By: Kathee Mierzejewski
Growing rutabagas (Brassica napobassica), a cross between the turnip and the cabbage plant, isn’t much different from growing a turnip. The difference is that growing rutabagas generally takes four weeks longer than growing cabbage or turnips. This is why fall is the best time to plant rutabaga plants.
How to Grow Rutabaga
Remember that these plants are not much different from turnips. The difference is that the roots are larger, firmer, and rounder than turnip roots and the leaves on the rutabaga are smoother.
When planting rutabaga, plant about 100 days before the first frost in late fall. Prepare your soil as you would when growing any vegetable, rake the soil and remove any debris and rocks.
When planting rutabaga, throw the seed down in the prepared soil and rake it in lightly. Plant the seeds at a rate of three to twenty seeds per row and rake them about half an inch (1 cm.) deep. Allow enough room to put one or two feet (31-61 cm.) between rows. This allows space for the roots to plump up and form rutabagas.
If the soil isn’t moist, water the seeds to germinate them and establish healthy seedlings. Once seedlings appear and are about 2 inches (5 cm.) tall, you can thin them to about 6 inches (15 cm.) apart. One of the great things about planting rutabaga and turnips is that when you thin the plants, you can actually eat the thinned leaves as greens. This is true for both rutabagas and turnips.
Cultivate between the plants that are left to a depth of 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm.) deep. This helps aerate the soil and gets rid of weeds. Also, it loosens the soil around the root of the growing rutabagas allowing for larger root growth. Since rutabagas are a root vegetable, you want the dirt to be firm around the bottom of the leaves but looser underneath so the root is not stopped in growth.
When harvesting rutabagas, pick them when they are tender and mild. Growing rutabagas are ready for harvest when they are about medium sized. Harvesting rutabagas when they are about 3 to 5 inches (8-13 cm.) in diameter will yield the best quality rutabagas. Be sure the rutabagas you harvest have grown without any interruptions in the growing season.
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Florida Gardening: Grow Rutabaga in Winter
Rutabaga is a cool season vegetable, which means it grows best in the winter in Florida. Garden Talk Q & A, Nassau County Florida Extension.
Golden Rain Tree (photo by Wilkes UF IFAS)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is the Extension Director in Nassau County, Florida and also a University of Florida faculty member.
Growing turnips and rutabagas in home gardens
Many gardeners enjoy raising turnips and rutabagas because they are easy to grow and cold hardy. While both have best quality in cool weather, there are important differences between them.
Turnips are a form of Brassica rapa, the same species as bok choy and Chinese cabbage. Their quality can be poor when they grow in hot weather, or if they grow too large. Eat turnips while they are still young and tender. Their flesh is usually white, and you may eat them raw, cooked or pickled.
Rutabaga is a different species, Brassica napus. Harvest rutabagas when they have grown through summer into fall. They are typically harder and denser than turnips. Rutabagas usually have yellow flesh. You should eat rutabagas cooked.
Soil pH and fertility
Soil testing and fertilizer
- Have your soil tested.
- Turnips thrive in slightly acidic to slightly basic soil with pH levels 6 to 7.5. Rutabagas will grow best in slightly acidic to neutral soil with pH levels 6 to 7.
- Apply phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) according to soil test recommendations.
- Many Minnesota soils have enough phosphorus. Unless your soil test report specifically recommends additional phosphorus, use a low- or no-phosphorus fertilizer.
- Improve your soil by adding well-rotted manure or compost in spring or fall. Do not use fresh manure as it may contain harmful bacteria and increase weed problems. The readily available nitrogen can also cause branching of the roots.
- If you use manure or compost, you may reduce or eliminate additional fertilizer applications, depending on how much organic matter you apply.
- One month after planting, side dress rutabagas with fertilizer, using one-half cup of 46-0-0, or one cup of 27-3-3, or 3-½ cups 10-3-1 for each 100 feet of row.
- Turnips do not need more fertilizer than the initial pre-plant application.
