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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Beets

Beets in rows
Growing beets in garden
Beet near harvest

Beets are a cool-weather crop. Beets can again be planted 2 to 3 weeks before the last average frost date in spring or in late summer or early autumn 6 to 8 weeks before the first average frost in autumn. Beets can be grown as a winter crop in mild-winter regions.

Beets are biennial plants grown as annuals. They are grown for their swollen roots and also for their leaves. There are two main beet types: globe-shaped and long-rooted. Beetroots can be red, orange, gold, yellow, white, and even concentrically ringed roots. A rosette of large edible leaves sprouts from the root; green leaves can have red, yellow, or white veins.

Here is your complete guide to growing beets!

Beets Quick Growing Tips

  • Beets thrive in moderate temperatures from 50°F to 65°F (10-18°C).
  • Sow beets in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the last average frost date in spring.
  • Continue succession plantings every 3 weeks until temperatures reach 80°F (26°C).
  • Beets require 45 to 65 days to reach harvest.
  • Yield: Plant 5 to 10 beets per household member. Yield can vary by variety. You will likely harvest about 15 pounds (7kg) of beets per 10 feet (3m) of row.

Where to Plant Beets

  • Grow beets in full sun or partial shade in warm regions.
  • Grow beets in a dedicated bed or plant them along the edge of planting bed.
  • Plant beets in well-worked loose soil rich in organic matter. Be sure to remove all stones and clods from planting beds so as not to impede or split growing roots.
  • Add plenty of aged compost to growing beds in advance of planting; this will increase the yield. Alternatively, add 3 cups (700ml) of dried seaweed per 100 square feet (9 sq m).
  • Beets grow best where the soil pH is 6.0 to 6.8; the ideal soil pH is 6.5.
  • Add only aged manure to the soil; fresh manures are high in nitrogen and cause beetroots to fork, twist, or be “hairy.”
  • If you have alkaline (chalky) or recently limed soil, the soil could be deficient in boron. Carefully sprinkle 1 to 1.5 tablespoons (6-9g) of household borax along 100 feet (30m) of row and work it into the soil. Do not overuse borax; it can be toxic.
Young beets growing in rows
Space beets so that roots have plenty of room to mature.

When to Planting Beets in Spring

  • Sow beets in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the last average frost date in spring. 
  • The soil temperature should be at least 50°F (10°C), especially if you have experienced damping-off disease.
  • Beets will grow faster in spring when covered with a row cover which will provide protection from chilling temperatures and wind.
  • For an early start, sow beet seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost; harden off and transplant outside 4 weeks later.
  • Soak seeds in warm water overnight before planting; this will speed germination.
  • Beet seeds are large; a beet seed is actually a cluster of two to five seeds known as a multigerm. You do not need to break beet seed clusters apart; instead, thin seedlings that grow close together.

Succession Planting Beets

  • Beets require 45 to 65 days to reach harvest. 
  • Beets can be planted in succession from early to late spring and again in late summer and fall.
  • Continue succession plantings every 3 weeks until temperatures reach 80°F (26°C).
  • In hot-summer regions, stop sowing 60 days before the summer heat arrives. In hot weather, beetroots will become woody. 
  • As beets are harvested, you can sow new beet seeds or set out transplants to fill the spot.
  • Include beets in your root crop rotation in spring and autumn.

Beets Planting Time for Autumn Harvest

  • Beets can again be planted in late summer or early autumn 6 to 8 weeks before the first average frost in autumn. This will be the fall and winter storage crop, so sow only once, planting as much as you will need for winter.
  • When direct sowing during summer, keep the soil constantly moist or germination will be poor.

Beets Planting for Winter Harvest

  • Grow beets as a winter crop in mild-winter regions. Late plantings that mature through winter will be the sweetest because the roots store sugars during cool weather.
  • Beets can tolerate frost but will go to seed if temperatures are too cold.

