Turnips (Brassica rapa) and rutabagas (Brassica napus) have edible leaves and roots, though turnip greens are more commonly eaten than rutabaga greens. Turnips have crisp, white flesh and a spicy, mustard-like flavor. Rutabagas are slightly larger, sweeter, less strongly flavored than turnips, and have yellowish-colored flesh. Some varieties of turnips are grown for the foliage only and do not produce the swollen root.
Although these are normally considered cool-weather crops, they will tolerate some heat. Plant in late winter/early spring for a spring crop or in the late summer for a fall/winter crop. Select a site with well-drained soil where other crops in the Brassica family have not been grown in the past three years. Tilling to loosen the soil will allow the best root size and formation.
Plant in rows that are 14 to 18 inches apart. Turnip and rutabaga seeds are very small and should be planted only ¼ to ½ inches deep. Space plants 2 to 3 inches apart in the row. Alternately, seeds may be broadcast and lightly raked in. Provide frequent, light watering to ensure good germination and emergence. Seedlings are very tender. Hard, crusty soils will inhibit seedling emergence, resulting in a poor stand.
Recommended Planting Dates
|Coastal Plain||Feb. 1 – Apr. 1||Aug. 1 – Sep. 30|
|Piedmont||Mar. 15 – Apr. 30||Aug. 1 – Sep. 15|
|Coastal Plain||Feb. 1 – Mar. 31||Aug. 15 – Oct. 15|
|Piedmont||Mar. 15 – Apr. 30||Jul. 15 – Sep. 30|
Piedmont: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties.
Coastal Plain: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and Williamsburg Counties.
|Turnips||Purple Top White Globe||Root and greens||Purple top|
|Shogoin||Root and greens||White|
|Royal Crown||Root||Purple top|
|Hakurei||Root||White, small root|
|Alamo||Greens||No swollen root|
|Topper||Greens||No swollen root|
|Rutabaga||American Purple Top||Root||Purple top|
Soil testing is the best method of determining the fertilization needs of the crop. Information on soil testing is available in HGIC 1652, Soil Testing. Follow the results of soil test recommendations to maintain a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
Apply lime and pre-plant fertilizer according to soil test recommendations. Lime is best applied and tilled into the garden to a depth of 6 inches at least three months before planting. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly and incorporate it into the soil by tilling or disking to a depth of around 6 inches. Working the fertilizer into the soil ensures that the nutrients are available to the plants when they emerge.
Side dress 1 pound of calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) per 100 square feet (30 feet of row) three to four weeks after planting. On sandier soil, this may need to be split into two applications three to four weeks apart to avoid leaching. Side-dress fertilizer 4 to 6 inches away from the plants to avoid burning the roots. If fertilizer is broadcast, avoid burning the plant foliage by watering overhead to wash fertilizer granules off the leaves.
Over-fertilization of nitrogen may reduce root formation.
Early-season weed management is essential. When growing in rows, shallow cultivation and hoeing are effective. In a wide bed, hand-pulling the weeds is sometimes the only solution and should be done when the weeds are very small. Hoeing and cultivation also keep the soil loose around the plants, enabling them to produce large, well-shaped roots.
Watering is critical during the seedling stage and the root development stage. When the weather is dry, irrigate to keep the soil moist but not saturated. Avoid allowing the leaves to wilt in between watering.
Harvest & Storage
Turnip leaves can be harvested from a very early stage for greens. Continual harvest of the leaves will adversely affect root development. Harvest turnip roots when they reach the size of a tennis ball or larger (2½ to 2¾ inches in diameter).
Start harvesting rutabagas when they reach the size of a softball (3 to 4 inches in diameter). However, they can be eaten in smaller sizes.
Pithiness and a strong flavor can develop if these crops are left in the ground during hot weather. Also, do not leave them in the ground during hard, freezing weather. Harvest any that are ready ahead of a hard freeze. These roots store well in plastic bags in the refrigerator or a cold root cellar. Although rutabagas and turnips are typically cooked, they may be eaten lightly stir-fried or raw in salads.
Insect and Disease Pests
Turnips and rutabagas suffer from many of the same insect and disease issues as other members of the Brassica family. For information about insect pests, see HGIC 2203, Cabbage, Broccoli, & Other Cole Crop Insect Pests. For information about diseases, see HGIC 2202, Cabbage, Broccoli, & Other Cole Crop Pests.
Originally published 02/99