Turnips (Brassica rapa) are a cool-season root vegetable that can be grown twice each year – once in the spring and a second crop in the fall. They are easy to grow, require minimal garden space and maintenance, and are ready to harvest in as little as 30 days. Enjoy fresh turnips with your holiday meals this fall – below is how to grow turnips.
Varieties of Turnip
Firstly, a little introduction on turnips – why are some turnips pure white, and others have some pink skin? These are different varieties of turnip; basically all of them have white flesh although the outer skin color may differ.
The most common type of turnip has pink-purple skin on the exposed portion of the turnip root above the ground, but is otherwise white-skinned. The white turnip on the other hand, has an all-white storage root. There are also red skinned turnips from Japan. Meanwhile, the edible leaves grow directly above the visible portion of the root.
Some varieties of turnip include:
- Amelie – Suitable for spring and fall planting, maturing within about 2 months, bolt resistant and sweet flesh.
- Gold Ball – Light yellow skin and flesh, harvest when young for best taste.
- Golden Globe – Root color is golden yellow all round, and flesh is tasty.
- Purple Top White Globe – Roots are part white, part purple, has tasty leaves.
- Hakurei – Japanese hybrid turnip, with very fast maturing roots, and may be eaten raw.
- Royal Crown – Hybrid turnip, able to be grown in spring or fall, and fast maturing.
- White Lady – Hybrid turnip with sweet flesh, able to mature in just 35 days, and grown in spring or fall.
Not to be confused with turnips are kohlrabi (the German turnip), and rutabaga (the Swedish turnip). While turnips are root vegetables, kohlrabi is not, and related instead to the cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Meanwhile, rutabaga is a hybrid between cabbage and turnip.
When is the best time to plant turnips? The good news is, turnips grow well even in cold weather. Their seeds can germinate in soil that is as cold as 4 °C or about 40 °F. If planting turnips in spring, 2-4 weeks before the last frost is the preferred time. If planting them in fall, anytime from late August to October should be suitable as long as the winters are relatively mild.
Select a sunny location that has loose, well-draining soil for planting turnips. The looser the soil, the larger the turnips will be, since the roots have less resistance to contend with while developing.
Turnips can be grown in large containers (1 foot deep and wide) as long as the container is deep enough to accommodate the bulbs. Place containers in a sunny location.
Amend the Soil
A growing mix that is 50% soil and 50% compost is ideal for growing turnips. The ideal soil pH is somewhere between 6-7.5 ph. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12-15 inches deep to accommodate the turnip roots. The loose soil allows the bulbs to grow freely and the compost keeps the turnips well-fed while the plants and bulbs grow.
Plant Turnip Seeds
Plant turnip seeds in their permanent home in early spring or late summer. They do not like to be transplanted. The seeds should germinate in just a few days. If you have turnip tops, then those tops can be sprouted easily. Place turnip tops in shallow water and sunlight – they should sprout and can be planted later.
Sow seeds 1/4-inch deep and 2-inches apart in prepared soil. Cover seeds lightly with compost and water well. Keep soil moist by watering regularly until the seeds germinate. A drip irrigation system can work well for turnips in the early stages.
Thin the plants once they are about 4 inches in height, to 6 inches apart. It’s important to avoid crowding among your turnips so that their roots can develop. But if you are planting your turnips as a cover crop, then spacing them does not matter.
- Mulch the turnips after the plants are 4 inches high. This will prevent weed growth and help soil remain moist.
- Do not fertilize. Feeding the plants after adding compost to the soil will cause more above-ground growth and smaller bulbs.
- Protect the turnip plants from pests by adding a row cover.
Companion Plants for Turnips
Companion plants are plants that provide benefits either one to another, or mutually. Some plants that make great companion plants for turnips include these:
- Other Brassica plants like cabbage and broccoli
Common Turnip Pests
Turnips can be attacked by pests, which include cabbage aphids, cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, whiteflies, slugs, and flea beetles. These pests can be prevented from coming by using row covers over your turnips, and if they manage to get through, either remove them manually, or apply some suitable DIY pesticide outlined here. Always try to opt for the organic and environmentally safe approach, if possible.
As a general rule of thumb, destroy infected plants, plant companion plants that act as distractions, manually handpick/remove pests where possible, and use row covers. Also, encourage the presence of beneficial pest control agents like ladybugs, hover flies, and soldier beetles. These prey on many of the pests that attack turnips.
If you are harvesting the leaves, harvest them when the plants are young and tender as young leaves have the best taste. Older leaves taste bitterer. Don’t remove all the leaves at one go if you also wish to harvest the roots (the turnip plant will die).
If harvesting the roots, 6-8 weeks after planting should be fine. If planted in fall, harvest them before the onset of hard frosts (for better tasting turnips).
The Best Vegetable for Fall
Turnips are the best vegetable that you can grow in the fall for a variety of reasons:
- The bulb is sweeter in the fall than in the spring, especially after a light frost has fallen on the leaves.
- The plant provides you with two fresh vegetables in one spot – the underground bulb and the above-ground greens. Both are packed with flavor and nutrition.
- Turnips are good for the soil and should be grown even if you don’t like to eat them. The turnips will loosen hard soil, prevent erosion, and can be turned under the soil as green manure/cover crop.
Here’s some frequently asked questions when it comes to growing turnips:
Is it easy to grow turnips?
Yes, it is definitely easy to grow turnips. They are low maintenance vegetables, and only need moist, fertile, loose soil during the start. Plus they make a fine fall cover crop since many turnip varieties thrive even in cooler weather.
Can you grow turnips from scraps?
Yes, if you save your turnip tops and place them in shallow water in sunlight, they will sprout new roots. Then you can replant them in soil proper.
How long does it take to grow turnips to harvest?
Turnips are fast growing, and most varieties can be harvested within 6-10 weeks. Some varieties can also be ready within 5 weeks. If you are harvesting the leaves (turnip greens), you can harvest them when the plants reach 4-6 inches in height.
When are the best times to plant turnips?
For spring planting, 2-4 weeks before the last frost. For fall planting, late August to October is still ok if the winters are not too harsh. Turnips only dislike hot summer weather.
Can you grow turnips in containers?
Yes, absolutely. Just make sure the container is large enough to accommodate their roots; at least 2 gallons capacity, and 12 inches tall.
Can we grow turnips in winter?
Yes, turnips can be harvested even during winter, provided the winter is not too freezing. They can survive temperatures as low as 20 °F or -6 °C.
Join Our Newsletter
Plus get our FREE guide on the Best Indoor Plants for Both You & Your Pet!
Thank you for subscribing. Please check your email within the next few minutes.
Something went wrong. Please try again.