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Beets and Swiss Chard Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Beets in row
Beet growing problems
Beets and Chard Growing Problems: Grow beets in spring and fall in warm summer regions, in summer and late fall in mild summer regions, and in summer and early fall in cool summer regions.

Beets grow best in cool weather.

For best fresh eating, harvest beats when they are half grown–about six weeks after sowing. Beets will still be good eating when grown to full size.

Thinning beets is important: thin first when roots begin to thicken–the tops will be young and tender and can be served fresh in salads. Keep an eye on maturing roots and thin once more to make sure beets don’t grow crowded; crowded beets will not be flavorful.

Swiss chard–chard–is a close relative of the beet. Chard shares many of the growing techniques of beets, and many of the same pest and disease problems.

For beet growing tips see Beet Growing Success Tips at the bottom of this post.

Common beet and chard growing problems:

• Seedlings fail to emerge. Temperatures were too high when beets were planted; seed fail to germinate in hot weather. Mulch planting bed with aged compost. Keep planting bed evenly moist until seedlings emerge.

• Seeds rot or seedlings collapse with dark water-soaked stems as soon as they appear. Damping off is a fungus that lives in the soil, particularly where humidity is high. Do not plant in cold, moist soil. Make sure soil is well drained.

• Seedlings are eaten or cut off near soil level. Cutworms are gray grubs ½- to ¾-inch long that can be found curled under the soil. They chew stems, roots, and leaves. Place a 3-inch paper collar around the stem of the plant. Keep the garden free of weeds; sprinkle wood ash around base of plants.

• Leaves curl under are deformed and yellowish; shiny specks on leaves. Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Use insecticidal soap.

• Tiny shot-holes in leaves of seedlings. Flea beetles are tiny bronze or black beetles a sixteenth of an inch long. They eat small holes in the leaves of seedlings and small transplants. The larvae feed on roots of germinating plants. Spread diatomaceous earth around seedling. Cultivate often to disrupt life cycle. Keep garden clean. Dust with Sevin or rotenone.

• Irregular small holes eaten in leaves. Cabbage looper is a light green caterpillar with yellow stripes running down the back; it loops as it walks. Keep garden clean of debris where adult brownish night-flying moth can lay eggs. Cover plants with spun polyester to exclude moths. Pick loppers off by hand. Use Bacillus thuringiensis. Dust with Sevin or rotenone.

• Leaves are eaten; plants are partially defoliated. Blister beetles eat leaves. Handpick insects and destroy. Keep the garden free of weeds and debris. Cultivate in spring to kill larvae and interrupt the life cycle. Pick off beetles by hand. Spray or dust with Sevin or use a pyrethrum or rotenone spray.

• Leaves partially eaten; leaves webbed together; eggs in rows on undersides of leaves. Beet or garden webworms are green with a light stripe to ¾ inches long; the webworm is the larvae of a brownish yellow moth with gray markings. Larvae spin light webs. Clip off and destroy webbed leaves. Destroy caterpillars. Keep garden weed free.

• Leaves and stems are partially defoliated. Armyworms or grasshoppers. Armyworms are dark green caterpillars the larvae of a mottled gray moth with a wingspan of 1½ inches. Armyworms mass and eat leaves, stems, and roots of many crops. Armyworms will live inside webs on leaves. Handpick caterpillars and destroy. Grasshoppers are brown, reddish yellow, or green with long bodies, prominent jaws, and enlarged hind legs. Trap in quart jars filled with 1 part molasses and 9 parts water set in the garden at soil level. Cultivate in fall to disturb life cycle. Spray with Sevin, rotenone.

• Trails of silver slime on leaves; leaves eaten. Snails and slugs feed on leaves. Reduce hiding places by keeping garden free of debris. Handpick from under boards set in garden as shelter-traps. Use a shallow dish of beer with the lip at ground level to attract and drown snails and slugs.

• Trails and tunnels in leaves. The leafminer larvae tunnel inside leaves. Destroy infected leaves and cultivate the garden to destroy larvae and keep adult flies from laying eggs. Cover crops with floating row covers or cheesecloth.

