Growing Turnip Greens

growing turnip greens in the garden
We sell our Bonnie Plants turnips to be grown for the tasty greens instead of growing for the edible roots.

Turnip greens are not particularly tidy plants, but they yield lots of good “cut-and-come-again” leaves that grow back for multiple harvests.

Turnip greens are extremely easy to grow, especially in fall. As nights get longer and cooler, turnip greens become crisper and sweeter. Best of all, a new flush of tender leaves will grow after each picking, with plants remaining productive at least until the first hard freeze, and sometimes beyond.

They also grow in spring, but plant them early. Lengthening days trigger turnip plants to produce flowers and seeds instead of new leaves. Also, a few days of hot sun can make the greens taste strong and bitter in regions where spring gets hot quickly.

Our pots of turnip greens are thickly sown expressly for greens, although if given the space, plants would also produce turnip roots. We sow them with the greens in mind, but if you harvest your plants by pulling and thinning, you may find some turnip roots in the garden, too, albeit not of prize quality.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Turnips yield lots of greens for a nutritious cool-season garden harvest. You can cut the first set of greens and the plant will grow more.

Our turnip greens are sown multiple plants to a container, so you’ll generally get a cluster of plants too thick to make good turnip roots. Occasionally, one breaks away and grows to edible size. Then you can decide whether to pull and eat the turnip along with your greens, or let it stay to produce more leaves.

Turnip greens are easy to grow in any well-drained soil. Set out turnip green plants 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring and from late August to October for a fall crop in most areas. In zones 9 and 10 they can be planted throughout fall and winter.

Like collards, kale, and other greens, turnip greens need to grow fast to produce nice, tender leaves. They aren’t too fussy about soil, growing well in a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8, and doing okay even in poor sandy soil. Ideally, you should enrich the ground with compost and fertilizer before setting out plants, but unless the soil is extremely poor, turnip greens probably won’t disappoint you.

Set plants 6 inches apart, and do not try to thin or separate seedlings if there are several in the container. Turnip greens don’t mind growing in small clumps as long as each little group has ample elbow room. Although they are a variety that will make turnips, don’t expect great roots from crowded plants. They are sown with just the leaves in mind.

Turnip greens need steady water more than they need rich soil, so keep them watered during typically dry fall weather. Pull any weeds that appear in your turnip patch. You can sprinkle them with a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion, liquid kelp, or Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food to fuel more growth as you harvest leaves.

Troubleshooting

It is natural for older turnip leaves to turn yellow and wither. Removing older leaves every week or so encourages the plants to grow more greens.

Watch greens for occasional aphids or mites, which can be controlled with insecticidal soap spray. Small flower beetles or other chewing insects will sometimes make harmless holes in the leaves, but aphids and mites can ruin your harvest.

Harvest and Storage

Wait to harvest turnip leaves until they are full size. Once cooked, they will reduce in size.

Full-size turnip leaves can reach a foot long and six inches wide. The leaves will cook down a surprising amount, so it takes a several large handfuls of leaves to make a potful or “mess of greens.”

The ideal time to begin eating turnip greens is when nighttime temperatures are in the 40s or cooler to bring out the sweetness in the greens. Greens that grow in hot weather can taste strong and bitter, especially to people who haven’t honed a taste for them. Turnip greens are a little more pungent than collards. You can pick leaves one at a time, or use a sharp knife to gather big handfuls. Plants that are cut back about 2 inches above the top of the root will grow a new set of tender leaves in only 2 to 3 weeks.

Be sure to wash greens thoroughly to remove any soil. The easiest way is to put the leaves in a very large bowl or clean bucket of water and swirl it around so that any soil falls to the bottom. Repeat until the leaves are clean. If you grow a bumper crop, keep a big galvanized tub expressly for this purpose. It is best to cut greens just before you cook them, but they will keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days. Extras can be steamed and frozen. Any sizable turnip roots that form can be cooked along with the greens.

FAQs

Is there anything special I should do to the soil to prepare for growing turnip greens?

Greens grow best and produce the most flavorful leaves when raised in loose, moisture-retentive soil. Prepare planting beds by turning soil to a depth of 12 inches and working in compost.

Can I tuck some turnip greens along the edge of a flower bed?

The only thing to remember is that you want to be able to reach all the way around each plant to allow for easy picking. Try to leave at least 6 to 12 inches between turnips and surrounding plantings.

Can I pick turnip greens and still harvest the roots later?

If you intend to harvest roots, make just a few pickings of leaves early in the season. Picking greens too long into the growing season can stunt the roots. Once bulbs start forming, avoid disturbing the plants.

When should I start harvesting turnip greens?

Start picking leaves after they reach 4 to 6 inches tall. As long as you stick to harvesting the outer leaves, the tops will continue to re-grow.

