

Turnips, brassica rapa subsp. rapa, originates from Eurasia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.  The term “turnip” comes from the roundness of the plant, the curve indicated as turn.  Napus is the Latin term for turnip, which was abbreviated and combined into turnip.  A savory Scottish dish is called neeps, which is mashed turnips. 

Turnips are valued for their roots and the greens.  A cluster of leaves form from a rosette base and can be over 12 inches long. Leaves are thin, light green with wavy or hairy edges. The taproot can range from a creamy white to soft yellow, with the top emerging from the ground as it matures.  This is a biennial plant, so in the second year of growth, it will produce small yellow flowers and go to seed. 

Once planted, seeds will germinate and seedlings will emerge in 7 days.  Young greens will be ready to harvest in a month.  Small tender roots will be ready in 5 weeks and the plant will reach full maturity within 2-3 months after planting. 

The greens and roots are used in an assortment of dishes.  Young fresh greens can be mixed with salad greens or older leaves can be cooked.  Roots can be boiled, roasted, baked, fried…there are many fun recipes to explore! I love to make root roasts, combining any root vegetables I have such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and turnips. Roast them in the oven until every veggie has caramelized into a tender and delicious dish.  

There are a few varieties of turnips such as the Purple Top White Globe, which is an heirloom variety valued for the beautiful purple tops on the root mass.  Gold Ball turnips are my favorite, as they add color to dishes and have a sweet taste. 

Planting Turnips

Turnip sprouts
Turnip sprouts are tiny but hardy little things. Source: Br3nda

When is the best time to plant turnips?  You can plant turnips in the early spring and late summer.  This cool-weather crop will be ready to harvest in late spring and fall.  If you are eager to plant after winter,  sow turnips 2-4 weeks before the last frost date in your region. By the time the last frost date has passed, you should see seedlings appearing. For a fall harvest, plant turnip seeds at least 2 months before the first frost date in your region. Late summer planting is nearly ideal in warm weather climates.

Where should I plant my turnips?  Turnips grow best when directly seeded into garden soil.  They do not like their roots to be bothered which means they do not do well as a transplant.  Turnips prefer deep, rich loamy soil and a sunny location. The seeds can be planted in the ground, in a raised bed, or in a large container (8-12 inches deep).  

How do I plant turnips?  Scatter the turnip seeds and cover lightly with dirt or sow them directly into the soil.  Prepare rows that are 12 inches apart, with a slight groove for the seeds that are ½ inch deep.  Sow a seed 1 inch apart and cover it with soil.  Once plants are 4 inches tall, you can thin the seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart.  The thinned turnips can be used for their greens. For raised bed or container gardening, you can sow 9 turnips per square foot.

Care

Hida Beni turnips
Hida Beni red turnips, a Japanese cultivar. Source: llee_wu

You will want to provide the ideal location for the optimum growth of your turnips.  Once the sunlight, water, and temperature needs are met, you will find yourself with an abundant crop!

Sun and Temperature

Turnips grow best in full sun, with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.  You can plant turnips in USDA zones 2-9.  The ideal temperature for growing ranges from 45-70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to bolting. If you are anticipating a change in weather, you can provide shade to your plants.  A light frost for a fall harvest can sweeten your crops, yet deep winter freezes will cause damage. A heavy mulch can protect the roots along with a season-extender technique such as using a row cover. 

Water and Humidity

This plant thrives in moist soil.  Morning is the best time of day to water the turnips, and you will want to water the top 1 inch of soil weekly. Aim towards the base of the plant, below the leaves.  Try to avoid letting the ground dry completely, this will slow down the growth of your crop. Soaker hoses are effective.

Soil

Turnips perform best in loose, fertile, and well-drained loamy soil.  To increase drainage for clay soils, add sand or perlite.  Loosen up the top 12 inches of soil and add a layer of compost. The ideal soil pH is from 6.0-7.0. 

Fertilizing

If you added organic matter such as compost into the soil, that should be enough fertilizer for the growing season.  Alternately, apply a slow-release 5-5-5 fertilizer to the soil before you sow the turnip seeds.  Avoid using a high nitrogen fertilizer as it will stimulate greens growth instead of root growth.

Pruning

Pruning is not necessary for growing turnips.  If you are harvesting turnips greens, we will cover that in the harvest section below.

Propagation

Turnips are like radishes, and can only be propagated from seed.  

Harvesting and Storing

Harvested turnips
Once harvested, cut the greens from the turnips before storing. Source: Seacoast Eat Local

Now let’s cover some methods of harvest and storing your delicious turnip crops.  Keep in mind that turnip greens and roots can turn bitter and tough past their harvest period. 