• Mottled light and dark green pattern on leaves; leaves are distorted and may become brittle and easily broken; plants are stunted. Mosaic virus has no cure; it is spread from plant to plant by aphids and leafhoppers. Remove diseased plants; there is no cure for disease. Remove broadleaf weeds that serve as virus reservoir.

• Twisted, brittle stalks; plants yellowed and stunted. Aster yellows is a mycoplasma disease spread by leafhoppers. Remove infected plants. Control leafhoppers. Keep the garden free of weeds which can harbor disease.

• Leaf veins turn purple and leaves curl or pucker upward; plants are stunted. Curly top virus is spread by leafhoppers. The leaves will become thick and leathery or brittle and the plant stops growing. Once the virus hits remove and destroy infected plants. Control leafhoppers.

• Irregular yellowish to brownish spots on upper leaf surfaces; grayish powder or moldly fuzz on undersides; roots may later be rough or cracked. Downy mildew is caused by a fungus. Improve air circulation. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Keep garden free of weeds and plant debris.

• Small round spots with tan-brown centers, margins are purple; spots may drop out leaving ragged holes. Cercospora leaf spot is a fungal disease common where rainfall is heavy and temperatures are warm. Pick off and destroy affected leaves. Keep weeds down in the garden area; they harbor fungal spores. Avoid overhead watering.

• Leaves turn red. Leaves can turn from green to red when temperatures dip to freezing. This is not harmful to beets. Some varieties have naturally red leaves.

• Grubs feed on roots; plant is stunted. Grayish white grub is the larvae of the June beetle, a reddish brown or black hard shelled beetle to 1 inch long. Keep the garden clean and free of debris where beetles can shelter. Use rotenone spray or dust to control beetles.

• Leaf margins reddish; leaf tips die; leaves become crinkled; corky black spots in roots or roots cracked. Boron deficiency. Test soil. If deficient, add 2 ounces of borax per 30 square yards. Boron deficiency is found in soil that is either too alkaline or too acidic. Test soil. Maintain pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

• Cracked roots. Inadequate watering. Keep soil evenly moist. Also see boron deficiency above.

• Misshapen roots. Overcrowding; lumpy heavy clay soil. Thin beets early. Add aged compost and organic material to planting bed and keep soil loose. Remove clods and rocks.

• Hard, woody roots. Roots over mature; harvest just before full days to maturity. Soil may have gone dry; keep soil evenly moist. Do not leaves beets in the ground if the weather turns very warm. Warm weather can cause beets to form hairy side roots.

• Scabby or corky roots. Scab bacterium or fungus. This problem is not discovered until harvest. Keep garden clean of plant debris. Add aged compost to planting beds and keep the soil well drained. Rotate crops.

• White rings inside roots. Drought or heavy rains following extended hot weather. Soil dries and then is wet. Flavor will be affected–strong tasting. Keep soil as evenly moist as possible; do not allow soil to dry out after watering or rains.

• Plants flower. Beets are biennials; overwintered plants will naturally flower in spring. Young plants exposed to temperatures below 50°F may also be tricked by the weather into thinking they are in their second season and may flower prematurely. Lift roots if plants begin to flower.

Beet and Chard Growing Success Tips:

Planting. Grow beets and chard in full sun; beets for greens can be grown in partial shade. Beets and chard grow best in loose, well-drained soil; add aged compost to the planting beds and keep beds free of clods, stones, and plant debris.

Planting time. Beets and chard grow best as cool-season crops. Sow beets and chard in the garden as early as 4 weeks before the last average frost date in spring. Succession crops can be planted every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest. In warm-summer regions, do not plant beets and chard from mid-spring through mid-summer. Sow beets and chard for fall harvest about 8 weeks before the average first frost date in fall. In mild-winter regions, beets and chard can be sown until late autumn and can be left in the ground for harvest through the winter.

Care. For best root development, thin beets to about 2 inches apart. Beet seedlings emerge in clusters; when the first true leaves form, thin with a small scissors leaving the strongest seedling in each cluster. Keep planting beds free of weeds; weeds will rob beets of nutrients, moisture, and flavor. Keep beets and chard evenly moist for quick growth and best flavor.