- Do not use any fertilizer containing a weed killer ("Weed and Feed"), as it may kill your vegetable plants.
Direct seeding and thinning
How to keep your turnip and rutabaga plants healthy and productive
- Although the storage root of these plants can be large, they do not have extensive root systems for absorbing water.
- The plants need to receive one inch of water per week, whether from natural rainfall or from irrigation. Drought stress can make them bitter or woody.
- Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering. This helps to promote good root development.
- If your soil is sandy, it is important to water more often than once a week.
- An inch of water will wet a sandy soil to a depth of ten inches, a heavy clay soil to six inches.
- Use a trowel to see how far down the soil is wet. If it is only an inch or two, keep the water running.
- Excessive rain is beyond the gardener’s control, but rutabagas will have more flavor, be firmer and store better after a relatively dry growing season than a wet one.
- Frequent, shallow cultivation will kill weeds before they become a problem.
- Turnips and rutabagas form roots very close to the surface of the soil. Cultivate just deeply enough to cut the weeds off below the surface of the soil.
- Be careful not to damage the plants when cultivating.
- Mulching with herbicide-free grass clippings, weed-free straw or other organic material to a depth of three to four inches can help prevent weed growth, decreasing the need for frequent cultivation.
- Root maggots feed on the developing roots.
- Flea beetles chew small, round holes in leaves. They can spread disease and destroy the crop, especially when the plants are very young.
- A variety of diseases affects plants in this family, including Alternaria leaf spot, black rot, black leg and clubroot.
- Since many diseases arrive on infected seed, always purchase clean, disease-free seed from a reliable source.
- Remove diseased plant material from the garden and destroy it, or bury it where you discovered the disease.
- Use good cultural control practices to reduce disease problems to a tolerable level and allow for a successful harvest.
- Practice crop rotation. Avoid planting turnips and rutabaga where you have grown related crops—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, turnip, rutabaga, cabbage, mustard, bok choy, or kohlrabi—during the previous four years.
- Even if you have not noticed disease symptoms previously, it is best not to plant cole crops where other plants in the same family have grown recently. Disease spores in the soil can easily infect new plantings.
For assistance in diagnosing unknown problems, visit the University of Minnesota Extension diagnostic site “What’s wrong with my plant?”
- Harvest turnips when they reach a usable size, normally about two to three inches in width.
- Their shoulders are usually above the soil surface, so it is easy to tell how big they are.
- As the roots become larger, they are more likely to become bitter, strong-flavored, woody or fibrous.
- Spading the soil next to the plants will make them easier to pull.
- You can harvest the greens or “tops” of turnips and cook them as a savory vegetable.
- Cut the greens from the roots when you harvest the turnips, wash them and store separately. You can also use the greens when you thin crowded plants, before the roots begin to enlarge.
- Leave rutabagas in the ground until September, October or even later.
- Frost improves best flavor, so many gardeners wait until after at least one hard frost to dig them up.
- The roots can be quite large. Rather than trying to pull them up, it is best to dig them with a spading fork.
- Separate the turnip greens from the roots.
- Clean and store both roots and tops in the refrigerator for a week or two.
- Turnips lose moisture rapidly and you cannot store them long-term.
You can keep rutabagas for a long time in root cellar conditions: 32°F to 40°F, and 95% relative humidity. Under root cellar conditions, you can store rutabagas for up to five months. Remember that after a wet growing season, storage life is likely to be shorter.
If you plan to store them in the refrigerator, the rutabagas may sprout after a few weeks. The relative humidity in a modern refrigerator is quite low, so the roots may dry out.
To increase storage life, delay harvest as long as possible. Rutabagas will keep their quality in the ground for weeks. Once you harvest them, remove the tops and the long, thin taproot. Clean dirt off the skin, being careful not to cut or bruise the roots.
Grocery stores usually sell rutabagas with a coating of paraffin wax. This coating keeps them from shriveling on the display shelf. It is not part of long-term storage practice.
