How to Grow Turnips

Turnips are one of those vegetables that don’t get enough love. They are crisp, crunchy, spicy, and the perfect addition to any summer salad, or sandwich. My favorite way to eat them is pickled with beets and served cold. Absolutely delicious! Thankfully, turnips are easy to grow and we have some tips to make it even easier.

turnips in a basket


Turnips grow best in rich well draining soil that is very slightly acidic to neutral, with a PH range of 6 to 7.5. It’s best to amend your soil with lots of compost to make sure it has everything it needs for the growing season. This can be compost you’ve made yourself with food scraps, well rotted manure, or both. Amending your soil with a good compost will not only give your turnips the nutrients they need for a healthy harvest, but will also help with giving your soil a little extra acidity. 


Turnips need full sun to grow the healthiest they can. Full sun means six to eight hours of sunlight per day at minimum. Turnips are actually a cold weather root crop, growing best in 50-65 degrees, so while you can grow them spring to summer with a cool start and hot finish, they do best with a hot start and a cold finish. This means planting your turnips in late july or august so that they finish in the autumn. This produces a high quality vegetable.


Turnips like consistently moist and rich soil. It’s best to water about 1 inch per week. If you have sandy soil you will need to water more. A good way of making sure your soil stays well moistened is by adding rich compost to your soil to help with water retention. Turnip seeds also germinate best in well moistened soil. Keeping your soil consistently moist will help your turnips overall quality and flavor. 

turnips in a basket


You will want to fertilize your turnips a couple of times during the season. First, scratch an all purpose fertilizer like this one from Fox Farm into the first few inches of soil before planting your turnips seeds. Then, about 5 weeks later, cultivate a bit more into the top layer of soil around your turnips. The one thing you’ll want to avoid when fertilizing, is giving your turnips too much nitrogen. You’ll get more greens and less root if there is too much nitrogen present. And while turnip greens are edible and delicious, this usually isn’t the goal.  


You will want to direct sow turnips, as they wont transplant well. If planting in the spring, plant them about 4 to 5 weeks before your average last frost date. Turnips are cold hardy and do best in cool weather. Make sure to look up your growing zone to double check when it is best to plant in your region. You can plant turnips for a second time in late July – August for a fall harvest. Late season turnips are higher quality and tend to taste much better than spring sown turnips.

When planting, we recommended following what your turnip seed packets instructions are for spacing and seed depth. When your turnips reach about 3-4 inches in height, thin them to one plant every 2-4 inches apart. During their growing season, it can be beneficial to cultivate/aerate the soil around your turnips gently. Making sure to pull weeds around your turnips helps accomplish this, but you can also gently move the soil about a little with your fingers.  


Harvest your turnips when they reach about 3 inches in diameter. You’ll want to harvest them when they reach medium size as they are more tender and delicious. If you wait till they get very large, they become woody and a bit bitter. A cool thing about autumn turnips is that you can put straw around your turnips during the fall to extend harvest time, as the straw protects your turnips from frost damage.

turnips being pulled out of the ground

Common Pests

Ok now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s what to look out for when it comes to pests. Root maggots and Turnip Aphids are two of the most common pests that will damage your turnip crop. Thankfully there are a couple of ways to fight these pests organically! There are plenty of effective pesticides you can use, but we’re not super into those around here, but use what you feel is best. That being said, let’s jump into our natural methods of pest control. 


  • Neem Oil

Neam oil is a natural insecticide that can be used to kill aphids. It disrupts their hormonal balance and makes it hard for them to feed. It can be a great way of getting rid of aphids, but it can also harm beneficial pollinators and bugs as well, so use caution. There are many neem oils on the market, so buy whichever one looks good to you and follow the directions for use on the back of your bottle. Some will require mixing the Neem with water and then spraying it on your plants. Spray directly on affected areas every couple days until the problem is resolved. You can also use neem as a preventive by spraying it on your plants every two weeks or so. 

  • Garlic Spray

We love homemade garlic spray because of how natural it is! We think using plants to protect other plants is really cool. Garlic has sulfur compounds including allicin that are toxic to the aphids and can mess with their sense of smell and confuse them. To make garlic spray at home, chop some garlic, one clove for every cup of water you use and cover it in boiling water. Let cool, then pour it into a spray bottle, add a little dish soap and give it a shake. Spray on affected areas of your plants every few days till you see improvements. 

  • Soap Spray + Essential Oils 

Soapy spray can help with aphids, because when the aphids are sprayed down, it will suffocate and kill them. To make the spray, add some natural dish soap to water along with a few drops of some essential oil of choice. You can use peppermint, clove, thyme, or rosemary. To use, spray all over the aphids and leave for a few hours before rinsing off with water. Continue until the aphids are gone. 

  • Companion Planting

We always recommend companion planting as it’s just a wonderful way of controlling pests in your entire garden. Pollinators are the natural predator to many common garden pests, and planting flowers like French Marigold, Borage, Chamomile, Fennel, and Dill can attract them to your garden. Plant all around your garden for best results.

Root Maggots

  • Diatomaceous Earth 

Our best tip for keeping root maggots off your turnips is to put a little diatomaceous earth around each of your seedlings so that adult flies won’t lay eggs. Simply put it around your turnip plants while they are still small and re-apply if needed. 

  • Row Covers 

Cover your boxes or rows of turnips with a thin, finely woven fabric to keep adult flies off of your turnips. You can lay the fabric on stakes or a short structure like a cattle wire dome so that the fabric does not touch the foliage of your plants. Make sure the edges of the fabric are firmly staked or weighted to the ground around your beds. Keep covered until the plants are more matured and the risk of egg laying is gone. Keeping your rows covered early in the season can also help kickstart the growing season as it will warm the soil slightly more than without a cover.

So there you go! You won’t regret adding turnips to the list of what you grow this year. We hope you will give them a try!

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