Harvest. Beets for greens can be cut early when the leaves are young and tender. The same goes for chard. Young beet roots can be harvested about 6 weeks after sowing. Wait a bit longer for larger roots. Beets and chard that mature in hot weather will be poorly flavored. Lift spring beets before daytime temperatures average greater than 70°F. Start the fall harvest when daytime temperatures are consistently in the 50s.

More tips: How to Grow Beets and How to Grow Chard.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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    • Make sure your soil is free of stones or impediments. Feed your beetroots with a low nitrogen, higher phosphorus organic fertilizer. Keep the soil evenly moist for optimal growth; do not let the soil dry out.

  1. I believe that I have slugs on the leaves at night on my beet leaves. Besides the beer, what can I apply to stop these critters?

    • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of plants–this will act as a barrier that slugs will not want to cross. Look around the garden for shady and cool places where slugs take shelter during the day. You can clean up those areas or handpick the slugs and drop them in soapy water.

  2. I started my beets in small containers and transplanted the seedlings in my garden in the spring. They looked great, but when I went to harvest them, the beets were very small. What happened?

    • The beets may be small for a few reasons: (1) they did not take well to being transplanted; root crops can be hard to transplant without damaging the root tips and growth; (2) they beets were transplanted too close together–be sure to leave at least 4 inches between each plant for full development; (3) watering was inconsistent during the growing season and so the plants were stunted.

  3. I am growing rainbow chard and the only problems I think I’ve been having trouble with is the grasshoppers but I kill them as soon as I see them but the leaves don’t seem to be growing to their potential size and I don’t know what I can do to make them grow bigger than the size they are. I have them in their own 5 gallon containers and I feed them fish fertilizer and kelp and still they aren’t growing to the sizes I see other people growing them mine are like 4 inches long the leaves are tiny.. how can I fix this?

    • Growing in containers is always a challenge. Do not overfeed–you are using a very good fertilizer. Keep the soil evenly moist–that is just moist to the touch (do not let the soil dry out, do not overwater); soil too dry or too wet can stunt plant growth. Be sure your chard is getting 6 or more hours of direct sun each day, and keep it away from constant breezes. Too little sun and too much wind are environmental factors that can stunt plant growth.

  4. Why do beets sometimes lack color. A lot of my red beets were red outside, but very white inside. I had one very large beet that was totally beige. It may have been a golden variety I guess. But I have always wondered if there is anything I could do. This is a great website. I did see every other beet malady I ever encountered discussed and many I have gratefully never encountered.

    • Red beet roots may be off color as a result of high temperatures or uneven watering during root development. It’s best to water beets regularly–keeping the soil evenly moist, not letting it dry out, and harvest roots before hot weather arrives.

  5. I planted beets that had already partly been grown into a pot . Beets leaves are growing like crazy . I just noticed that some of the leaves are turning into seeds , but the beet has not grown .. Any suggestions ?

    • The weather has grown warm and your cool-weather beets are setting seed because they expect to die soon–so they want to reproduce. This process is called bolting. When the beet plant bolts, it will not produce a root; the season is over for your beets. Time the planting of beets so that they come to maturity when the weather is cool–preferably 60-65F/15-18C; you can plant when the weather is warm, but harvest should come when temperatures are cool.

  6. Hello. Thank you for your willingness to answer questions. My beet roots have a black, woody middle occupying a little to a large portion of the beet root from the center out. What causes this problem in your learned opinion? Thank you.

    • Black spots inside beet root can be caused by a boron deficiency in the soil. The soil is either too acid or too alkaline which results in the plant not being able to take up boron–a minor, but important, soil element. Soil too dry can worsen the problem. Check the soil pH and adjust it to between 6.2 and 7.0. Foliar spray or sidedress beets with seaweed extract.

    • There could be a couple of reasons for the smooth indentations the beets: (1) pebbles or clods in the soil that inhibit the development of the root–make sure the planting bed is free of all pebbles and debris; (2) uneven watering–the soil has gone dry and the uptake of moisture into the root cells was interrupted; (3) hot temperatures–again causing an uneven uptake of soil moisture and nutrients.