I was weeding yesterday, and today the turnip greens are wilted, even though the soil is moist. What is going on?

Turnips have shallow feeder roots. As you weeded, if you chopped into soil deeply with a hoe, you might have sliced some turnip roots. Mulch around wilting plants with an organic material (straw, pine needles, chopped leaves, grass clippings) to conserve soil moisture and help protect undamaged roots. Harvest larger, outer leaves from plants that are wilting. This will give existing roots fewer leaves to support. Keep the soil moist, and plants should recover. In the future, hand-pull weeds around greens or go after weeds when they’re young and tender, so that a gentle scuffle of the hoe removes them.

42 Comments

Tom

I plant a large area with turnip greens and they have gone to flower. should I mow them down or just till up and plant again?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Tom,
You can turn them into the soil. Turnips are used often for cover crops. Be sure and rotate the area with a veggie not in the turnip family next time to help with the build up of diseases and insects in the garden! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Wendy Phelps

Hi, I’ve just found this very interesting, here in Austrailia we have always grown turnips for the vegetable not the green tops. We use them in soups casseroles and stews, I’ve never used the tops. Learn something new every day.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Wendy,
I really like the ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ cooked together!
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Danielle Carroll

Hello Ardeshir,
I am not sure that I understand your question. Are you looking for specific pesticides for insects, disease, or weeds?
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Stacey

I have an overabundance of turnip roots still in the garden. Would it be best to pull them or just till them under? If I till under will they be growing all over my garden this spring?

Mary Beth

Hi Stacey,
Do you mean fully-formed turnips? If so, that’s a sweet treasure that you don’t want to miss! If you are outdone (which any vegetable gardener can understand with huge harvests at once), perhaps call your neighbors or friends to pick what they want and get your work done for free. Some farmers actually use turnips and other brassicas as a cover crop, as seen in this Cover Crop Guide. Just turn them under in the soil well to ensure they are broken up and will decompose. Don’t follow up with another brassica crop; make sure to rotate plantings to discourage disease. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Linda Christian

I recently purchased a small bag of turnips. Three of these had 2-3″ growth of greens and 4-5 hair like roots. Would it be foolish to plant these with the idea of growing the greens?

Mary Beth

Hi Linda,
I think it would come down to curiosity vs value. i.e. What you will receive in the amount of harvestable greens vs the turnips you have in hand today. (Bird in hand vs two in the bush comes to mind!) Why not eat the turnips you bought for sweet rewards today and pick up one of our pots of turnip seedlings for future use? They are crammed full of many baby plants and could separate into lots of new harvests in the future. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

mike foto

my turnip roots turn brown in the middle. could you please tell me what causes this and how to stop it. we love to eat the roots as much as the greens, when they turn turn brown in the mddle they are not eatable.

Mary Beth

Hi Mike,
Sounds like a condition gardeners call “Brown Heart.” This document by Michigan State University describes it and how to correct this boron deficiency. For the ones you have now, I think you can cut out that portion and still eat the turnips. Hope this helps you! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

susan

What is the purplish spots on my turnip leaves. Are they still ok to eat if you pinch it off?

Mary Beth

Hi Susan,
This photo guide to things that can ail turnips may help. Do any of these look like what is wrong with your turnip greens? ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Susan

Yes, it looks like the bottom left picture. The cercospora leaf spots. But only a few spots on only some leaves not all. The spots are on the tips and edges. That’s why I was wondering if the spots could be pinched of before eating.
Thanks

Mary Beth

Hi Susan,
I don’t know for certain on how to advise what you should/shouldn’t eat on the plant, mainly because it depends on if you have treated it with any chemicals. If not, I think it’d probably be fine to eat around them. Glad that you could easily identify your turnip spots with the Extension photographs! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Trina Simmons

How big do the leaves need to be for me to start picking them? Sure would like to have a batch for dinner!

Mary Beth

Hi Trina,
You can pick the turnip greens at any stage you like. For instance, if you plant them too closely together but want to have roots as well as greens, I usually “thin” the row crops so that the roots have room to develop and eat the thinnings. Or, you can wait until they are 12″ and get more from one plant. Be sure to click the tab in the article titled “Harvest and Storage” with details on cutting and using the greens. Enjoy! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Jennifer

I began growing turnip greens for my grandmother about a month or so ago. They came up nicely; though I think that I planted too many too close together. They have stalled at about 3 or 4 inches and some of the leaves are beginning to turn yellow. I was wondering if there is any cure for that. I fertilized them after they were planted but ensured that they were watered enough. My grandfather passed away earlier this year and he usually did all of the gardening. I would like to get my greens healthy so she can have all the turnip greens she desires. Any advice?

