Updated: Sep 15
This rounded, cool weather root vegetable has a flavor somewhere in between that of a cabbage and radish. Though most widely eaten for its taproot, which mellows in flavor once cooked, turnip greens can also be enjoyed and are a great source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
To help ensure your growing Turnips thrives, I’ve put together this how-to video and transcript.
Glossary of turnip terms
Growing turnips is easier when you know the terms, so before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about turnips terms. :)
Plants that grow to their full size in the first year, but develop flowers in the second growing season.
The premature production of a flowering stem before it can be harvested. It’s the plant’s attempt to produce seeds for reproduction before it dies.
A straight, tapered root that grows directly downwards. It’s the main root from which smaller roots will grow.
Growing turnips come in different forms and serve different purposes. Whether you’re growing your turnip plants for its taproot or its leafy greens, you’ve got options to choose from! Early varieties are great for home gardens located in cool-season area's. So pick an area with full sun if possible and welcome one of these tasty bites into your home garden. By the way, although often considered a cold-weather crop, there are such things as summer turnips, so truly something for everyone.
PURPLE TOP WHITE GLOBE
Taking 55 days to mature, this turnip is the standard purple and white color. It’s got smooth globe roots and white flesh.
Just Right: This hybrid takes 28 days to harvest its greens and 60 days for its roots. It’s smooth and pure white with mild roots, and is typically grown for a fall crop.
Gilfeather: This variety take 75 days to mature. It’s large and egg-shaped, with a creamy white, smooth texture. It’s got white flesh and a delicate flavor to it.
Golden Ball: A variety that takes 60 days to mature. It’s sweet and fine-grained with yellow flesh.
Scarlet Queen: A hybrid that takes 45 days to mature, it’s got a bright scarlet root and smooth white flesh. It’s resistant to downy mildew, and is slow to get pithy.
A hybrid that matures in 35 days, it’s vigorous, high- yielding, and has rapid regrowth. It’s also resistant to mosaic virus.
Seven Top: An open-pollinated variety that matures in 40 days. It’s got dark green edible leaves and is harvested for its turnip tops only.
Shogoin: This variety takes 42 days to mature. It’s tender and mild, and roots well when young.
Topper: A hybrid that matures in 35 days. It produces heavy yields and has a vigorous regrowth. Also, it has good bolt resistance, is resistant to mosaic, and its pale green roots are also edible.
Growing turnips when starting with turnip seeds
Turnip seedlings will typically sprout after about 10 days - they're quick! Keep in mind that turnips grow best when seeded directly into the vegetable garden, because they don’t transplant very well.
Sow turnip seeds about a quarter to a half-inch deep (5mm-1cm), spaced 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) apart in rows that are spaced 18-24 inches (45-60cm) apart.
You can expect your seedlings to emerge after about ten days. Then, once your seedlings are 4 inches high, thin them to 4-6 inches (10-15cm) apart, spacing your wide rows 12 inches apart.
Caring for Turnips
Growing turnips at every stage of growth
In this section, I’ll cover everything you need to know about thinning, watering, and weeding your growing turnips as well as how to fertilize and mulch them. I’ll also talk companion planting and your growing structure options!
Turnips love when their soil temperature is between 45-85°F (7-30°C), and they prefer air temperatures between 35-85°F (1-30°C). They’ll thrive in soil that has a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8
The real secret to success with turnips is speed. Sow short rows every 2-3 weeks, thin them quickly, and keep them watered. Then, you can harvest and sow seeds again!
Light frost improves the flavor of your turnips, but hard freezes will kill your plant and damage their roots. Their quality can also be poor when they grow in hot weather, or if they grow too large. That’s why it’s best to eat young turnips while they’re still tender.
Once true leaves have emerged on your turnip plants, begin thinning your seedlings to allow room for their root development.
You’ll want to thin them so there are 3-6 inches between plants, depending on the size of root you want to grow.
If you’re growing turnips for their greens, you can either thin them to 2 -3 inches apart or not at all!
Although the storage root of these plants can be large, they don’t have extensive root systems for absorbing water.
Your plants need about an inch of water each week - either from natural rainfall or from watering.
Drought stress can make them bitter or woody, so keep that in mind.
Always soak your soil thoroughly when watering, which helps promote good root development. If your soil is sandy, it’ll be important to water more often than once a week.
As a general rule of thumb, an inch of water will wet a sandy soil to a depth of 10 inches, and for a heavy clay soil, 6 inches.
Use a trowel to see how far down your soil is wet - if it’s only an inch or two, keep the water running!
