Some vegetables are easier to grow than others. That’s just a gardening fact that every gardener worth their salt fully understands and appreciates.
When it comes to growing rutabaga (Brassica napus) in your garden, you might feel stumped or intimidated if you know little about this root veggie, but that’s what this post is all about.
In the following, you’ll find a complete guide to growing rutabaga that will get you up to speed with this delightful veggie with some expert tips thrown in for good measure.
Rutabaga Planting Guidelines
Even if you have never grown rutabaga or its cousin, the turnip, before, you’ll find that the veggie is quite easy to grow. With just a few seeds and decent soil, you’ll be off to a great start.
Here’s all you need to know about this biennial veggie.
Where To Plant Rutabaga
Rutabaga is a root vegetable that grows well in Grow Zones 3 to 9. It has a high tolerance for frost, and the chill hours give it deep flavors and a sweet taste.
However, the veggie needs full sun and grows best in loamy and well-draining soil. It thrives in slightly acidic soil with pH levels between 6.0 and 7.5.
If you have no idea about your soil’s current pH, invest in a simple meter like this one that measures pH, light, and moisture.
Spacing is important to allow the roots ample space to grow and fatten up. Allow between 6 and 10 inches between each rutabaga seedling in the bed rows.
Where NOT To Plant Rutabaga
Avoid places that get a partial shade or have clayish soil. When amending the soil before planting, don’t use fresh manure since it contains live bacteria that could damage the plants.
Also, don’t use high-nitrogen fertilizers since they could cause the roots to branch. Over-fertilizing is also another issue as rutabaga only needs an initial application and a light side dressing one month after planting.
Finally, don’t plant rutabaga where the sun is excessively hot since that could lead to bolting.
When To Plant Rutabaga
Your weather conditions and microclimate will dictate the best time to plant rutabaga.
Since the veggie has a low tolerance for hot weather, you can start it indoors until the weather cools down outside, but since rutabaga is a root crop, it is best to plant the seeds directly in the garden.
Be sure to factor the first frost into your planting date calculations since the young plants have little tolerance for frost.
Ideally, you should start rutabaga about 90 days before the first frost. Once the veggie matures, frost will only improve the flavors of the root without damaging it.
Rutabaga grows to 24 inches tall and 12 inches wide at maturity, so you’ll need to space it accordingly if you want to have large roots.
While sowing the seeds, you can space them 2 inches apart. Later when the seedlings are about 2 to 3 inches tall, you can thin them out and leave 6 to 10 inches between each seedling.
How To Plant Rutabagas
Sowing seeds is the easiest and most straightforward way to plant this root veggie. Here’s how to go about it.
- Get your rutabaga seeds from a certified seller, and make sure the seeds are fresh for a higher germination success rate.
- Make rows in the raised bed about 18 inches apart.
- Use organic compost, aged manure, or a balanced fertilizer to enrich the soil. Don’t use fresh manure.
- Plant the seeds a half inch deep into the soil 2 inches apart.
- Water the soil to get it moist.
- When the seeds germinate 4 to 7 days later, use row covers to protect them against flying pests.
- When the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, thin them out, and leave 6-10 inches between each seedling.
- One month after planting the seeds, side dress with a balanced fertilizer or organic compost.
- Water the soil to keep it evenly moist.
Growing Rutabagas in Containers
Rutabaga, like other compact-size veggies, can be grown in containers. Follow the same steps detailed above about growing rutabaga in the garden. However, you’ll need to pay extra attention to two factors: space, and soil.
When growing rutabagas in containers, you should use a loose general-purpose potting mix instead of garden soil. Depending on the size of the container, limit the number of seedlings keeping in mind the 6-inch-spacing rule.
Caring for Your Rutabagas
Once rutabagas are growing, you only need to make sure that they’re getting enough water and sunlight. On average, the root veggie needs 1.5 inches of water per week.
Keeping the soil evenly moist is key to the success of the veggie. You won’t have to worry about fertilizing it after the initial application at planting time and later side-dressing.
If the temperatures go above 80℉ for a few days in a row and you’re growing in containers, you should consider moving them inside since bolting is a serious threat in hot weather.
Problems Growing Rutabagas
Although it’s easy to grow rutabagas, these hybrid veggies are not without their problems. However, most of those problems can be avoided and even fixed.
Pests like aphids and scale are par for the course with just about any plant growing in your garden, but with rutabagas, two pests stand out.
The first is the flea beetle. This tiny insect feeds on the leaves of the rutabaga seedlings and causes serious damage. Protect the seedlings with row covers and heavy mulching.
The other pest is the cabbage maggot. They attach the mature rutabaga and drill holes in the roots.
Row covers offer some protection against adult female insects laying their eggs near the rutabagas. Rotating crops can also help reduce the damage.
Rutabaga as a root veggie is susceptible to diseases such as clubroot, black rot, and white rust among others.
Clubroot is a fungal infection that causes deformed roots. Maintaining the soil pH around 7.2 prevents the growth of the fungus as does solarizing the soil and rotating crops.
Black rot causes the leaves to drop and black veins to appear on the stems, which are a prelude to rotting. Some rutabaga varieties are resistant to this bacterial infection. Destroy infected plants, and make sure the soil drains quickly.
White rust is a fungal infection that covers the underside of the leaves with a chalky substance. Combat it by destroying infected plants and rotating crops.
Rutabaga splitting is a common issue that indicates that the plant is not getting watered regularly, is routinely overwatered, or isn’t watered in the right amounts.
Allowing the soil to dry out completely and then flooding the plants with water are common causes of rutabaga splitting.
Keep the soil evenly moist, and use mulch to improve water retention in the soil.
Small rutabagas are the result of poor spacing or too many weeds and pests. Rutabaga doesn’t like competition from weeds, and if the plants are not well spaced between 6 and 10 inches apart, the roots will not grow fully.
Also, look for signs of cabbage maggot infestations.
Black rot is the number one cause of rotten rutabagas. It’s a bacterial infection that starts at the leaves and makes its way down to the roots. Get rid of infected plants, and rotate your crops.
Misshapen rutabagas are caused by clubroot. This fungal infection thrives in wet and neutral soil.
Make sure the soil drains readily, amend the pH levels to stay consistently above 7.2, and destroy plant debris after the end of the season.
When To Harvest Rutabagas
Unlike its cousin the turnip, rutabaga can handle cold soil. The frost improves the flavor and sweetness of the root. However, this rich taste comes at the cost of the texture.
If you want to eat succulent rutabagas, harvest them when they’re 2 to 3 inches wide. If you leave them until the frost, make sure to harvest them before the soil freezes.
How To Store Rutabagas
To store rutabagas and keep them fresh for months, you’ll need a cool place with high humidity levels. That rules out the fridge, which is mostly dry.
A cellar with temperatures not exceeding 40℉. is good enough to store rutabagas for up to 5 months. Remove the greens from the roots before storing them.
If you store rutabagas in the fridge, try to eat them within a week or two at most since the roots will dry out and will soon sprout.
Rutabaga is a hybrid root veggie that is easy to grow to thrive as long as it’s getting enough water, plenty of sunshine, and cool to mild temperatures.
Frost-kissed rutabagas are sweet and rich in flavor. Use mulching to keep the soil evenly moist and protect the veggies from pests and weeds.