Carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus), beets (Beta vulgaris), radishes (Raphanus sativus), parsnips (Pastinaca sativa), turnips (Brassica rapa), and rutabaga (Brassica napus) are relatively inexpensive at the grocery store, but they are all immeasurably tastier when they're grown at home. The varieties available to home gardeners offer better flavor, texture, and often, a range of colors, sizes, and shapes that will never be seen in the market. Carrots and parsnips are in the same family as dill and fennel; beets in the spinach family; and turnips, radishes and rutabaga in the cabbage family. However, as all can be grown with similar methods, they can be grouped together as root vegetables.
For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our Vegetable Growing Guide.
Habit: Carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, radishes, and rutabaga grow a narrow shock of upright green foliage above ground, and each plant produces a single edible root.
Days to Harvest: Carrots, 54 to 75; parsnips, 110 to 120; beets, 45 to 58; turnips, 38 to 50; radishes, 21 to 30; rutabaga, 90 to 95.
When to Plant: Carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabaga, radishes, and turnips can all be planted in early spring. For those vegetables that mature quickly, you can make several sowings throughout the season for a constant supply, though most radishes won’t do well in the heat of summer. Long-maturing varieties should be planted as early as possible, especially in cold climates.
Light: Full sun.
Soil: Average soil is fine. Root vegetables require a deeply dug, loose, well-prepared soil. Any rocks or otherwise impermeable areas in the soil will result in misshapen roots. Root vegetables struggle in clay soils; amend these heavily with compost to improve soil texture.
Watering: Steady, regular watering is necessary for the roots to develop into nutritious, tasty vegetables.
Fertilizing: Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer if soil fertility is low. Do not use a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Pest Problems: None serious. Rotate crops to minimize potential scab or rot diseases.
When to Harvest: Carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets can be harvested as small "baby" vegetables or allowed to reach full size. Rutabaga and parsnips can be harvested at the end of the season or when they have reached their maximum size (check seed packet for information about your specific variety).