Turnips are one of the best crops to cultivate in your garden.
Not only do turnips come in various shapes, colors, and sizes, but the difference between store-bought and homegrown turnips is remarkable. The turnips you grow in your own backyard garden are absolutely delicious.
The good news is that growing turnips doesn’t have to be challenging. While they require a bit more care than some other crops, they will reward you with bountiful turnips throughout the season.
We’ve been growing turnips on our backyard farm for many years and have experimented with different varieties, sizes, and types (including storage turnips and fresh-eating turnips). In this post, we will share the essential information you need to know to grow turnips, including when to plant, how to prepare your soil, and what to do during the growing season.
If you are new to backyard gardening, check out our guides on starting your backyard vegetable garden or explore all of our growing guides.
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Growing Turnips: Quick Facts
Best Time to Plant: After the last frost has passed. For specific dates in your area, check with your local extension office. Soil: pH 6.0 to 6.8: Turnips thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soil. Test and adjust your soil's pH if necessary. Soil Type: Well-Drained Loam: Provide good drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Adding organic matter can improve soil texture. Sunlight Full Sun: Turnips need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal growth. Watering Consistent Moisture: Keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged. Water at the base of the plant to prevent fungal issues. Fertilizing Balanced Fertilizer: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost to provide essential nutrients throughout the season. (we prefer organic options and compost) Plant Spacing: 4-6 inches apart: Give your turnip plants enough space to allow for good air circulation and prevent disease. Common Pests: Aphids, Flea Beetles, Root Maggots: Monitor for common pests and diseases, and take prompt action to control them. Companion Plants: Radishes, Onions, Lettuce (see more about the best Companion Planting options for Turnips) Harvest Time: 45-60 days: The time to harvest varies depending on the turnip variety. Harvest when the roots are tender and reach the desired size.
Selecting the Best Turnip Varieties
There are numerous places to purchase turnip seeds, and we love getting our seeds locally or through reputable online suppliers.
Baby Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): Baby turnips are a popular choice for snacking and adding to salads. They come in various colors, including white, red, and purple, and produce tender and sweet roots. Their small size makes them perfect for quick, fresh eating.
Tokyo Cross Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): Tokyo Cross turnips are known for their mild and delicate flavor. These small, round turnips are quick to mature and are ideal for fresh eating, especially when harvested at a young age.
Golden Ball Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): Golden Ball turnips are prized for their golden-yellow roots, which have a sweet, mild flavor. They are excellent for snacking, roasting, or adding to dishes for a pop of color.
Purple Top White Globe Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): These turnips have a classic appearance with purple shoulders and white roots. They offer a balanced flavor and can be used in various culinary applications, from fresh eating to roasting.
Hakurei Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): Hakurei turnips are a Japanese variety known for their sweet and crisp roots. These turnips are excellent for salads, pickling, or enjoying fresh.
Purple Top Rutabagas (Brassica napus subsp. rapifera): Rutabagas are a type of large, storage turnip known for their sweet and nutty flavor. They have a longer shelf life and can be stored through the winter. Ideal for mashing, roasting, or adding to stews.
Gilfeather Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa): Gilfeather turnips are a unique Vermont variety. They have a mild and sweet flavor and are great for storage, often lasting well into the winter months.
How to Grow Turnips
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When to Plant Turnips
The best time to plant turnips is in the spring, once the threat of frost has passed for your specific region. It’s crucial to wait until all danger of frost has subsided, as turnips are sensitive to cold temperatures. Planting them when the soil has warmed up, and nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C), ensures your turnip plants will have a healthy start and yield a generous harvest.
For the best results, consider starting turnip seeds indoors and later transplanting them into the garden.
See your last frost date online.
How to Plant Turnips
Properly planting turnips is vital for a successful harvest. Start by choosing a sunny location in your garden with well-drained loamy soil. Dig a hole approximately 1-2 inches deep and space turnip seeds or seedlings according to the recommended spacing for your selected variety.
Turnip seeds can be sown directly in the garden, and it’s important to thin them to the recommended spacing once they start growing. Ensure consistent soil moisture by watering adequately, and use organic matter to enrich the soil if necessary. After planting, provide support, such as stakes or row covers, to protect your turnips from pests like flea beetles.
