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?

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:

  • Aphids
  • Cutworms
  • 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:

  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Mustard
  • Nasturtiums

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.