Planting rutabagas is not difficult as long as you don’t overdo it and add too much organic matter or pull out the vegetables before they mature. Patience is key here because you will have to wait a couple of months before you can harvest a rich bounty. Just make sure that you:
- Water the seeds frequently and don’t allow the soil to dry out.
- Keep pests at bay.
- Harvest the vegetables when they get nice and plump after a few months,
If you have more questions about planting this vegetable, just mention it in the comments below and I will answer them.
Rooting Rutabagas in Your Garden: How to Grow Rutabagas
Like turnips, rutabagas are a cold weather root crop from the Brassica family that includes kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, radishes, and Brussels sprouts. Rutabagas are actually a cross between turnips and cabbage. They are larger than turnips and have a sweeter taste. They also produce more leaves, which are smooth, waxy, and edible. All of these cousins have similar growing preferences, pests, and diseases.
- Where Should I Plant Rutabagas?
- How Do I Prepare the Soil for Rutabagas?
- Can I Grow Rutabagas in Containers?
- When Should I Plant Rutabagas?
- How Many Rutabagas Should I Plant?
- What Temperatures Do Rutabagas Prefer?
- How Do I Plant Rutabagas?
- How Do I Care for Rutabagas?
- What Pests Attack Rutabagas?
- What Diseases Infect Rutabagas?
- What Companion Plants Can Be Planted With Rutabagas?
- When Do I Harvest Rutabagas?
- How Do I Harvest Rutabagas?
- How Do I Store Rutabagas?
Where Should I Plant Rutabagas?
Rutabagas grow best in well-drained spaces with full to partial sun and loamy or sandy soil that is rich in organic materials.
The soil pH should be between 6.0 to 7.0.
Because Brassicas share the same pests and diseases, avoid planting your rutabagas where you have grown other Brassicas for five years. Crop rotation reduces the chance of recurring pest and disease infestations.
How Do I Prepare the Soil for Rutabagas?
Remove stones from the soil and break up any clumps so that nothing interferes with the growth of the root.
Work compost or organic fertilizer into the soil deep enough to accommodate the roots. Smaller rutabagas that measure 3 inches to 5 inches in diameter are sweeter than larger ones, so work the compost down to about 6 inches deep.
Can I Grow Rutabagas in Containers?
Generally, root crops are not good candidates for container gardens. Depending on how large you allow them to become, rutabagas can weigh as much as 3 to 5 pounds.
However, you can grow rutabagas in containers as long as the container is large enough to accommodate the roots and has sufficient holes for proper drainage. Your container should allow 12 inches to 16 inches per plant depending on how large you let the bulb grow before harvesting.
Use a potting soil mix designed for vegetables or vegetables and herbs and that retains moisture without becoming muddy. Top soil is too heavy for container gardening
When Should I Plant Rutabagas?
Rutabagas need to mature in cool weather to develop the sweet taste. These slow-growing vegetables take approximately 90 days to mature, so if you live in a warm climate, count back 90 days from the first frost date in the fall for your area and direct sow your seeds in your garden around that date.
If you live in a cool climate, direct sow your seeds in your garden in the spring three weeks before the last frost date for your area.
How Many Rutabagas Should I Plant?
You will need five to 10 rutabagas for each person in your household.
What Temperatures Do Rutabagas Prefer?
To ensure that your rutabagas develop their sweet taste, daytime temperatures should be below 75°F (24°C) and nighttime temperatures should be between 50°F and 60°F (10°C – 16°C). In order for the seeds to germinate, the soil temperature needs to be at least 40°F (5°C).
How Do I Plant Rutabagas?
Space the seeds 1 inch apart in rows that are 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 6 to 8 inches apart when they are about 2 inches tall. You can use the plants you thin out in salads.
How Do I Care for Rutabagas?
Because rutabagas grow so slowly, keep the soil around them cultivated, mulched, and weeded. Keeping the soil solid around the base of the leaves but loose to a depth of about 3 inches a little farther out from the leaves also encourages root growth.
Rutabagas need a steady supply of water, about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches each week. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well for growing these vegetables.
