Rutabaga Seed Starting Tips

Rutabagas near harvest

Rutabaga is a cool weather crop. Sow rutabaga seed in late winter or very early spring for an early summer harvest. Direct sow seed in the garden 16 to 10 weeks before the last frost in spring.

In warm regions, it’s best to sow rutabaga in mid summer for a fall and winter harvest and use.

Rutabagas that mature in warm weather will be bitter, not sweet like those that mature in cool and cold weather.

Grow rutabagas and other root crops in light-textured soil free of pebbles and stones. This will ensure roots do not split or become malformed.

Rutabagas mature in 90 to 120 days depending on the variety.

Sowing and Planting Tips:

  • Start rutabagas from seed sown directly in the garden.
  • Seed is viable for 4 years.
  • Start seeds in the garden about 16 to 10 weeks before you expect the last frost. Rutabagas can be started indoors, but they—like most root crops—are difficult to transplant to the garden with success.
  • If started indoors and transplanted, allow two additional weeks to maturity as a result of root insult at transplanting; nip off the long thread tip of the beet root when transplanting.
  • Sow seed ½ (12 mm) inch deep and be sure to heel or stamp the soil firmly in; rutabagas often fail to germinate when there is insufficient contact with the soil.
  • Sow seed 2 inches apart and later thin to 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) apart for large storage roots.
  • Space rows 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
  • To improve germination sow seed at dusk or on a cool, cloudy day.
  • Sow seed in loose, fertile soil. Adding aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing will feed the soil and aide moisture retention.
  • The seeds should germinate in 3 to 10 days at an optimal temperature of 70°F (21C) or thereabouts; germination will take longer in colder soil.
  • Optimum soil temperature to grow rutabagas is 60°F (16°C).
  • Make additional sowing at 3-week intervals for a continuous harvest; but time sowing so that crop does not mature in hot weather.
  • Rutabagas prefer a soil pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.
  • Grow rutabagas in full sun for best yield; rutabagas tolerate partial shade.
  • Avoid planting rutabagas where potatoes have grown recently.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
  • Common pest enemies are aphids, flea beetles, and cabbage root maggots. Protect the seedlings from pests and cold for two to three weeks after planting with spun poly row covers.

Interplanting: Plant rutabagas with bush beans, peas, southern peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash.

Container Growing: Choose a container 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) deep.

Recommend Planting Calendar:

  • 8-6 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow in plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • 5-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct sow in the garden.

For Fall and Winter Harvest:

  • 12-10 weeks before the first frost in fall: direct-sow in garden.

Recommended Varieties:
‘York’ has a smooth, rich flavor; ‘Thomson Laurentian’ stores well; ‘Gilfeather’ is a sweet heirloom; ‘Joan’ and ‘American Purple’ has a sweet flavor; ‘Altaweet’ is mild flavored.

Botanical Name: Brassica napus

Rutabagas belong to the Brassicacea (Cruciferae) or cabbage family; other members include cabbage, kale, collard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.