More details: Planting Beets.

Planting and Spacing Beets

  • Beets are grown from seed clusters about the size of a small pea. Each cluster contains several tiny true seeds. Presoak seed clusters for 12 hours before sowing to help speed germination.
  • Sow seed clusters 1 inch (2.5cm) deep and 1 inch apart. Seeds can be broadcast. Broadcast seeds lightly over a 15 to 18-inch (38-45cm)-wide bed. Seedlings will need to be thinned once they are about 5 inches tall (thinned plants can be eaten as greens).
  • Seedlings will sprout in clumps. Use small scissors to thin successful seedlings to 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) apart when seedlings are 3 inches tall. Alternatively, you can gently separate young seedlings and replant the extra seedlings in a row nearby.
  • Space rows 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) apart. Add thinned seedlings to salads. Beets generally do not transplant well.
  • Starting beet seeds indoors: If you start seeds indoors, sow one seed cluster per peat pot and thin seedlings to one plant per pot when the first true leaves emerge. Start seeds in a sterile seed starting mix. Use a seed-starting heat mat to warm the soil to between 60°F and 85°F to speed germination. Use a grow light and turn pots or trays every couple of days until plants are ready to go in the garden.
  • Planting Transplants: Because beet seeds will not germinate in heavy clay soil, transplants are a better choice. Set each seedling at the desired final spacing. Be very careful on to harm the roots when transplanting beet seedlings.

More tips: Beets Seed Starting Tips.

Companion Plants for Beets

  • Plant beets with onions and kohlrabi.
  • Do not plant with pole beans and shading crops.

Container Growing Beets

  • Beets can be grown in containers. Thin seedlings to 4-inch (10cm) centers.

Watering Beets.

  • Keep beets evenly watered. Do not let the soil dry out. Lack of water will cause roots to become stunted, stringy, and tough.
  • Beets need about 1 inch of water each week; that is equivalent to 6 gallons per square yard.
  • Use the finger test: push your index finger into the soil if comes out dry, it’s time to water.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of seeding.

Feeding Beets

  • Side dress beets with compost at midseason.
  • Do not fertilize feeds with a high-nitrogen fertilizer; that will result in leaf growth and poor root growth.
  • Fertilize beets when sprouts first appear and again one month later. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation; less fertilizer is better than more fertilizer.

Caring for Beets

  • Mulching Beets: To conserve soil moisture and keep down weeds, water the beets well and then put down a layer of mulch between the rows at least 4 inches (10cm) deep. If slugs are a problem, wait until the plants are a few inches tall before mulching. Mulching around beets will keep the sun off of root tops. Beet roots exposed to sun will be less flavorful.
  • Hilling Beets: As beetroots grow, the roots can push themselves out of the ground, so hill up soil around roots as necessary.
  • Weeding Near Beets: If weeds grow near beets, remove them by hand rather than using tools. A hoe or trowel can nick the developing beetroots and expose them to disease. Keep planting beds weed-free to avoid competition for water and nutrients.
  • Thinning Beets: Thin beets as soon as they are about 3 inches (7.6cm) tall to avoid crowding which can hinder root growth.
  • Young Plants Go to Seed: If young plants flower and go to seed it is likely caused by temperatures below 50°F (10°C) or lack of moisture. Adjust the planting time to avoid cold exposure; keep the soil consistently moist.

Beet Root Problems

  • Black spots or brown hearts in roots can be caused by a lack of boron in the soil. Cut away the discolored parts and the rest is edible. If the soil is chalky or has been recently limed, rake boron into the soil, 1.5 teaspoons per square yard, or feed plants with calcified seaweed.