Frequent, shallow cultivation will kill any weeds before they become a problem. Growing turnips form their roots very close to the surface of the soil, so you’ll have to be extremely careful when working on weeds. Cultivate just deeply enough to cut those weeds off below the surface of the soil.
FERTILIZING AND MULCHING
Growing turnips with the best plant food and protection
Add plenty of well-rotted compost or manure to your beds and cultivate to a depth of 8 inches (20cm). Apply 1 cup of a complete organic fertilizer for every 10 feet (3m) of row.
Apply herbicide-free grass clippings, weed-free straw, or another organic material to a depth of 3-4 inches. This layer of mulch can help prevent weed growth, which reduces the need for frequent cultivation (and protects your turnip’s roots!). Place a thin layer around the base of the plant.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
Growing turnips is possible anywhere! Below are the most common structures:
This option is ideal for growing turnips, who prefer well-drained, fertile soil that’s high in organic matter. They need lots of consistent moisture too. Growing your turnips in raised beds will encourage good root development, which is definitely an important thing to have!
Turnip seeds are small, so it’s important that they’re seeded into a fine, firm seedbed with enough moisture for germination. Loosen up your seedbed to make it fine, firm, and free of weeds and clods.
Turnip greens are easily grown in containers. Also, small turnip roots can be grown in wide containers that are at least 8 inches deep. Just make sure your containers have small holes in the bottom to allow for good water drainage!
TURNIP COMPANION PLANTS (and bad)
Growing turnips with plant friends that protect them
Good Turnip Companion Plants
Bad Turnip Companion Plants
Potatoes are a crop you’ll want to avoid planting with your growing turnips.
Common problems and their solutions
There are a number of pests and diseases that can potentially harm your turnips. Not to worry – I’ve outlined them below, as well as the best way to either avoid or fix the problem.
Growing turnips free of common vegetable garden pests
These pests are usually a problem for the undersides of leaves and/or stems of your plant. They tend to feed in groups on the undersides of branches – and often spread diseases.
Solution: Use a strong jet of water to wash them off your plants.
Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are also effective against aphids. Just be sure to follow the application instructions on the packaging!
Oftentimes, you can also get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap (one variation includes adding a pinch of cayenne pepper).
Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for about 2 weeks.
Flea beetles are small black beetles that feed on seedlings and jump when they’re disturbed. Their feeding damage can potentially kill your young seedlings.
Solution: Use a lightweight floating row cover at the beginning of the season to prevent them from becoming an issue.
You can also try a homemade spray using 2 cups of rubbing alcohol, 5 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of liquid soap.
Test out this mixture on a single leaf first, let it sit overnight, then spray the rest of your plant if you don’t notice any side-effects.
Dusting your plants with plain talcum powder can also help, as well as using white sticky traps to capture these pests as they jump.
These pests leave scars and feeding tunnels on the surface of your turnip. They can also cause some extensive root damage.
Solution: If root maggots were problematic in the past, avoid planting root crops in that same spot the following year.
If your crops are too badly damaged to harvest, be sure to remove and destroy all crop debris.
Also, floating row covers can dramatically reduce the damage to your crops by preventing female flies from laying their eggs.
Keep in mind that row covers are only effective where root maggots aren’t already present
Growing turnips disease free
Seedlings will develop wilted yellow to brown leaves and then collapse. Yellow, V-shaped lesions might also appear, while dark rings can often be found on the stem.
Solution: A hot water treatment can be used to destroy any bacteria that may be infesting your seed – all you have to do is soak your seeds for 20 minutes in 122°F water before planting them.
Because black rot can survive in debris in the soil, it’s also important to rotate crops away from crucifer crops for a minimum of three years.
Probiotic sprays, plant defense-enhancing sprays, or sprays containing certain bacteria can also be helpful in controlling black rot.
Take note, though, that these sprays activate a plant’s defense system and can cause it to put less energy into growth and yield.
It’s also important that even if you don’t see any black rot symptoms, you keep your tools and equipment clean.
This disease stunts the growth of plants, and causes them to grow a lot slower. Yellowish leaves will wilt during the day and then rejuvenate a bit at night. Turnips will have swollen, distorted roots, and an extensive gall (swelling) formation.
Solution: Once clubroot is present in the soil it can survive for many years (up to 20) – so it’s hard to completely get rid of it from your soil. If clubroot is present, you might want to solarize your soil.
To do so, simply leave a clear plastic tarp on the soil surface for 4-6 weeks during the hottest part of the year. That tarp will trap the heat of the sun, which will help to reduce the issue.
