How to Grow Turnips

Three Methods:PlantingGeneral CareHarvesting

Turnips are a relatively low maintenance crop that can usually be harvested after five to ten weeks, and you can harvest both the root of the vegetable and its greens. Start from seed and plan on growing your turnips in the spring or fall.

Part 1

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    Plant in the spring or fall. Turnips thrive in cooler temperatures, so you should plant them when soil temperatures are still somewhat cool. For spring turnips, sow the seeds outdoors three weeks before the last expected frost. For fall turnips, sow the seeds in midsummer, roughly two months before the first expected frost of winter.[1]
    • The soil temperature needs to be an average of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) for the seeds to germinate, but temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees (10 and 21 degrees Celsius) Fahrenheit encourage the most rapid growth.
    • Fall turnips are typically sweeter than spring turnips, and they are also less likely to attract root maggots.
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    Choose a good location. Turnips thrive in full sun, so the area you choose should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, if not a little more.
    • Ideally, you should also choose a spot with naturally loose, well-draining soil. You can improve the soil conditions if necessary, but starting out with good soil conditions will make your job easier.
    • Also keep in mind that turnips prefer soils with a pH of 6.5. Most soils will not be too acidic or too alkaline, so testing is not always necessary. If you have difficulty with your turnip crop, though, consider testing the soil pH by taking a sample to your nearest university or by purchasing a home pH testing kit from a garden nursery or home improvement store.
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    Improve the soil conditions. Loosen the soil with a rake or shovel to a depth of 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm), then mix in a 2-inch to 4-inch (5-cm to 10-cm) layer of compost.[2]
    • For added benefit, consider mixing in a few handfuls of well rotted manure along with the compost.
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    Scatter the seeds. Spread the seed across the prepared soil as evenly as possible. Cover the seed gently with 1/4 inch (6 mm) of soil for spring turnips or 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) of soil for fall turnips.
    • Alternatively, you can plant the seeds in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) apart.
    • Note that germination usually takes anywhere from 7 to 14 days.
    • After planting the seeds, make sure that they are evenly watered. You do not want to drench the seeds since doing so can wash them out of the soil, but the surface of the soil should be somewhat moist to the touch.
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    Thin out the seedlings. When the seedlings reach a height of 4 inches (10 cm), pull the weakest ones so that the strongest have more room and resources. "Early" varieties should be thinned out so that they are 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) apart, while standard or “maincrop” varieties should be 6 inches (15 cm) apart.
    • If you only want to grow turnips for their greens, however, you should not thin them out.
    • Usually, the greens of the removed plants are large enough to use.

Part 2
General Care

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    Water as needed. Turnips need 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week. Any less will cause the roots to become tough and bitter, but too much more can cause the turnips to rot.
    • Monitor the rainfall in your area. During seasons of average rainfall, you may not need to do any additional watering. If the season is a dry one, though, you should water the turnips by hand.
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    Add plenty of mulch. When the plants reach a height of 5 inches (12.7 cm), add a 2-inch (5-cm) layer of mulch around the greens.
    • Mulch holds in moisture, and even moisture can encourage better growth and flavor.
    • Additionally, mulch can help control and limit the number of weeds in your garden.
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    Consider fertilizing the turnips. While not strictly necessary, a monthly application of mild, organic fertilizer can help strengthen the turnip root. Choose a fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus rather than one high in nitrogen.[3]
    • Nitrogen fertilizers will cause the turnip greens to get very bushy, but the roots will suffer as a result.
    • Look for fertilizers that also contain boron or apply a separate boron spray four to six weeks after sowing the seeds.
    • Make sure that any fertilizer you use is food-safe.
    • Instead of a fertilizer, you could apply a dose of compost tea once a month or so.
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    Remove any weeds. Any weeds that poke their way up through the mulch should be pulled by hand. Avoid using herbicides since the chemicals can get on the turnip plant, damaging it and making it unfit for human consumption.
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    Watch out for pests and fungi. Root maggots and flea beetles are among the most common pests you'll need to worry about, while powdery mildew and downy mildew tend to be the most common forms of fungi.
    • Root maggots are most often a problem when you grow turnips in soil that nurtured radishes, turnips, or rutabagas the previous year. To prevent root maggot infestations, rotate your crops and treat the soil with a food-safe insecticide labeled for use against root maggots.
    • Keeping the soil pH above 6.0 can prevent most problems with mildew and other fungi, like club root. Periodically test the soil pH with a pH testing kit or by taking it to a local university extension office.[4]
    • Typically speaking, once turnip roots become infested by pests or fungi, there is not much you can do to save them. Your best option is to remove the infected plant and treat the soil as needed to destroy as much of the pest or fungi as possible. You may or may not be able to recover the rest of your turnip crop.

Part 3

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    Harvest the greens early on. As a general rule, you can harvest greens as soon as they are large enough to pick. Generally, this is when the green reach a height between 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).[5]
    • As long as the growing points or nodes are not removed, the greens should regrow after harvesting them.
    • If you want to harvest leaves and roots from the same plant, only remove two or three leaves per plant. If you remove all of the leaves, the root will die.
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    Pull turnips roots once they mature. You should be able to harvest mature, ripe turnips after five to ten weeks. "Early" varieties only require five weeks, while main crop varieties need six to ten.
    • You can harvest small turnips simply by hand pulling them. To harvest large turnip roots, use a spading fork to loosen the soil around the root before pulling it out.
    • You can harvest turnips at virtually any size. Small turnips are tender and tend to be somewhat sweeter than large turnips, though, so most prefer to harvest turnips when the roots are between 1 and 3 inches (2.5 and 7.5 cm) in diameter).
    • You can check the root size by lightly brushing away soil on top of one plant to reveal the root below. If that one plant appears ready for harvest, most of the others will likely be ready, as well.
    • Make sure that all of your turnips are harvested before the first frost. Do not allow them to grow too large, since overripe turnips have a woody taste and texture.
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    Store in cool temperatures. When packed and stored in a cool place, harvested turnips will usually last for three to four months. Consider keeping them in a basement, root cellar, or shed and covering them with straw.
    • Twist off the tops, leaving 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) of stem before storing the turnips. Do not rinse off any soil since it can actually help protect the roots wile they remain in storage.
    • You might be able to leave your fall crop in the ground until early winter by covering them with a thick mulch, but pull them out before the soil freezes and hardens.
    • Turnips can also be stored in the refrigerator.


  • A few recommended turnip varieties include: Just Right, Gilfeather, Golden Ball, Market Express, Purple Top White Globe, Royal Crown, Scarlet Queen, Tokyo Cross, White Knight, and White Lady.

Things You'll Need

  • Turnip seeds
  • Soil pH testing kit
  • Compost
  • Rotted manure
  • Garden shovel or rake
  • Watering can or garden hose
  • Mulch
  • Food-safe fertilizer, high in potassium and phosphorus
  • Food-safe insecticide (as needed)
  • Straw (for storage; optional)

Article Info

Categories: Planting and Growing | Growing Vegetables