Beet Pests

  • Ragged holes in leaves may be caused by slugs, beet armyworms, or garden webworms; handpick caterpillars of spray with BTK when small; trap and kill slugs.
  • Spinach leafminer larvae can tunnel through leaves; cover newly planted area with row covers to prevent damage.
  • Aphids feed on beet leaves; their excrement is called “honeydew” which attracts ants. Knock aphids from plants with a steady stream of water or use insecticidal soap.
  • Cutworms feed on beet roots and stems; the larvae can be hand collected or killed by diatomaceous earth.

Beet Diseases

  • Brown spots on leaves can be caused by Cercospora leaf spots; pick and destroy affected leaves; roots are edible.
  • Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that leaves a white dusty coating on leaves. Spray with a fungicide and avoid overhead watering.

Beet pests and disease help: Beet Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

Cook beet roots
Cooked beetroots

Harvesting and Storing Beets

  • Beets will reach harvestable size–1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6cm) in diameter–40 to 80 days after sowing.
  • To check to see if beets are large enough for harvest, gently move the soil away from the shoulders of the roots to check the root diameter. Check seed packets for recommended root size at harvest.
  • Lift beets gently. Twist the leaves off rather than cutting them off to prevent juices from bleeding.
  • Baby beets are ready for harvest about 40 days after planting. Full-size beets will be ready about 2 to 3 weeks later. Roots about the size of a golf ball will have optimal flavor. ‘Lutz Greenleaf’ variety will be flavorful when as large as a softball. Golden beets will be flavorful when the size of a baseball.
  • Beets left in the ground past maturity will become woody and tough and lose flavor.
  • Young beet green tops can be cut for salads about one month after planting. Don’t harvest too much foliage while the root is developing. Rinse the greens to remove grit before cooking or serving.

Storing and Preserving Beets

  • Beets will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 weeks. Remove soil from roots before storing, but it is not necessary to wash the roots until just before use.
  • Beet greens will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 1 week.
  • Unwashed beets will keep for 1 to 3 months in damp sawdust in a cold, moist place. Beets can be frozen and dried.
  • For long-term storage, you can pack beets in containers of moist sand or peat and keep them in an unheated basement or garage (40-50°F/4.5-10°C is ideal). Small beets will not store as long as larger beets.
  • In cold-winter regions, you can store beets in an outdoor pit lined with dry leaves and straw. Layer the beets on top of a bed of straw, then cover them with a heavy layer of straw.

More harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Beets.

Beets in the Kitchen

  • Beets can be roasted, boiled, grilled, baked, or pickled.
  • Beets can be grated, cut into wedges, and julienned like French fries.
  • Serve beets alone or tossed in a salad.
  • Ukrainian beet soup is called borscht.
  • Beet tops, called beet greens, can be sauteed or added to soup.

Beets Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How should I plant beet seeds?

Beet seeds come in clusters so sow thinly, about 10 seeds per foot. Sow beet seeds 1 inch deep. You can plant up to a month before the last frost date. Beets are one of the few root crops that grow well from transplants. You can keep planting every two weeks until midsummer, and then again 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Beets grow best in light, sandy soil.

Q: When should I start harvesting beets?

A: Thin beets when the green and young roots are about the size of a quarter–about 1 inch. You can eat the thinnings–baby beets. Harvest greens anytime with the “cut-and-come-again” approach. Harvest larger beets when they are 2 to 3 inches across; don’t let the roots get bigger, they will become woody and tough. In warm climates, beets can be left in the ground in the fall and harvested through the winter as needed.

Q: What causes beets to be flavorless?

A: Hot weather can ruin beetroots. Harvest roots before the hot summer weather in the meantime try to keep the roots cool and moist.

Beet Varieties to Grow

Choose a beet variety that meets your needs and that will be ready for harvest after a hard frost in early spring or before a hard frost in autumn. Best root size for flavor is listed for most.

