Turnip: How to Grow Turnip

Are you thinking of growing your own turnips? If you search for turnip pictures, you’d get images of its bulging roots – which makes you think that this is the primary reason it is grown. That’s not always the case though, as this versatile vegetable also have edible leaves that are best harvested young. Easily grown and quick to mature – here’s how to add turnip to your garden.


Turnips are vegetables that thrive best during the cool weather. They grow pretty fast and can be used completely – from the roots to the greens on top. They’re actually biennials with a seed to maturity date of just two months. Many home gardeners however, prefer to grow them on an annual basis as the weather permits.

Turnips are root crops – just like carrots. This means that when we say “turnip”, we’re really referring to the bulging roots buried underneath the soil. The greens are edible too though, and could be added to many food preparations. This cruciferous vegetable has a bitter taste when raw but delicious once cooked.

The beauty of turnips is that they’re the kind of crop you can store in the cellar for a long amount of time. It can be kept for up to 4 months in a cool and dark area for use anytime. This makes it the perfect vegetable to have if you just want to make sure there’s enough healthy food in the fridge. 

Facts About Turnip


It is believed that turnips originated in eastern and middle Asia where the temperature is slightly cool for its growth. This is evidenced by the discovery of wild versions of the plant in the said regions. Though it is believed that the related subspecies of the plant were cultivated as early as 2000BC, there’s also evidence that it was being cultivated in Japan in 700AD. Today, the largest producer of turnip in the world is China.

Growing Conditions

Since they prefer the cooler weather, turnips are best planted 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. This will help them avoid the harsh summer weather while making it easy for you to sow them outdoors. This will allow you to harvest them late in the spring.

If you prefer to harvest your turnips in the autumn time, you can also plant them around late summer when the heat is starting to die down. Just remember that you want them to avoid hot and freezing weathers so spring and autumn are really the best time to grow them. In terms of location, turnips are best grown on areas falling within Zones 2 to 9.

Plant Description

Since there are several types of turnips today, the description may not apply to all varieties of the plant. For the purposes of this article, the descriptions refer primarily to purple-top turnips.

Plant Height

The greens of this plant can grow anywhere from 12 to 18 inches in height with a spread of 6 to 8 inches. If we’re just looking at the roots however, the diameter should be around 2 to 3 inches – which is why you need to give each plant at least 4 inches worth of space from each other.


Referred to as “turnip greens” – the leaves are a food source all on their own. They’re often harvested when they hit around 12 inches in height and thrown in salads. The size, shape, and consistency is similar to that of kale – with a crunch flavor that adds variety to many dishes. You can harvest them all through the growing season of the plant until the root crop is ready to be taken off the ground.


If you give the plant enough time – it will sprout flowers the eventually produce the seed of the plant. If you don’t want to buy seeds all the time, then allowing just one turnip plant to grow flowers would be enough to fuel your next crop.

The flowers start to appear during the second year of its growth. They’re beautifully spread out in tiny yellow flowers that can be snipped off and stored for their seeds. Some people also like to use the flowers as garnish because they’re edible.

Changes in weather is one of the reasons why the turnip plant starts to produce seeds. Remember – it’s a cool weather plant so once summer hits, the flowers start to bloom. If you want to speed up the production of flowers however, you can try depriving the plant of moisture. This forces the turnip to use the stored food in its roots to produce the flowers. 

Size, Shape and Color

The turnip crop can grow big if given the chance – but you don’t want it to go beyond 3 inches in diameter before harvest. The same is true for the leaves but again, if you want to actually use the product, it’s best to harvest before or at 12 inches of leaf height.

The shape is much like a flattened globe or a spinning top with leaves sprouting from the head. The end is slightly pointed and expect some roots growing out of the crop. Upon harvesting, you can chop off the root entrails before storage.

Coloring varies per type of turning. The most common however would be the purple top variety which is a combination of purple and white on the bottom.

Types of Turnip

While there are several types of turnips, it’s also possible to confuse this plant with other crops such as rutabagas. They’re often planted side by side with each other – which isn’t a problem since the two grow within the same conditions. Note, though that rutabagas take longer to grow so while your turnips may be ready for harvest, the rutabagas are still in their growing phase.

Purple-top Turnips

This type got its name because of the beautiful purple hue covering almost half of the turnip root. When we say “turnip”, this is often the variety that pops into mind. This particular type likes cool places and can mature in as little as 55 days under the right conditions. They have a spicy taste to them and often added to stews.

