How to grow turnips
All you need to know about growing delicious turnips, in our detailed Grow Guide.
Turnips may not have a glamorous reputation, but small, young turnips and their green leafy tops are secretly gourmet vegetables.
They're one of the less troublesome members of the Brassica family to grow, and can be picked as needed all through the winter months. They're delicious simply cooked as a side vegetable, roasted or added to winter stews.
How to grow turnips
Sow turnip seed in early spring or late summer, into well-prepared, moist but well-drained soil. Water well during dry weather and thin plants depending on the size of turnip you're looking for (up to 23cm apart if you want large turnips). Harvest when they're young and small.
More on growing turnips:
How to sow turnip seed
Sow turnips at different times of year for a different type of turnip crop: early, maincrop and turnip tops.
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For early turnips, sow seeds in February, directly into the soil. Make a drill approximately 1cm deep and sow in rows 30 cm apart. Protect these early sowings with a cloche. You can do a second sowing of early turnips from March to June.
For maincrop turnips, sow from July to August. And if you're just after the leafy turnip tops, sow seeds in closer rows just 15cm apart.
Watch Monty sowing turnip seeds in this video:
How to care for your turnips
If you're growing turnips for their roots, thin seedlings out to 10-15 cm apart for the early, smaller roots. Or if you want to grow showstopper-sized turnips, leave a little more space – around 23 cm.
It’s important to keep your turnip crop well-watered, especially during dry weather. If plants dry out, you may end up with small, woody vegetables.
Growing turnips: problem-solving
Turnips suffer from the same pests and diseases as other vegetables in the Brassica family.
Cabbage root fly feeds on the roots, causing stunted growth, wilting and death of the plant; it's especially dangerous for seedlings. Mesh or horticultural fleece will help to prevent the flies getting to the roots.
Flea beetle makes small holes in leaves and causes damaged areas to turn brown. Growing plants under horticultural fleece and keeping the soil moist can help to prevent flea beetle. Also a good fertiliser will help, as strong plants are better able to cope with a pest.
Powdery mildew affects leaves, causing them to shrivel and is occurs in dry conditions, so keep plants well-watered.
Club root disease causes swelling and deformation of the roots, and the leaves will in turn, become yellow and wilt. There's no real cure, other than to avoid growing turnips in soil that has previously been affected by club root.
How to harvest turnips
Harvest turnips when they're young and small – about the size of a golf-ball. If you're growing larger, maincrop varieties, these can be harvested as needed; but the flavour's less sweet and the flesh less tender the longer they stay in the ground.
Don't forget, you can harvest and eat the leafy greens, too.
How to store turnips
Turnips store well, which is why they used to be a winter staple. However, young turnips are best eaten fresh to savour the sweetness of the tender roots.
If you grow nasturtiums among your turnips, this can help to draw cabbage white butterflies away from your crops. Mint can also help to deter the flea beetle.
To help your turnips combat club root, you can improve drainage and make the soil more alkaline by adding lime, which club root virus won't thrive in.
Turnip varieties to grow
- ‘Purple Top Milan’ – a popular early variety that's very fast growing. With white flat roots and attractive purple tops, it's noted for its good flavour
- ‘Tokyo Cross’ RHS AGM – this is a fast-growing, early variety with small, white roots that are ready 35 days after sowing
- ‘Green Globe’ – a maincrop variety that's also good for turnip tops. The roots are white and round
- ‘Snow Ball’ – A white, globe turnip with a sweet flavour and delicious turnip tops. This'll give a steady supply of roots from early summer through to winter
- ‘Oasis’ RHS AGM – a summer or early, with virus-resistant white roots. It can be eaten raw or cooked