A lot of gardeners are fond of growing turnips in their own vegetable gardens. The reason is that these cool-weather vegetables are famous for being easy to grow and care for. If you are into gardening, then you will be pleased to know that you can plant turnips either in early spring for summer harvest or late summer for fall harvest.
Turnips are also the same as other root vegetables in the sense that they tend to do well when grown together with radishes and carrots. Let’s get to know more about the process of growing turnips considered ancient root vegetables through this article.
Quick Facts About Turnips
- Botanical name: Brassica rapa subsp.
- Type of plant: Annual vegetable
- Native area/s: Europe, especially parts of the Mediterranean
- Size upon maturity: 12 to 18 inches tall; 6 to 8 inches spread
- Type of soil and pH level: Sandy and well-drained soil; a bit acidic – around 6.0 to 6.5
- Sunlight: Full sun but capable of tolerating partial shade
- Water: Consistently moist – around one inch every week
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 2 to 9
Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp.) can be classified as cool-weather root vegetables that belong to the Brassicaceae or mustard family. They are known for their ability to mature fast and their edible bright greens and roots. The edible green tops of this famous cool-weather root vegetable feature the same flavor as mustard greens.
In terms of the way they look, you will notice the turnip leaves have a light green shade. The leaves are also a bit hairy and tend to hold elongated and oval shapes featuring wavy and toothed edges.
You will also notice the yellow or white roots of turnips with a part protruding over green or ground purple because of being exposed to the sun. If you let it bolt, you can expect it to produce small, yellow flowers.
One more fact about turnips is that similar to other plants in the Brassica family, they feature four petals capable of forming a cross. This is the reason why turnips are also classified as cruciferous veggies.
When growing turnips in your garden, you have to learn about their different types and varieties, so you can better decide which ones suit the growing conditions in your place. It will also let you know whether you have to prioritize turnip greens or roots.
Here are the most common varieties of turnips that are safe to grow in vegetable gardens:
Purple Top White Globe
This traditional American turnip is now famous, especially in the southern parts of the US. It has taproots that tend to grow white under the soil while having purple shades on top. It has leaves that are perfect for use in cooking.
Harvest the purple-top white globe variety when they are already around three to four inches. Expect them to mature within 5o days, too.
This variety features small and soft but sweet flesh or bulbs. The taste is faintly almond. In general, it tends to mature within sixty days, and it is advisable to begin harvesting turnips under this variety when they reach approximately 3 inches in diameter, though these turnips grow at around four to five inches in diameter, to guarantee maximum sweetness.
This variety produces red turnips that are specifically designed for use in salads. The maturity period usually takes around 43 days. Harvest turnip greens under this variety once their taproots already show that they are around 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
This hybrid turnip variety boasts of its mild and sweet edible roots capable of retaining top-notch quality upon reaching around four inches in diameter. You can grow the royal crown during the fall or spring. You will find both the turnip roots and greens useful, especially once the plant matures within fifty days.
Most gardeners grow this turnip variety because of the leafy greens it produces. It has baby leaves capable of regrowing even after experiencing multiple harvests. What’s great about Alamo is that it is a sturdy turnip plant, capable of handling and tolerating mosaic viruses and aphids while boasting its moderate bolt resistance. You can begin harvesting turnips leaves within 33 days.
You will also be fond of growing the Amelie variety because of its bolt-resistant nature. This hybrid variety has white roots known for being sweet and crisp. These white turnip roots can grow up to around two to three inches. You can also harvest the tops. You are allowed to sow turnip seeds of this variety to enjoy a fall crop or spring harvest.
Another famous variety of turnips is Just Right, which is recognized because of its delicious greens and pure white roots. It is a good choice because of its ability to tolerate the cold. Note, though, that it is not suitable for spring crops because of its tendency to bolt early.
When Should You Plant Turnip Seeds?
The ideal time for planting and growing turnips is usually during the late summer and the early spring. You can then prepare for a fall crop harvest or late spring harvest.
You may also plant turnips once the winter is over. If you decide to let turnips grow at that season, it is advisable to sow turnips around two to four weeks before the date of the last frost within your place. Once the last frost passes, there is a high chance for turnip seedlings to appear.
If you want to enjoy fall crops or a fall harvest, then the best time to plant the turnip seed is two months or less before your region’s first frost date. However, if you are in a place that often experiences a warm climate, it would be ideal to plant during the late summer.
Where to Plant Turnips?
When deciding on the best spot to plant your turnips, take note that they tend to attain optimal root growth if you seed them directly into garden soil. Also, turnips are not fond of being transplanted since they do not react nicely when their roots get disturbed or bothered.
These plants also like to be in rich and deep loamy soil. Choose a sunny spot, too, since it needs to be exposed to full sunlight. You may plant turnip seeds in large containers that are around eight to twelve inches deep, directly on the ground, or in raised bed gardens.