Scarlet Turnips

Scarlet Turnips or Scarlet Queen Turnips got their name because of the deep gloriously scarlet color of its roots. They add color to most food items, making it much more attractive at a glance. This type has a shorter maturity period of just 45 days and wonderfully crispy and sweet to the taste.

Baby Turnips

As the name suggests, this particular type is smaller – growing at just 1 to 2 inches in diameter. They can come in different colored tops from white, gold, pink, and purple. Wonderfully crunchy, it tastes of radish and just a hint of tartness. Unlike the other turnips in this list, Baby Turnips are not good for long-term storage.

Note that there are more types of turnips available today. These three, however are the ones most commonly grown in gardens and would be the easiest to cultivate for beginners.

How to Grow Turnip

Turnips are not that hard to grow, especially if you have good soil and a cool temperature. They’re the kind of crops you only need to check once or twice a week to make sure they’re still growing as intended. Here’s their ideal growing environment:


Prepare sandy, well-draining sand with a generous helping of compost for sustenance. This plant needs soft soil so the turnip root can spread and grow big without resistance. For this reason, you need to sift through the soil bedding and make sure there are big stones that can disturb the plant’s growth. Ideally, the soil should be slightly acidic with a pH level of 6 to 6.5.


These plants like the full sun – but remember that we’re talking about “full sun” during the cooler weather. Hence, compared to the sunlight during the summer, turnips still prefer their light to be a little understated. Find a nice space for them where they get a full blast of the morning sun and slightly shaded for the afternoon time.

Temperature & Humidity

This cool-season plant grows best when the temperature is anywhere from 5 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius. If you’re just starting to germinate the seeds, then try to keep the temperature anywhere from 13 to 30 degrees Celsius as this will give you the best results.

In terms of humidity – the age-old adage is: turnips like a dry bed and a wet head. This means that you don’t want to deep water this plant but simply keep the topmost portion of the soil moist. Spritz the leaf area just a little bit with water for humidity during days when the weather is particularly sunny. 


They like their soil consistently moist – around 1 inch of water per week would be perfect. Offer some mulch on top of the soil to help retain the moisture on top. With most plants, testing for water involves digging your fingers into the soil to feel if there’s still moisture inside. With the turnip however, you don’t have to do this – the topmost soil would be enough as an indicator of moisture. If the top part is still wet, then you don’t need to water just yet.


Understand that turnips are high-demand vegetables. This means that they’re heavy feeders needing around 1 to 2 inches of compost over the growing area. Top it off with around 2 to 4 cups of all-purpose fertilizer. A 10-10-10, 16-16-8, or 10-20-10 would work perfectly for this particular plant.

Once the plants hit 4 to 5 inches in height, you’d want to introduce another round of fertilizer – about ½ cup for every 10 feet worth of soil. Mix it well with the soil material to give your turnip a huge chance to grow.

Another round of fertilizer is recommended when the turnips start to emerge out of the soil. Mark when the top peeks out of the soil and count six weeks from that time. This is when you introduce nitrogen fertilizer again, using around 1/3 of a cup for every 10 feet of space.

This plant can be prone to a number of pests and diseases including powdery mildew, aphids, downy mildew, root maggots, and flea beetles. For these problems, you’d want to use organic pest controls or keep them grown inside a mesh netting to discourage insects. 


Mulching is best done early on to help retain the moisture in the soil. This is especially true if your turnip gets tons of sunlight during the day. Mulching can also suppress weed growth as well as discourage some types of insects. Fine mulch should not go beyond 3 inches while a coarse mulch should be kept at around 6 inches or less. This will ensure that oxygen still circulates around the root crop while keeping it protected from too much sunlight.


Turnips are best grown exactly where they are seeded. This plant does not transplant very well as the root structure can be easily damaged. This is why if you intend to grow it in your garden, it should be planted where you intend it to go – directly onto the bed. Sow several seeds at a time in about ½ inch of soil.

Putting several seeds in one hole will improve the chances of at least one sprouting. Give each plant at least 4 inches worth of space. When the seedlings sprout, allow them to reach around 4 inches in height before thinning. This basically means removing multiple seedlings that grew too close to each other, leaving only one seedling per 4 inches worth of space.

