Turnip Planting and Growing Guide

Turnips are rich in vitamin C and vitamin B6 as well as fiber, they help promote colon and lung health. Turnip greens are loaded with calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and folate.

  • Brassica rapa rapa
  • USDA Zones:All
  • Sunlight:Light Shade
  • Soil:Loam~Sandy
  • Soil pH: 5.5-7.0

True turnips are sometimes called summer turnips, to distinguish them from rutabagas, “turnips brother from another mother” that is indistinguishable from turnips other than their growing season. Rutabagas do best in colder weather and are often called winter turnips but can be grown either in spring or fall.

Turnips are rapidly growing cool temperature root crops, in hot weather the turnips roots turn woody and bitter tasting. The turnip greens become tough and not as desirable.

Temperatures of 50 to 70 degrees F are best, it encourages a high-quality crop and rapid maturity.

Both the roots as well as the tops can be eaten raw or cooked.

Turnips do best in well-drained, well cultivated soil on a sunny site. Partial shade is acceptable.


Seeds should be planted outdoors about 3 weeks prior to the last frost in spring -See Frost Dates. The soil should be at least 40 degrees F for proper germination, which generally takes from 1 – 2 weeks.

Fall crops of turnips are generally sweeter and lend themselves to a longer harvest than spring plantings, due to hotter weather experienced by spring plantings towards the summer harvest. For a fall harvest, plant in midsummer about 2 months before the first frost. Rutabagas, which are basically another variety of Turnip, should be planted for fall harvest only.

As a rule of thumb sow spring crops 1/4 inch deep and fall crops 1/2 inch deep, however consult the seed package as this varies slightly from cultivar to cultivar.

You can spread the seeds across the plot in tight formations {broadcasting}, thinning them after germination to about 3 to 4 inches apart. You can also plant the turnip seeds in rows spaced about a foot apart with 3 to 4 inches between plants within each row.

Broadcasting the seed works just dandy so long as you can easily reach the center of the bed for thinning cultivation and harvest.

Grown in beds or rows, you’ll want keep them moist for several days. In sunny warm weather, I cover the seeded bed with burlap, and sometimes corrugated cardboard to keep it moist throughout the day, don’t leave the cardboard there too long as it is a great hiding place for varmints.

The soil should be evenly moist to promote rapid growth and optimal flavor. When the plants are just shy of half a foot, apply a mulch at least 2 inches thick. Additional fertilizer shouldn’t be necessary in a well-prepared soil.

The soil pH should be 5.5-7.0 , keeping it towards the high range in ph will help to avoid fungus problems such as club root. If it falls below 6.0, only then add more fertilizer as per instruction at “Measuring and Adjusting Soil pH in Gardens“.

Pest and Disease Problems

To avoid disease and pest problems keep your plants healthy and your garden clean. Flea Beetles and some other insects occasionally make small holes in young turnip greens, otherwise healthy turnips are very vigorous and quickly outgrow the damage, so long as it is not a major infestation.

The main insect pests include:

Aphids and Flea Beetles can also be a nuisance. Flea beetles particularly early in the season.

Common Disease problems include:

Black leg – fungal disease, forms dark spots on leaves and stems

Black rot – black and foul-smelling veins

Clubroot – prevents water and nutrient absorption. If club root has been a problem , test soil pH before planting , if needed to raise the pH to at least 6.8 – see Soil pH

Fusarium wilt or “yellows” produces yellow leaves and stunted heads

Turnip greens should be harvested when they’re large enough to pick. If you plan to harvest both leaves and roots from a single planting, remove only 2 or 3 leaves per each plant. Smaller turnip roots are the most tender, so harvesting when they are 1 to 3 inches in diameter is best, although this may vary slightly per cultivar.

Hand pulling turnip roots is the easiest method. For larger storage roots you might want to try loosening the soil by inserting a pitchfork beside the row first. Turnip roots accumulate their sugars when soil temperature declines. For this reason, it’s actually best to harvest the season’s finest turnips shortly after a light frost, but before any severe freeze.

Harvesting and Storage

For root storage, twist off the tops, leaving about 1/2 inch of stem. Place undamaged roots in a cool, dark place, such as a basement or root cellar, be sure they are as dry as possible first to avoid fungus problems while in storage.

Leave soil that clings to turnip roots alone as it it helps to protect roots in storage. Turnips generally keep for several months.

A fall crop can be left in the ground until early winter, in milder climates they can be left in the ground through most of the winter by covering them with a thick mulch.


Mature turnips are very cold hardy. Roots have been known to survive at near zero temperatures under snow. Turnips that survive through the winter will quickly develop early yellow flowers come spring. I like to allow a few plants to bloom which attracts honeybees early in the season.

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