Growing Turnip Greens for Early Spring and Late Autumn Salads

Like other members of the Brassica family that are grown for their leaves – collards, cabbage, and kale – turnip greens are a cold weather crop. A light frost even enhances the flavor of these greens, so while turnip greens can be planted in the spring, those planted for harvest in the fall are the best tasting.


Where Should I Plant Turnip Greens?

Like all Brassicas, turnip greens prefer a well-drained space with loamy or sandy soil. The soil should have a pH between 5.5 and 6. The space you choose should receive six to eight hours of partial to full sun each day.

To prevent recurring pest and disease infestations, you should avoid areas where you have planted turnips or other Brassicas in the past five years, but in the fall, you can plant your turnip greens where you have completed harvesting your beans, onions, squash, and sweet corn for the season.

When Should I Plant Turnip Greens?

As has been mentioned, turnip greens can be planted in early to mid- spring for harvesting in the spring to early summer as well as in late summer through the fall for harvesting in the fall through early winter. However, turnip greens become tough and bitter if they mature after temperatures rise above 75°F (24°C) in the summer, and, as with all vegetables, the first hard freeze kills the leaves. You will need to plant your turnip greens so that they are ready for harvest before these dates.

How Do I Choose Dates for Beginning and Ending Spring Planting?

The seeds for turnip greens are sown directly into your garden. Because turnips are a cold weather crop, you can sow them within two to three weeks of your area’s last frost date. However in order to germinate, turnip seeds require the soil temperature to remain at or above at least 40°F (4°C), so wait until soil temperatures have reached that level before planting.

After your initial planting, you can plant a new crop of greens every two or three weeks.

Turnip greens can be ready for harvesting in as little as one month, but to do your best to ensure that your greens aren’t exposed to an early hot spell, it’s a good idea to stop planting new crops seven or eight weeks before you expect the high temperatures to begin.

How Do I Choose Dates for Beginning and Ending Fall Planting?

You can resume planting your turnip greens every two to three weeks as soon as the temperatures consistently remain below 75°F (24°C). In some areas, that occurs as early as August. You can continue planting until seven or eight weeks before your area’s first hard frost.

What Temperatures Are Best for Growing Turnip Greens?

As already discussed, turnip green seeds require soil temperatures to remain consistently at or above 40°F (4°C) to germinate. They produce sweet, tender greens at day time temperatures between 50°F — 70°F (10°C – 21°C), but a few cool days or light overnight or morning frosts further sweeten the flavor.

Does the Soil Need to Be Prepared for Growing Turnip Greens?

Even though you are growing your turnips for their greens and not their roots, turnips still have long tap roots. Consequently, you should still loosen the soil to a depth of 10 inches, break up clods of soil, and remove stones.

Although turnip greens can grow in poor soil, you should work 2 to 4 inches of an organic fertilizer into your turnip patch before planting.

How Do I Plant Turnip Greens?

Use your hand or a planter to broadcast the seeds over the soil at a rate of three to 20 seeds per foot. Rows should be spaced 12 inches apart. Using the back of a rake, cover the seeds with 1/2″ of soil.

Water the seeds immediately if the soil is dry, and cover your turnip patch with burlap bags for three days to retain the moisture and encourage germination.

You don’t need to thin turnip greens, but thinning them to 2 to 3 inches apart allows for air circulation among the leaves that discourages the formation of mildew.

Will Turnip Greens Grow in Containers?

While root crops aren’t generally good crops for container gardens, you can grow turnip greens in a container that supplies good drainage and that is deep enough to accommodate the length of the tap root.

Because turnip greens are planted within 2 to 3 inches of each other, or even more closely if the plants aren’t thinned, the tap roots may not form a bulb at all, or they may form only small bulbs. So the size of the root is less of a problem when growing turnip greens in a container.

When growing vegetables in container gardens, use a potting soil mixed for garden vegetables and herbs or garden vegetables. Top soil is too heavy for containers and doesn’t allow for proper drainage.

What Diseases Occur in Turnip Greens?

Turnip greens are susceptible to both powdery mildew and downy mildew.

The parasite that causes downy mildew requires water to survive. Thinning plants to allow for air circulation and watering with a soaker hose reduces the likelihood of an outbreak.

The round, white spots of powdery mildew are produced by a fungus that can be treated by spraying with 1 teaspoon of baking soda added to 1 quart of water or with potassium bicarbonate, lime-sulfur or sulfur, or neem oil. Air circulation and watering with a soaker hose also help prevent this fungus.

Clearing your garden of organic materials after the growing season and adding them to your compost or plowing those materials into the ground further decreases the likelihood of either of theses mildews developing.

Badly infected plants should be destroyed. Never add infected plants to compost.

What Pests Feast on Turnip Greens?

Cabbage moth caterpillars, flea beetles, and root maggots are among the pests that feed on turnip greens and other Brassicas.

Delaying planting for one to two weeks and covering your turnip greens with row covers immediately after sowing the seeds discourage flea beetles and egg laying moths and flies. Caterpillars and eggs can be picked off of the leaves, and diatomaceous earth pierces soft-bodied pests, causing death by dehydration. Homemade sprays such as a spray made with dishwashing detergent, garlic spray, and tomato leaf spray offer other ways to control these pests.

What Plants Grow Well With Turnip Greens?

Companion plants serve both to draw insects that prey on pests to your garden and repel pests or lure them to other parts of your garden. Companion plants for turnip greens include:

  • Sweet peas – add nitrogen to the soil
  • Pole beans – add nitrogen to the soil
  • Vetch – adds nutrients to soil and controls weeds, a good border for a turnip patch
  • Herbs with strong scents like mint, horehound, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender, hyssop, and borage – protect turnip greens and bulbs from deer

While aphids feast on many Brassca, turnip greens repel them for the following plants:

  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Cauliflower
  • Swiss chard

What Plants Should Not Be Planted Near Turnip Greens?

Some root crops compete with turnip greens for the same soil nutrients, including the following plants:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips

These plants should be separated from turnip greens and each other.

What Care Do I Need to Provide for Turnip Greens?

Turnip greens need about 1 inch of water per week. If the leaves begin to wilt, the plants need watering. Mulching your turnip greens will help the soil to retain moisture and discourage weeds. While turnip greens grow fast and can grow in poor soil, weeds will compete with your turnip greens for the moisture and nutrients in the soil, so keep your turnip patch weed free.

When Are Turnip Greens Ready to Harvest?

Turnip greens are ready for harvesting in about a month. In the fall, harvest greens after a few days of cool weather or after a light frost for the sweetest flavor.

How Do I Harvest Turnip Greens?

You can begin harvesting the older, outer leaves when they are 4 inches tall. Snip them off, leaving the young, newer leaves at the center. Take care not to damage the root or the bulb. Don’t harvest more than a third of the leaves from the individual plants.

Turnip greens planted in the spring may produce flowers if they are exposed to an early period of warm weather. You can allow the flowers to produce seeds and harvest them for your next growing season, or you can use the flower buds and seed pods in your salads.

How Are Turnip Greens Stored?

Soil sticks to the fine hairs that cover turnip greens, so after harvesting them, you will need several changes of water to wash them thoroughly. After washing them, you can store them for about a week in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.