Turnip Care and Maintenance
Taking care of your turnips is important to ensuring healthy plants and a plentiful harvest. Once your turnip plants are established, maintain consistent soil moisture by watering at the base of the plants. Avoid overhead watering, as it can lead to fungal issues.
Mulch around the base of the plants to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Regularly inspect your turnip plants for common pests like aphids and flea beetles. Take prompt action to control these pests if necessary.
As your turnip plants grow, consider providing support with stakes or row covers to protect them from potential threats. Fertilize your turnips with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost to provide essential nutrients throughout the growing season.
Harvesting and Storing Turnips
Turnips should be picked when their roots are tender and reach the desired size. For many small turnip varieties, this can be as early as 45 days from planting.
Harvest the roots by gently pulling them from the soil, taking care not to damage the plant. For storage turnips like rutabagas, it’s best to harvest them after they’ve reached their maximum size, typically around 90 days after planting.
Properly harvested turnips can be stored in a cool, dark place for an extended period.
Tips for Growing Turnips
- Choose suitable turnip varieties based on your climate and preferences.
- Plant turnips in a sunny location with well-drained loamy soil.
- Time your planting after the last frost date for your region to avoid cold damage.
- Enhance soil fertility by amending it with compost or aged manure.
- Plant turnip seeds at the recommended depth or bury seedlings’ stems up to their first set of leaves for strong root development.
- Space turnip plants adequately (4-6 inches apart) for proper air circulation and disease prevention.
- Maintain consistent soil moisture by watering evenly, avoiding waterlogging.
- Apply mulch around turnip plants to retain moisture and control weed growth.
- Regularly inspect for common pests like aphids, flea beetles, and caterpillars and take action if needed.
- Prune or remove lower leaves that touch the ground to reduce disease risk.
- Provide support with stakes or row covers to protect turnips from pests and harsh weather.
- Fertilize with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost for essential nutrients.
- Keep a vigilant eye on signs of diseases like downy mildew, clubroot, and black rot, and address issues promptly.
- Harvest turnips when they reach the desired size for optimal taste and texture.
- Store turnips in a cool, dark place to enjoy a fresh supply even after the growing season ends.
Common Pests and Challenges When Growing Turnips
Aphids: Aphids are tiny, sap-sucking insects that can weaken turnip plants by feeding on their sap. They are usually found on the underside of leaves and can cause leaf curling and wilting.
To address aphid infestations, you can:
Spray the plants with a strong stream of water to dislodge aphids. Introduce natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings. Apply neem oil or insecticidal soap, which are organic solutions that deter aphids.
Flea Beetles: Flea beetles are small, jumping insects that can create numerous tiny holes in turnip leaves. These holes can stunt plant growth and reduce overall yield.
To combat flea beetles:
Use row covers to protect young turnip plants. Apply a layer of diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants to deter these pests. Consider using neem oil as a natural repellent.
Caterpillars (Cabbage Worms and Diamondback Moth Larvae): These caterpillars can devour turnip leaves and severely damage the plants.
To control caterpillar infestations:
Handpick caterpillars from the plants and relocate them away from your garden. Encourage beneficial insects like parasitic wasps that prey on caterpillars. Apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an organic biological insecticide, to target specific caterpillar species.
Turnip Root Maggots: The larvae of these flies feed on the roots of turnip plants, causing damage to the crop.
To prevent turnip root maggot infestations:
Use row covers to protect turnip plants from adult flies that lay eggs on the soil. Keep the garden area clean and free of decaying plant matter, which can attract the flies. Rotate your crops annually to reduce the risk of infestation.
Whiteflies: Whiteflies are small, winged insects that feed on turnip leaves and can transmit viral diseases.
To manage whiteflies:
Introduce natural predators like parasitic wasps or ladybugs. Use yellow sticky traps to capture adult whiteflies. Apply neem oil or insecticidal soap as organic control measures.
Cabbage Loopers: These green caterpillars can consume turnip leaves and cause significant damage.
To address cabbage looper infestations:
Handpick the caterpillars and remove them from the garden. Encourage natural predators like birds or parasitic wasps. Apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to target cabbage loopers specifically.
Turnip Diseases: Turnips can be susceptible to various diseases, including downy mildew, clubroot, and black rot.
To manage these diseases:
Choose disease-resistant turnip varieties when available. Practice crop rotation to reduce the buildup of soilborne pathogens. Keep the garden clean by removing and destroying infected plant debris.
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