How to Plant Turnips?
Once you have chosen where to plant turnips, you should combine a low organic fertilizer with the soil – around twelve inches into it. Do this before actually planting the turnips. Do not overfertilize using nitrogen or a high nitrogen fertilizer.
Once you have done fertilizing, you can directly sow turnip seeds in the soil. It should be around one-fourth to one-half inch deep. Each seed should also be one inch apart and should be planted in rows with each one being twelve to eighteen inches apart.
Scatter the turnip seeds then thin afterward. Once done, you can cover them using one-half-inch or less of soil. Start watering and commit to doing this consistently. Once you are done planting, make it a point to use row covers as a means of protecting them from harmful pests.
You can then wait for the planted turnip seedlings to grow. Once they are already around four inches high, start thinning them, preferably around four to six inches apart. This is important to prevent crowding that may only cause their roots to become deformed or smaller than usual.
Growing them very close to each other may also result in stunted growth. One more thing that you should do is to ensure that the garden beds remain weed-free. However, you have to be extra careful when weeding to prevent the roots, especially those from young ones, from being disturbed.
One thing that you can do is mulch heavily as a means of suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. The soil where the turnips are needs to have consistent moisture so commit to watering it regularly. The soil should be lightly moist, which means an inch of water per week would be enough.
Caring for your Turnips
After planting, you need to give your turnips the right care, especially in these areas:
Turnips like to be in soil that is a bit acidic, so the ideal soil pH level for them is often around 6.0 to 6.5. The soil also needs to have a high level of fertility as this can support its rapid growth. Also, ensure that you use well-draining soil to prevent the turnip root from rotting.
Remember that turnips can be expected to germinate well if the soil is deeply watered. That said, ensure that their roots receive consistent moisture while they are still growing. Provide one inch of water every week to the plants.
If you are growing turnips in soil that is sandy and fast-draining, you should apply a max of two-inch water every week. It also helps to use a drip irrigation system for the turnips. This will prevent the ground from drying completely as the roots are still in the stage of development.
Sunlight and Temperature
You need to give turnips exposure to full sun for them to grow best. In general, they need a minimum of 6-hour direct sunlight. As for the ideal temperature for turnips growth, they should be around 45 to 70 degrees F.
Do not let the temperature go beyond 80 degrees as it may only cause the plants to bolt. In case there is an expected change in climate or weather, it would be advisable to give your plants some shade.
Moreover, a light frost designed for a harvest during the fall may sweeten the crops but deep winter freezes may end up damaging the plants. Protect turnip roots with the help of heavy mulch. You can also use a row cover along with it.
Have you already provided the soil with organic matter, like compost? Then such an amount of fertilizer is usually enough for the entire growing season. As an alternative, use a slow-release fertilizer (5-5-5) prior to the time when you actually sow seeds.
Never use a fertilizer rich in nitrogen. An extremely high nitrogen fertilizer may only stimulate the growth of greens rather than the roots.
How to Harvest Turnips?
Expect the turnip greens to be ready for harvest anytime they reach a height of around four inches. It is highly likely for the greens to keep on regrowing if the topmost part of their root structure remains unharmed.
It would be ideal to harvest turnips when they are still small. The reason is that they tend to taste at their best when they are still young and tender. To harvest, cut the leaves two inches over the base.
Make it a point to harvest only a few of the leaves at a time if you also plan to grow the turnips for roots. As for the roots, you are allowed to harvest them anytime, though, it would still be advisable to go for small, young, and tender turnips.
In most cases, you are allowed to harvest the early types after around five weeks. The main root crops can be harvested after around six to ten weeks. If you have fall turnips, it would be ideal to harvest roots after a light frost or two passed. This can guarantee a sweeter flavor.
Ensure that you do the harvest prior to a hard freeze, though. If you intend to harvest later during the harvest season, mulch it. This should also help protect the plant from the possible harsh effects of the hard freeze.
Storing Turnip Greens
After you have harvested turnips, you can store them for a max of three to four months but make sure that you keep them in a dark and cool place, like a root cellar. You may also store turnips in your fridge for a max of two weeks.
When planning to store them in the fridge, put them inside a plastic bag first. The plastic bag should also be perforated. During storage, prevent the turnips from drying out, but ensure that they do not end up becoming moldy due to excessive moisture.
Your harvested and stored turnips actually have plenty of kitchen and culinary uses. Basically, these are among those plants that can be consumed and eaten raw. You can also bake, boil, or fry them.
You can also prepare turnips in the same way as you prepare potatoes and carrots. This means that you can also make mashed turnips similar to mashed potatoes and carrots. You may also cook the leaves as they are considered edible greens.