  7. I planted beets last fall; a few are still alive 14 months later. We had a very wet summer. Some of the stems developed an enlarged area, a knob perhaps 2″ in circumference. It looks like a woody root. New leaves are growing from it. What is this knob? Can it be planted as a new root?

    • A beet “seed” is usually multiple seeds set in a cluster (usually 3 to 5 seeds). It could be that a second seed in the seed cluster germinated and began to grow alongside the first seed that germinated. The beet is a biennial meaning it flowers after the original root has gone through a winter or period of cold. Because you beet is in its second season it will flower and drop seed to the garden–and a new beet plant will grow. A beet 14 months old will be woody and at the end of its life.

  8. My beetroot appears to have some lumpy growths on the surface, with some white colour worm like creatures crawling in them, sometimes the head is mishapened too. I gow them in planting bags filled mith cocopeat. Can you advise, please..

    • Bumps on the roots of beets is likely a fungal disease called beet scab. Beet scab can occur when the soil does not stay evenly moist or in soil that is on the sandy side and too well-drained. Adding organic matter to the soil and keeping the soil evenly moist can help prevent scab. A soil pH of 5.5 or lower can help prevent beetroot scab–adding aged compost can bring the pH down. The worms are likely beetroot maggots (these are the larvae of a fly); beetroot maggots are most active in July and August. Root maggots are found in moist soil–where flys like to lay their eggs. Ironically, frequent irrigation keeps the maggots from going deeper into the soil where they will eat the beetroots. While you can eat beetroots that are infected with scab you will likely not want to eat beetroots that contain maggots. Dispose of the soil and replant in new soil.

  9. Hello; I have been growing my beets all summer and just recently ‘something’ is eating the beet roots to my disappointment; therefore they can’t grow to their full potential, as parts of the beet are missing, and in some cases the entire beet! This culprit must have very sharp teeth as beets are generally quite tough to chew through! Any idea what this may be and what I can do about it? a row cover perhaps pinned down very well? Thanks.

    • Late in summer, many mammals are looking for sources of both food and moisture. Do you see any sign of underground disturbance–mounds of soil or furrows–which may indicate groundhogs (also known as woodchucks), moles, voles, and rabbits. If this is the case you can place traps or repellants in the garden (both you will find at a nearby garden center). If you are seeing holes in the beets the size of a grub then rootworms might be the culprit; these are the larvae of flies. Covering the crop with a row cover would keep these pests away.

    • Beets should germinate in 5 to 10 days at temperatures between 50 and 75F. Poor germination will occur if temperatures are too cold or too warm. Poor germination will also occur in the seeds were planted too deep; beet seeds should be planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in moistened soil. The seed must make contact with the soil to germinate; so moisten the soil and firm the soil after sowing so that the seed makes good contact with the soil. Poor germination after 30 days; you would be advised to re-sow new seed.

  10. I planted seeds directly in my garden the other day but the next day, there were holes all throughout the rows where I planted. What could be eating my seeds immediately upon planting them?

    • Depending on the size of the holes–the first suspects would be birds. Birds are likely foraging for seeds early in spring. Place a spun-poly row cover over you seedbed and tuck it in so that birds or critters can not get under the cover. You can also place hoops over the planting bed and cover it with a row cover now and later with bird netting.

  11. After some issue with labelling seeds, I now have Beetroot, Rhubarb Chard and Perpetual Spinach growing but I do not know which is which. Do you have any tips on how I can identify which each plant is (some were split into separate pots before I realised beetroot would produce more than a single seedling from a seed)?

    • These crops will look very much the same until they grow to 8 or so inches tall–then you can begin to distinguish each one by the shape and size of the leaves. At this site there are several articles that have photos of plants as seedlings; go to the Index then to the section called Seed Starting Specific Crops; photos there may help you identify your crops.

  12. I’m fairly certain I’m going to lose my four rows of beets to damping off. I can see they are very weak where the stem meets the root. I’ve pulled a few and they have almost no root at all. The leaves are about five inches high and otherwise the plants look like they’re thriving. My question: can I pull them now and at least enjoy the greens? Any reason you shouldn’t eat the greens of a beet with damping off? Thank you! This site was incredibly helpful.

