Learn About Rutabaga

How to Sow

How to Sow

  • Rutabaga prefers cool weather and is best grown as a fall crop. Sow seeds average soil in full sun in late summer.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones. Rutabagas develop large roots so make sure the soil is loose at least 6-8 inches deep.
  • Sow seeds thinly and cover with ¼ inch of fine soil.
  • Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days depending on weather conditions.
  • Thin to stand about 6-8 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches high.

How to Grow

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when weeding.
  • Keep plants well watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.

Growing tips

Harvest and Preserving Tips

  • Rutabaga may be harvested from autumn onwards, once the root is large enough, about 4-5 inches in diameter.
  • The globes are often easy to pull from the soil.
  • Roots may be kept all winter in a cold cellar, covered with slightly moist earth.
  • Rutabaga may be cut into cubes and blanched and frozen. They may also be canned.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Anthracnose: This fungus disease causes circular or irregularly shaped dry spots gray to straw color on the leaves. The lesions may coalesce and form dead tissue that turns yellow, or they may split or crack in the center. The fungus overwinters in diseased plant debris. Burpee Recommends: Provide sufficient space between plants for good air circulation, avoid overhead watering which can spread the fungus spores, keep a clean garden, remove and discard all diseased plant material and rotate crops.

Cercospora Leaf Blight: Small flecks which develop a yellowish halo appear on the leaves and turn brown and coalesce. They cause the leaves to wither and die. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and destroy all plant debris. Rotate crops.

Clubroot: Leaf symptoms include stunting, yellowing and wilt. When the plants are removed from the soil the roots may have galls, swelling and distortion of the roots. Burpee Recommends: Test the soil pH as clubroot is most common in acid soil. Add lime to raise pH. Avoid planting where brassica plants were grown the previous year.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish gray patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Cutworms: These insects cut off the seedlings at the soil level. Burpee Recommends: Place a paper cup collar (use a coffee cut with the bottom cut out) around the base of the plant. They are usually mostly a problem with young seedlings. You can also control by handpicking and controlling weeds, where they lay their eggs.

Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.

Root Maggots: Leaves wilt and growth is stunted. These maggots are white and feed on the roots. They leave brown tunnels in the root. Burpee Recommends: Introduce natural enemies to the area. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations which must be applied prior to planting.

Wireworms: These insects live in the soil and kill seedlings by girdling their stems at the soil line, bore into stems, roots and tubers. They may be found around the stems in the soil are and ¼ to ¾ inch long, thin, yellow brown worms with a shiny skin. The adults are called click beetles, and are about 1/3 inch long, reddish brown with a hard shell. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations which must be applied prior to planting.


Rutabaga FAQs

How do I tell the difference between a turnip and rutabaga? What’s the difference between a rutabaga and a swede? Rutabagas are larger and yellow-fleshed. Turnips are smaller and white fleshed. Rutabagas take longer to mature and store longer and the flavor tends to be milder and sweeter than a turnip’s. A rutabaga is probably a hybrid of a cabbage and a turnip. Both are members of the cabbage family. Rutabagas are also called swedes, or Swedish turnips.

Can I grow rutabagas in a container? Yes, just be sure to leave plenty of space for them to develop into 3-4 inch globes. Use a commercial planting mix rather than garden soil.

Can I start rutabagas indoors? We recommend direct sowing rutabagas because they develop an enlarged tap root and may be damaged in transplanting.

If my rutabaga sprouts in storage, should I plant it again? Planting it again will not provide another root to harvest, so just cut off any growth and use the root as soon as possible.

Can I eat the greens of rutabaga? Yes the greens are edible. The young leaves are best raw, the older ones steamed or boiled.


Back to top