You may enjoy sliced raw young turnips by dipping them in a sour-cream dressing, too. In addition, you can roast these young plants together with not only meat but also other vegetables, like sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic, and onions.
Dealing with Growth Problems
Your turnips may also experience some problems as they grow. A couple of issues that you may encounter would be:
As the root grows, there is a high possibility for the topmost part of the turnip to get sunburned. You can handle this problem by mulching around the plants. This should help in protecting the topmost parts of the roots from the harsh effects of too much direct sunlight.
This usually occurs during the first year of growth, which is also an indication that the turnips are experiencing environmental stress. Note that turnips are generally biennial, though many treat them as annuals. In other words, there is a high chance for them to seed turnips and flower once the second year of their growth comes.
Among the major causes of bolting are inadequate water and extreme heat. To prevent that, it helps to schedule the planting time when the weather is cool, like during the fall or spring. Give your turnips a shade cover, too, in case of a sudden rise in temperature.
Tough and Woody Turnip Roots and Leaves
Another potential problem is when the leaves and roots of these particular plants become extremely woody and tough. This usually happens because of inadequate water. Prevent that from happening by watering the plant weekly, so you can continue keeping or making the soil moist.
Common Pests and Diseases
Turnips are not also immune to diseases and pest infestation. For you to know what pests and diseases to watch out for when growing turnips, here are the usual ones that plague them:
You can often find these turnip pests on the leaves’ underside. When the leaves of your turnip plants get attacked by aphids, there is a high chance for them to droop down. Aphids may also seriously infest the plants, further leading to mosaic virus. Get rid of them organically by using an insecticidal soap or using neem oil.
You can also usually see flea beetles infesting turnip leaves, causing them to become yellow and brown. These beetles may also bore several small holes in the leaves of the plants. The best defenses for flea beetles would be row covers and heavy mulching. Adding native plants capable of attracting beneficial insects can also help.
Cabbage Root Maggots
The presence of cabbage root maggots, otherwise known as cabbage root fly, may cause the leaves of turnips to turn yellow and wilt. You may also notice the plants experiencing stunted growth.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with root maggots. One solution is to rotate crops. Other solutions would be surrounding the seedling stems with collars and using yellow sticky traps to keep adult maggots under control. It is also highly recommended to use row covers.
This is a type of fungus that may cause the upper leaf of your turnips to have yellowish and angular spots that will eventually become brownish. They may also result in gray, purple, or white cottony growth found at the undersides of the leaves.
To deal with downy mildew, you have to make sure that you get rid of plant debris and provide proper air circulation. Do not do overhead watering, too. You can also prevent this fungus in the first place by choosing to plant disease-resistant turnip varieties.
There is also what we call the turnip mosaic virus, which refers to a serious plant disease that may cause the leaves to develop yellow mosaics and dead spots. There is a high possibility for this disease to spread from one plant to another through aphids.
Deal with the mosaic virus by getting rid of all infected crops from your garden. Your goal should be to damage or destroy them. Avoid composting any material, which is known to be infected with this virus.
Your turnip plants may also be infested by cabbage worms that refer to moth larvae feeding on the greens. You can handpick them to remove them from your plants or keep them under control. It also helps to install a row cover as early as possible so these pests will never penetrate your plants.
Moths and Butterflies
Moths, cabbage white butterflies, and flies may also cause a problem in your turnips. They may lay their eggs close to or on the top of turnips. If that happens, you can get rid of them by putting on horticultural fleece row covers.
Clubroot triggers root deformities, so you should try resolving them as soon as possible. The problem with this particular turnip disease is that it tends to remain in the soil for more than ten years. It may also affect nearly all plants that belong to the brassica species.
The best way to handle clubroot is to plant disease-resistant cultivars. It also helps to increase the pH level of the growing medium since clubroot tends to thrive in soil surfaces that are a bit acidic.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best month to plant turnips?
If you prefer to enjoy fall turnip greens, the best time to plant them should be from late August until October. If you want a spring crop, schedule planting turnips two to four weeks prior to the last frost.
How long does it take to grow turnips?
This depends on the variety you have chosen to grow, and the temperature and climate. In most cases, though, it takes around sixty days for this plant to reach maximum plant and root growth.
By leaving them in the ground for a minimum of sixty days, there is a high chance for their flavors to form and develop in the roots. This can also prevent them from tasting bland or becoming too watery.
What is the best way to grow turnips?
The best way to grow turnips is to start from seeds. Direct sow seeds on the appropriate soil surface. Make sure to provide them with everything they need so the turnip seedlings can germinate and grow well.
Do turnip greens come back every year?
No. Most turnips are grown and cultivated as a cool-season annual root vegetable with the ability to thrive and survive during the spring and fall. However, in case you fail to do a winter harvest, there is a possibility for a few of them to grow back during the spring. Note, though, that the quality may not be that good.