How To Grow Rutabaga

Plant Type: Biennial
Scientific Name: Brassica napus
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Well cultivated, medium rich
Soil Temperature: 65-75°
ph Range: 6.0-8.0
Watering: Consistently moist
Plant (Payson): July-Sept, every 2 weeks
Planting Method: Seeds
Germination(days): 7-15days
Transplant: Not recommended
Maturity(days): 80-100 days
Common Pests: Aphids, Flea beetles Cabbage worms & loopers, Cabbage maggots
Common Diseases:  Club root, Root rot, Leaf spot


Rutabagas originated in the Middle Ages and are a cross between cabbage and turnips.  They were commonly used as economical fall forage for farm animals.  Rutabagas need cold temperatures for best flavor so should be planted in late summer in Payson. 

Rutabagas are cool season vegetables that prefer sunny locations and fertile, deep, well-drained soils. Incorporate plenty of organic matter and an all-purpose fertilizer into the area before planting.  Consider growing rutabagas as a cool season plant. Rutabagas can also be sown in late summer and grown as a fall crop since they develop slowly, need time to fill out the root and do not withstand summer heat as well.  Frequent, uniform moisture and adequate feeding is necessary to ensure good growth. Rutabagas are low in calories with an abundance of flavor and crunch.

Their roots are higher in most nutrients, including Vitamin A, than turnips. A cup serving is very high in vitamin A and C, iron, and fiber. The leaves are a good source of Vitamin A and C but don’t cut them all or you won’t get a root. 

rutabaga growing close up

Choose a location that will never be stepped on — roots will be stunted if the soil is compacted.

Cultivate deeply and remove any large debris or stones.

Rutabagas prefer fertile, well-drained, deep, soil rich in organic matter. Before planting, incorporate up to 2-4 inches of well composted organic matter and apply 1/2 cup of organic all-purpose fertilizer or bone-meal per 10-foot row. Work this into the top 6 inches of soil.  Avoid planting rutabagas in areas of the garden which recently had cabbage related plants growing there.



Direct sow recommended.


Plant seeds ¼-½ inch deep and thin when plants have 3-4 true leaves. Crusting soils will slow seedling emergence and affect plant stands.  After emergence, thin rutabagas to 4-6 inches between plants in rows 18 inches apart for roots. If you’re planning to harvest leaves only, let them grow as is. 

For fall rutabagas plant 75 days before the anticipated maturity date. The maturity date should be about 2-3 weeks after the first fall frost.  High summer temperatures reduce growth, decrease quality and cause bitter flavors to develop if plants are not watered properly.

Club Root
Black Leg
Cabbage Worm


Use fabric covers to protect seedlings from frost (early or late) and insects. Apply organic mulch which will cool the soil and reduce water stress.

Mulching is necessary to conserve moisture (the soil should never dry out) and reduce weed competition. Like many root vegetables, the tops of rutabagas can crack when exposed above the soil line, mulching will help protect them.

Moisture fluctuations cause cracking and woody roots and contribute to bitterness. 


Consistent, even watering.  Uneven watering or soggy soil will cause root cracking and toughness.


Shouldn’t be necessary beyond initial planting.


Weed control is particularly important during germination and establishment. Thin closely spaced plants to encourage good root size. Avoid deep cultivation. Rutabagas do not like competition so keep the weeds away!


Diseases are shared with all cabbage family members.  Crop rotation, quick removal of infected plants and keeping your plot free of plant debris are your best defense.

Typical suspects are aphids and flea beetles.  They are also subject to the same pests as cabbage—cabbage looper, cabbage maggots and cabbageworms but they aren’t as common.  Floating row covers can reduce these bugs.


Harvest leaves at any time after they reach full size. Remember the root won’t grow if it doesn’t have enough leaves for photosynthesis. 

Roots are mature 60-80 days from seeding. Harvest roots before they’re 5- 7” inches or they may be woody.  Root flavor is enhanced after a few frosts. Use a digging fork to loosen soil and pull up plants by the tops and trim off leaves.


Rutabagas are quite tolerant to light frosts. Many gardeners overwinter some rutabagas and turnips under heavy mulches and soil in the garden.

Rutabagas can be stored for 3-5 weeks in a cool, dry place.  They will keep for months left in the garden with mulch layer over the top.


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