Harvesting

First, let’s discuss turnip greens.  These greens can be harvested a month after planting the seeds when leaves are about 4 inches tall and 2 inches in diameter.  Using sanitized garden scissors, trim the greens an inch or two above the soil.  The leaves will grow back and you can harvest more greens later in the season. 

Young turnip roots are ready to harvest within 5 weeks after planting. These roots will be very tender.  Fully mature turnips will be ready when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter, which can be around 60-70 days after planting.  Use a wide garden fork when you harvest turnips to gently lift them from the soil. 

Storing

Once turnip greens are washed, they can be stored in the fridge for one week.  I like to place a coffee filter or paper towel in a plastic storage bag with the greens, as it helps absorb excess moisture.

To store turnips, you will want to remove the leaves.  For short-term storage, place your turnips in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. For long-term storage, find a cool dark location such as a root cellar.  A turnip root can last 3-5 months in these conditions.  Another long-term storage solution is in the freezer.  You will want to cook the turnips first, let them cool down completely, and store them in the freezer for up to 6 months. 

Troubleshooting

Turnips growing
Large turnip roots are just about ready to harvest. Source: Clint Gardner

This cool-season vegetable is fairly low maintenance with the right growing conditions.  Since turnip is a member of the Brassica vegetable family, there are some common growing problems, pests, and diseases that you may notice in your garden.  

Growing Problems

During root growth, the top of the turnip can get sunburn.  To remedy this, use mulch around your plants to protect the tops of these roots from direct sunlight. 

Bolting in the first year is a big indicator of environmental stress.  Since turnip plants are biennial, they are expected to flower and seed in their second year of growth.  Extreme heat or not enough water can cause a turnip to bolt.  Make sure to time your planting for cool weather, such as spring or fall.  Provide a shade cover for your turnips if the temperatures begin to rise. 

Lastly, keep the soil moist with frequent weekly waterings.  The roots and leaves can become tough and woody if there is not enough water. 

Pests

There are a number of pests that are attracted to turnips.  Preventative measures to keep these pests out of your garden include the use of a row cover to cover plants and the application of diatomaceous earth around the root mass. Note that diatomaceous earth must remain dry to be effective against most pests, so this method is best used paired with soaker hoses underneath mulch to keep the surface layer dry.

Aphids can be found on the underside of leaves.  The leaves can start to droop when attacked by aphids.  A serious infestation of aphids can lead to mosaic virus. The best organic remedies to get rid of aphids would be to apply neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Flea beetles also like the leaves of the turnip, which can start to yellow and turn brown during an infestation.  Root maggots can be indicated by the presence of flies, and leaves will begin to wilt and turn yellow.  Wireworms will bore holes in the roots of the vegetables.  All of these pests can be treated with organic pesticides containing pyrethrin. 

Diseases

There are a few diseases that can also impact your turnip crops. Preventative actions include regular crop rotation of all brassica vegetables (including turnips) and pest prevention to reduce disease transmission.

Anthracnose appears with grey to pale yellow sores on the leaves.  An application of an organic copper-based fungicide can help treat this plant disease. 

Clubroot, Plasmodiophora brassicae, causes deformities in the root. This disease can stay in your soil for over 10 years and can impact almost all brassica-species plants. Planting disease-resistant cultivars will be your best bet. In addition, raising your growing medium’s pH has been shown to have some effect, as clubroot thrives in slightly acidic soils. 

White rust, Albugo candida, causes white blisters on the underside of the leaves with spots on the top.  There is no specific treatment for white rust, but this disease typically does not seriously damage the plant and the turnips will still be able to grow to maturity. Some fungicides that are used for downy mildew, such as copper fungicides, can clear up early outbreaks.

Mosaic virus is a serious disease and will show up with dead spots and yellow mosaics on the leaves.  There is no treatment, and it can spread between plants via aphids. Remove the infected crops from the garden and destroy them. Do not compost material infected with mosaic virus.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Turnip bed
Turnip greens can be harvested gradually even as the roots develop. Source: renoir_girl

Q: How long does it take for turnips to grow?

A: This depends on what size and part of plants you want to harvest…greens can be ready to harvest in a month, young tender roots in 5 weeks, and full-sized mature roots in 60-70 days. 

Q: Where do turnips grow best?

A: In loose, fertile growing medium.

Q: Can you grow a turnip from a turnip?

A: Turnip greens can regrow from a turnip but that’s all; the roots do not regrow.  You can only propagate turnip roots from seed.


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