Of course, if you’re intent on sowing them in a seeding tray and transplanting them later – this is also possible. Just keep in mind that you may compromise the root system so that many of the turnip plant may not survive the transplanting. Here’s how to get this done:

  • Place the seeds in your seedling tray packed with a combination of soil and compost. You want to introduce the fertilizer early on to encourage root growth.
  • Wet the soil consistently to keep a cool bed. The seed should germinate in a period of 3 to 10 days.
  • Transplanting is more promising if you do it when the true leaves start to appear. This gives the plant more chances of survival and the roots are strong enough to withstand the move.
  • Carefully scoop the plant out of the tray, bringing the whole soil with the plant. You want to transplant not just the roots but the whole soil system it is attached to. This will improve the chances of the plant continuing to grow.
  • Some gardeners like to remove most of the soil from the root system before transplanting. This can be done too, but it increases the chances of damaging the roots so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Ideally, the turnip bed should be ready before transplant. Make sure there’s enough fertilizer sowed into the bed. Plant the turnip around ½ inch into its new home.
  • Again, make sure there’s 4 to 6 inches worth of space between each turnip. If you want to further increase the chances of the plant growing in its new transplanted bed, you can try planting two per hole. Just make sure to remove the other plant once you determine which one has acclimated well into the new soil.
  • Once done, water it deeply at first. This will help prevent the turnip from wilting because of the move. 

Turnip Health Benefits

Turnips are wonderfully healthy plants and can be added to soup and stew – making it the perfect winter vegetable. The nutritional content is also impressive with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, lutein, xanthin, Vitamin K, Omega-3 Acids, and more.

Heart Health

The large amount of potassium in the plant helps it reduce the impact on the blood vessels. Essentially, it promotes blood flow all through the body and limits the risk of high blood pressure. The dietary fiber content of the plant also helps flush out cholesterol, which is dangerous for the heart.


The fiber content makes it perfect for people who suffer from constipation, bloating, cramming, and diarrhea. Combined with enough water, it promotes stool movement so that you can visit the toilet on a regular basis.

Helps with Metabolism

If you’re feeling sluggish all the time, turnip can help, thanks to the vitamin B content of the root and the leaves. This promotes metabolic regulation so that your body uses the calories it gets properly. It also aids with the function of the organs, ensuring that your body does all its assigned functions perfectly.

Against Inflammation

If you work out often and suffer from muscle pain, this is a good plant to add to your diet. The leaves specifically help with inflammation – which is why it is used by people who have arthritis or gout.

Cancer Fighting Content

Rich in anti-oxidants, consuming turnip will help flush out toxins in your body and replace it with healthier alternatives. While turnip alone won’t fight off or prevent cancer, it does help in keeping this deadly disease at bay. Specifically, the plant is known for protecting you against pancreatic and prostate cancer.

For Weight Loss

They have a low calorie count but offer the right vitamins and minerals to keep you going all through the day. Even better – these plants are high in fiber so eating them makes you feel full instantly, removing any other cravings you might have in the process. When used in aid of weight loss, this particular plant can help you easily achieve your goal weight.

For Bone Health

Aside from the fact that they’re good for joint health – these plants also function to contribute to your bone’s well-being. This is due to the amount of potassium and calcium in each serving of the crop.

Note though that turnips aren’t perfect. Some people may have adverse reactions to turnip because of an existing thyroid problem. If you plan to add turnip heavily into your daily diet, it’s best to consult your doctor first – especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.


Do you love turnips? If you do – then you should know that this root crop can be easily grown in your garden. A cool-season plant, they require little daily care but provide quick maturity. In as little as 60 days, you can have fresh turnips for harvest, plus it can be stored safely for months!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does turnip taste like?

The taste of turnips slightly vary depending on the kind you’re eating. Bitter when raw, cooked turnips taste a lot like radish and cabbage combined. It has a very earthy taste to it with a texture that’s mellow soft when cooked. Some people say the taste is more like a combination of potatoes and carrots – but again, that’s a matter of personal taste.

Are turnips and radishes the same?

No. In fact, they come from completely different plant families. It’s hard to make a distinction at first until you get used to the two. Generally – radishes come in a wider range of colors but distinctly smaller. They are best harvested at a diameter of 1 inch while turnips need to hit 3 inches before harvested.

How long does it take to grow turnips?

Turnips take about 30 to 60 days to grow into full maturity after you sow them into the soil. By this time, the turnip should be about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. For harvesting, carefully lift the whole plant off the ground including the roots so as not to damage the crop.

Of course, if you’re using the greens, you can also thin out the leaves as soon as they hit 12 inches in height. Harvest the outside leaves first all throughout the growing period of the plant. Baby leaves are best because they have this fresh sweet taste that’s perfect for salads. Once the turnip root is mature, remove the whole plant entirely. 

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