Growing Rutabagas

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Rutabagas


Though similar to turnips, rutabagas have a sweet flavor and will taste best if harvested past the first few frosts.

University of Virginia

Rutabagas, or swedes, are a biennial typically grown as an annual. They are root vegetables grown for both their golden root and their greens. Here’s how to plant and grow rutabagas in your garden!

Rutabagas are often mixed up with turnips. They require very similar care to turnips, though they take longer to reach maturity. Unlike turnip greens, rutabaga foilage is smooth, waxy, and blue-green. The root is usually yellow-fleshed, while turnip roots are generally white-fleshed.

Rutabaga is a cool-weather crop, and it tolerates frost and drought. It is primarily grown in the northern United States, Canada, and northern Europe.


  • Select a site that gets full sun. Soil should be well-drained.
  • Sow seeds as soon as you can work the soil. Plant seed 2 inches apart and ½-inch deep in early to mid-summer, about three months before the expected harvest.
  • Rows should be 14 to 18 inches apart.
  • Seeds should germinate in 4 to 7 days in 45ºF to 85ºF weather. Sustained average temperature over 80ºF might cause excessively fast growth, called “bolting.”
  • After germination, rutabagas should be thinned to 6 inches apart.


  • Fertilizers can be applied when the seeds are planted, and nitrogen and organic material can be beneficial to rutabagas. Learn more about soil amendments.
  • Water at a rate of 1 to 1-½ inches per week, either with rainwater or irrigation. Watering is most important as the roots reach maturity.
  • Control weeds in the area with frequent, shallow irrigation.


  • Flea beetles
  • Root maggots
  • Aphids
  • Wireworms
  • Root diseases like clubroot and root knot
  • White rust


  • Rutabagas are ready to harvest when the roots are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Roots at this size will be especially tender.
  • It is best to wait until the roots are 4 to 5 inches in diameter for optimal taste.
  • Rutabagas taste best if harvested after a few light frosts.
  • Rutabaga foliage can be harvested along with the roots.
  • Before storing rutabagas, the foliage should be cut off to within 1 inch of the crown with a sharp knife. They can be stored for about 4 months at temperatures just above freezing and in a damp environment with 90 to 95 percent humidity.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • Rutabagas might have originated from a mix between a turnip and a cabbage.
  • Rutabagas were originally raised and eaten as animal fodder, but humans soon recognized their nutritional and tasteful potential. They are low in calories but high in fiber, and their chief nutrient is carbohydrates.
  • When added to salt, powder from rutabaga seeds is a folk remedy for cancer. Rutabagas, along with other root vegetables, are high in anticarcinogenic compounds.
  • Rutabagas were among the early jack-o-lanterns (they didn’t always use pumpkins!). Try spicing up your Halloween decorations next fall with a carved rutabaga.


Cooking Notes

Rutabaga is a favorite in soups and salads. Rutabagas are often confused with turnips, but they actually have a sweeter flavor than these cousins. Just like turnips, they should be washed and peeled before they are cooked or eaten raw.

Growing Rutabagas

Botanical Name Brassica napobrassica
Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Slightly Acidic to Neutral
Bloom Time
Flower Color
Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Special Features