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Rutabaga Seed Starting Tips

Rutabaga in garden 1

Rutabaga in the gardenRutabaga 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.

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

Rutabaga Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Start rutabagas from seed sown directly in the garden.
  • 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.
  • The 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 beetroot 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.

Rutabaga Interplanting

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

Rutabaga Container Growing

  • Choose a container 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) deep.
Rutabaga in garden
Rutabagas in the garden

Rutabaga Recommend Planting Calendar

  • 8-6 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow in a plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • 6-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct sow in the garden; minimum soil temperature is 40°F.

For Fall and Winter Harvest:

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

Rutabaga 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.

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. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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