  • Beet Varieties. ‘Detroit Dark Red’ (52 days); ‘Early Wonder’ (53 days); ‘Burpee’s Golden’ (55 days); ‘Bulls’s Blood’ (50 days); ‘Ruby Queen’ (56 days); ‘Little Ball’ (56 days); ‘Cylindra’, also called ‘Formanova’ or ‘Tendersweet’ (60 days); ‘Long Season’ also called ‘Winter Keeper’ (80 days).
  • ‘Avalance’ is an open-pollinated white beet inside and out. It is an All-America Selection winter; grow from seed in 55 days.
  • ‘Bolder’ is a golden-colored beet that is bright yellow inside; root diameter is 2 to 3 inches; grow from seed in 55 days.
  • ‘Burpee’s Golden’ has sweet golden flesh which is nonstaining; the greens can be used for cooking or salads; grow from seed in 55 days.
  • ‘Chioggia’ is an Italian heirloom that has sweet roots with rings of red and white when sliced; use the greens in place of spinach; 2-inch roots are round and semi-flat; grow from seed in 54 days.
  • ‘Cylindra’ has long dark red roots which are ideal for pickling; ready for harvest 60 days from seed.
  • ‘Early Wonder Tall Top’ is an open-pollinated variety that matures in 45 days; grows best in early spring; deep red round roots are 3 to 4 inches in diameter; green leaves appear on purple stems.
  • ‘Lutz Green Leaf’ is a good choice for winter storage; it has a dark red root and tasty greens; ready 70 to 80 days from seed sowing.
  • ‘Red Ace’ is fast growing hybrid with sweet round roots 3 to 4 inches in diameter and tasty greens; it is resistant to leaf spot; ready 50 to 55 days from seed.
  • ‘Ruby Queen’ is an open-pollinated beet about 3.5 inches in diameter; deep red inside with pink rings. Grow to maturity in 65 days.
  • ‘Subeto’ is a smooth-skinned round red beet that grows to 1.5 inches in diameter; grows to maturity in 50 days.
  • ‘Zeppo’ is a mild-flavored hybrid with uniform, round red roots to 2 inches in diameter; grows to maturity in 50 days

About Beets

  • Common name. Beet, beetroot (United Kingdom), garden beet, red beet, beet greens
  • Botanical name. Beta vulgaris (Swiss chard and sugar beets are related to beets)
  • Origin. Southern Europe
  • Beet cultivars: Beets come in all shades of red; new cultivars are yellow or white on the inside.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Beets.

Grow 80 vegetables:THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

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.

Comments

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    • Be sure to thin the young seedlings from 5 to 6 inches apart; this will allow roots to develop. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil, leafy tops will develop without roots. Use a 5-10-10 fertilizer to ensure there is phosphorus in the soil.

  1. Hi. I planted some golden burpee beets and watermelon radish seeds almost a month ago in little pots. They germinated ok. But then just stopped growing altogether. They each have the initial two little leaves but then nothing. Is this normal or will they have a growth spurt later on? They are being grown on a sunny windowsill.

    • Give the young plants a boost–try a dilute solution of fish emulsion, that is half of what is recommended on the label. If they remain healthy looking they should start growing.

    • The young seedlings may be stymied by cool night temperatures; protect the plants with a row cover. Be sure they are getting a full-day of sunshine. Keep the soil just moist, not wet.

    • Yes. Dampen the paper towel; place the seeds on the towel and fold it over the seeds; place the seeds and towel in a plastic baggie and keep in warm, well-lit place until the seeds germinate.

  2. I grew my Beetroot from seeds & have had great success, so I transplanted them into a prepared garden & they have remained the same size for nearly 2 weeks with no progress whatsoever.
    None have died, nothing is eating them & the little plants look extremely healthy.
    I live in Brisbane Australia – sub tropical climate- should I check my soil is as loose as it needs to be as soil PH seems correct

    • Slow to no growth of healthy plants can be caused by environmental factors; temperatures too warm or too cold; cloud cover or lack of sun; too little or too much water. If temperature could be a fact, wait until the weather cools–or if the weather is cold, place a row cover over the seedlings until they gain strength.

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