    • If you see no sign of disease on the stems or leaves, you can harvest them now and eat them. Replant in another location and sprinkle horticultural sand around the plants; this will help the soil surface to dry after watering.

  13. All of my beets died. The leaves started to turn brown and eventually would slowly turn the entire leaf brown until it effected all the plants. The carrots next to them are totally healthy. I have a plant in a pot next to the bed which I fertilized with holly tone for acid loving plants. I could smell it in the air, do you think that killed the beets or was it a fungus? Thank you

    • Assuming the soil did not go dry or was over-fertilized, the beets may have been hit by a fungal or viral disease. Curly top virus is spread by leafhoppers; it can cause leaves to die back. Leaf spot fungal disease can also cause leaf dieback. Remove the plants and replace the soil before you replant. Keep an eye out for insects that feed on the leaves; spray with insecticidal soap.

  14. I planted my seeds in a mixture of peat moss compost and triple mix in a wooden box 8″deep x 8″ wide they get watered daily have full sun but the plants are only an inch high and have been planted for four weeks

    • Feed the seedlings a dilute solution of fish emulsion; this will give them a boost. If daytime temps are very hot, shield the plants from mid day sun.

    • It is likely the beets stayed in the ground too long; mark your calendar when you plant then be sure to harvest on the date of maturity–as noted on the seed packet. Do not overwater the roots; keep the soil just moist allowing it to dry at the surface between waterings.

    • Use a different seed starting mix or move the plants to a different bed; prepare the bed by making sure the soil is moist two days before planting; when the seedling are two or three inches tall begin feeding them a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 7 to 10 days until they are 6 inches tall.

  15. For the past couple of years, I’ve had something like a thin core running down the middle of my beats. What is going on? Is it the hot weather?

    • Maintain uniform soil moisture, lower the soil pH to 5.3 (for beets), and add organic matter such as aged compost and manure to the bed at the end of the season. You may also want to have the soil tested to see if there is a boron deficiency.

  16. My beetroot have been in the ground 3 months and oly a few hav roots developed the rest have nothing beneath the leaves, i have tried putting on phosphates and no better.
    Can these be resued if so what with.

  17. I have had my beet sown since May and at best a few are golf ball size most have developed no root at all. Are these finished and should I give up expecting them to get bigger and dig them up, for the compost.

    • Beets golf ball size are edible; after 3 months they may gain a bit in size, but likely not much more. Be sure to thin the young plants early so there is plenty of room for root growth. You can sow beets again in late summer and autumn for harvest in early winter.

  18. In my beet field there is huge grubs inside the soil and that will kill the roots of beet pls suggest me how to kill that grubs and which pesticide is better
    Right now our beet is 4weeks completed trots developing stage

    • Grubs are the larvae of insects. Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki. You can also place floating row covers over the planting beds after seeds are sown. This will exclude flying pests. On the offseason, you can solarize the soil by placing black plastic over the planting area for 4 to 6 weeks.

  19. Hi ,

    My beet has good leaf growth . So I thought it was time to harvest , when I checked there was no beets grown . There was only root . It was more than 3 months

    • Use a low nitrogen fertilizer such as 0-5-5 or 5-10-10; too much nitrogen will result in leafy growth at the expense of root growth. When seedlings are a few inches tall be sure to thin the plants to at least 4 to 6 inches apart; this will give roots space to grow.

  20. Last year was the first year we planted in our refurbished garden. We had the soil tested in the middle of the summer. The cooperative extension service agent read the report and said the soil was fine for nutrients, alkalinity and organic matter. The harvest in September produced pencil thin beets. I saw that one reason may be overcrowding and not thinning but I asked my wife about this and she said the beets were thinned. We do live in Alaska but other gardeners do not seem to have this problem. What can be the cause and the remedy? Thank you.

    • Thin the beets to 4 to 5 inches apart once they are 4 to 6 inches tall. Feed the plants with a soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium such as 5-10-10. Phosphorus supports root growth. Give the roots room to grow round and large.

  21. Hi I am trying to conduct a project based on THE EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT FERTILIZERS ON BEETROOTS?…I was wondering: what exactly is an unsolved problem that many encounter based on the use of fertilizers??

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