Also, choose resistant varieties when possible, keep a clean garden, and rotate crops
Carefully remove any infected plants and sterilize your vegetable garden tools (one part bleach to 4 parts water) after use.
You can also try raising your soil’s pH to a more alkaline 7.2 by mixing oyster shell or dolomite lime into your garden in the fall.
Irregular yellow patches form on the leaves, which then turn light brown. A fluffy gray growth will also appear on the undersides of leaves.
Solution: Remove any weeds to improve the air circulation around your plants.
Also, water them in the early morning hours (or use a soaker hose) to give your plants time to dry out during the day.
Once your plants have downy mildew, the best thing you can do is to try to eliminate moisture and humidity around them.
If possible, try to improve their air circulation through selective pruning. In general, downy mildew normally clears itself up in an outdoor garden once the weather warms up, since it doesn’t do well in warm soil temperatures.
SCLEROTINIA ROT (WHITE MOLD)
Irregular gray lesions will appear on the turnip leaves while white-gray lesions appear on the stems of your turnip plant.
Solution: As soon as you see any diseased plants, destroy them immediately.
If your soil is also infected, remove as much of it as you can and replace it with clean soil. You can use a barrier, like plastic or mulch, to cover the infected ground which helps prevent the spread of the disease.
If possible, remove all crop residue after harvesting – since the disease can develop in any residue that’s been left over.
White mold spores are long-lasting, so they can survive the winter if given the chance.
Small brown spots will appear on the leaves of your plant. Eventually, that brown color matures to a light gray or white with the original dark spot in the center. These lesions might come together to cause large spots, and can make your plant lose its leaves.
Solution: Be sure to rotate crops and remove any weeds. Using the right fungicide might also help control this disease.
TURNIP MOSAIC VIRUS (TUMV)
Yellow and green mosaic patterns will appear on the leaves, along with dead areas. Black spots and brown streaks will appear on stems, causing stunted plant growth and a smaller yield.
Note: Typically, this disease typically transmitted by aphid pests.
Solution: Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) - Yellow and green mosaic patterns will appear on the leaves, along with dead areas. Black spots and brown streaks will appear on stems, causing stunted plant growth and a smaller yield. Typically, this disease is transmitted by aphid pests.
If you see clouds of tiny white insects flying up from your growing turnips whenever you disturb them, then your plants are infested with cabbage whiteflies. Also, the bottoms of the leaves will look like they have white scales.
Solution: Yellow sticky traps are helpful for monitoring and reducing these pests. If found, you’ll want to hose off your plants with a strong stream of water.
Natural predators like ladybugs, lacewing larvae, and whitefly parasites are all helpful insects to have in your vegetable garden.
For best results, make releases of these predators only when pest levels are low to medium.
Also, horticultural oils (like organic Neem oil) are another great option to use.
These pests leave large holes in the leaves, or they eat them entirely. They leave behind a slime trail, feed at night, and thrive in damp weather.
Solution: If possible, hand-pick any slugs at night when they’re most active.
You can also try attracting them to traps either using cornmeal or beer.
For a beer trap:
Dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole.
It’s best to use something with steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re done.
Fill the bowl about three quarters of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight.
In the morning, the bowl should then be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat.
For a cornmeal trap: Put 1-2 tablespoons of cornmeal in a jar then lay the jar on its side near your plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent, but they can’t digest cornmeal so it eventually kills them.
You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth (a natural powder made up of the skeletons of tiny aquatic creatures) or even coffee grounds, since they can’t crawl over these.
Growing turnips for your dinner plate and pantry
Typically a Fall harvest, harvest turnips when their large roots reach about 2-3 inches in width.
Their shoulders are usually above the soil surface, so it’s fairly easy to tell their size.
Keep in mind that as their roots become larger, they are more likely to become bitter, strong- flavored, woody, or fibrous.
Also, spading the soil next to your plants can help make them easier to pull.
If you’re harvesting them for their growing turnips tops, simply cut the greens from the roots when you harvest the root vegetables from your vegetable garden.
But why limit yourself when the entire plant can be enjoyed.
Wash and then store them separately. You can also use the turnip greens when you thin crowded plants, before the root growth.
Separate your turnip greens from the roots, then clean and store both of them in the fridge, usually for about a week or two. Or if you have a root cellar, let the name lead the way. Store them there like your own person grocery store. Turnip greens can be cooked as a savory vegetable – yum!
Keep in mind that mature turnips lose moisture rapidly, so you can’t really store them long-term. All the more reason to gobble up your hard-earned crop!