Rutabagas are light feeders and don’t require a lot of fertilization. In the middle of the growing season, simply apply a layer of compost around your plants.
What Pests Attack Rutabagas?
Rutabagas are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as all Brassicas. Insect pests include:
- Flea beetles
- Cabbage loopers
- Slugs and snails
- Root maggots
Use row covers to keep the moths that lay the eggs that produce caterpillars like cutworms and cabbage loopers from reaching your rutabagas. Spreading wood ash around rutabagas discourages root maggots, and diatomaceous earth pierces soft-bodied pests, causing them to become dehydrated and die. Garlic spray, tomato leaf spray, and sprays made with dishwashing liquid also combat these pests.
What Diseases Infect Rutabagas?
The main diseases that infect rutabagas are:
- Club root
- Black rot
Club root occurs in areas that drain poorly. It distorts the growth of the roots, stunts the growth of the leaves, and causes the leaves to wilt.
Black rot is caused by a bacteria, and it causes the leaves to turn black and develop a foul smell. Rutabagas with black rot should be immediately removed from your garden and destroyed. Do not use them in your compost.
The best preventative for both diseases is to grow Brassicas only in well-drained areas and allow five years to pass before returning any Brassica to a space where you have grown any of these closely related plants.
What Companion Plants Can Be Planted With Rutabagas?
Rutabaga’s companion plants include:
While mustard interferes with the growth of rutabagas and should not be planted nearby, both mustard and nasturtiums act as lures that draw insect pests away from rutabagas. Also avoid planting rutabagas near cabbage and broccoli to avoid the spread of insects and diseases.
Squash and corn are among the plants that can be rotated with rutabagas in your garden.
When Do I Harvest Rutabagas?
You can harvest the leaves for salads from the time the plants are 4 inches tall. Gather a few of the younger leaves from each plant. If you avoid damaging the crown of the bulb, the leaves will regrow, providing you with salad greens throughout the growing season.
Depending on the variety, it takes 80 to 100 days for rutabagas to mature. Smaller rutabagas are more tender than larger ones, so, for eating, you should harvest them when they are 3 inches to 5 inches in diameter.
At one time in Ireland, rutabagas were used as jack o’ lanterns, so you can grow a few larger ones and carve faces in them to add to your Halloween display.
How Do I Harvest Rutabagas?
You only need to harvest the number of rutabagas that you need at the moment. You can store the rest of your crop in the ground in the fall and winter.
To harvest the plants, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the base of the leaves and the roots, and then take hold of the leaves to pull the plant from the ground.
How Do I Store Rutabagas?
To store rutabagas in your garden, cover them with about 2 feet of straw.
To prepare rutabagas for storing after you harvest them, cut the leaves from the rutabagas about 1 inch above the bulb and brush the soil from the rutabagas. Avoid getting the rutabagas wet to avoid mold. You can keep the rutabagas you plan to use within a short period of time in the refrigerator.
You should cool the rest to as close to 32°F (0°C) as quickly as possible to prevent dehydration, but as further protection against moisture loss you can dip your rutabagas in warm wax to coat them.
You can store your rutabagas in a location where the temperature remains between 32°F and 35°F (0°C-2°C) and the humidity remains at 90-95 percent for up to four months.
Different countries of the world have diverse cuisines made out of the rutabagas. The core fact to note about the dishes made with the rutabagas is that they are made most times for vegans.
For instance, in Finland, there are select ways by which they prepare the rutabagas, they are roasted, baked, cooked and cut in bits to make salads.
The Swedish people love potatoes, and so for the rutabagas, they include the boiled part with carrots and it is eaten with butter, margarine or milk.
Also, in many parts of Norway, it is regarded as a root vegetable for festivals hence its vast acceptability in Norway.
Rutabagas mean different things to different people, for those who were fortunate to have relied on rutabagas during its discover while the major World Wars lasted, it was a bad meal one that they were forced into because of the circumstances revolving around them at the time.
For those who know about the health benefit of the root vegetable, it is high in vitamins and potassium which guarantees a high nutritional value.