Mary Beth

Hi Jennifer,
Are you growing from planted pots of Bonnie turnip greens? Or from seed? I ask because it sounds like yours may have been sown very thickly from seed and are needing a little elbow room. Are you watering every three days or so? Also, if they are thickly sown, you may need an extra boost of fertilizer as it may have depleted quickly. Try thinning them out to a spacing of 2 to 4″ inbetween the healthiest plants to allow for more robust foliage development. You can eat the “thinnings,” too. Best of luck to you in gardening in your grandfather’s footsteps. We are here to help you anytime. Find us on Facebook to share photos and stories, and bookmark our “Ask An Expert” service to connect with a Cooperative Extension agent for regional growing advice. It’s wonderful to hear you are gardening with and for your grandmother. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Colleen McDaniel

Last night I won a large pot of turnip greens and they are beautiful. Will they winter over in my sun unheated sunroom?

Mary Beth

Hi Colleen,
Aren’t you lucky? If they are in a large pot and receive plenty of sunlight, you should be in great shape. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage, though, as some decorative pots do not. Keep it well watered and enjoy those greens while they grow and in the stove pot! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Jean

Help. I have a mystery plant amongst my short fat spout-less Brussels sprouts, after weeks of searching I do believe it’s the worlds biggest ugliest turnip. (I’d send a picture if I could) when I uncovered the bulb it’s like 6×8 , it’s October. Can I harvest the greens? Do I recover the ugly bulb? When harvesting do you take all the leaves or just the big ones (12-18 inches greens then long stem) do I harvest the turnip and give it to some one who is not a turnip hater?

Do I leave it for next year and harvest seeds, then bulb? Help. And any idea where on earth this ugly thing came from?

Mary Beth

Hi Jean,
World’s ugliest? Now I’m curious. As tiny as turnip seeds are, it may be that your Brussels sprouts plant hosted a wayward seed in the soil. If you transplanted it and it was growing very closely to the roots of the sprouts, it is probably twisted and gnarly (hence, ugly?). You can most certainly eat the greens if it is indeed a turnip. Before you do so, though, why not send a photo and inquiry via our Ask An Expert service (emails allow photo attachment) and be certain? I would hate for you to eat a random weed! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Tony seamans

My greens have stalled at about three to four inches tall, I applied 10-10-10 but hasn’t seem to remedy the problem. Any suggestions would be appreciated

Mary Beth

Hi Tony,
How long have you had the plants? It could be that they are simply setting roots and putting energy into root development. If they are in full sun and appear healthy, I would just give it a little time. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

John Thum

I planted two patches side by side. One with no fertilizer, another with 29-0-0 mixed in the soil at planting. The patch with 29-0-0 is like night and day. Within a very short time, I have one side of the patch with 9 inch leaves. The other patch MIGHT be only 3 inches tall!

Mary Beth

Wow. That’s a lot of nitrogen! Turnip greens are heavy feeders and as they are foliage plants, will respond to nitrogen well. Sounds like you will ALL be well fed. They’ll also respond well to a balanced fertilizer like our 8-4-4 Bonnie Vegetable & Herb food or mixing in composted manure or aged compost before planting. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Marty

We have tiny little plants that came up pretty quick..Now they are doing nothing, I water them everyday and they have full sun..??? We have always had nice plants..What did we do wrong or what can we do…
Thanks

Mary Beth

Hi Marty,
Did you purchase Bonnie Plants turnip greens? It sounds like you started from seed, so I’m less able to help troubleshoot. They may need water every 2-3 days, so that is one thing to change. If they are very young, it may be as simple as needing time to develop a healthy root system and they will soon continue to put on size. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Mary Beth

Hi Christine,
If you are growing the turnips for greens, you should have no problem with “slight shade.” For large, sweet turnip roots, make sure you space the seedlings out at least 4-6″ apart and give six hours of sun per day. If you have at least 4-5 hours of sun in this spot, give it a try! Let us know how it grows, Mary Beth/Bonnie Plants

Virginia Long

What kind of soil so you use in pots? How big must pot be is there any special care in pots? It is very interesteing I might try it if I have’t waited to long . Thanks Virginia

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Virginia, Luckily, we have a whole section on our website dedicated to Container Gardening! Browse the articles in that section to find lots of info on growing in pots, including one piece on potting mix and another on pot size. I think this info will help get you started! Happy growing! Kelly, Bonnie Plants

jimmy frye

for the past two years i have planted turnip greens both
seven top and reg turnips and about the time they about
half grown they turn red and yellow not all but about
half of them. what do i need to do??????????
THANKS JIMMY

Mary Beth

Hi Jimmy,
I shared your comment with our Ask An Expert service. Assuming you mean the tops / greens of the turnips, here is the advice given by our partner in Extension Service: Yellowing is commonly from a nitrogen deficiency which can be the result of overwatering. Overwatering leaches nitrogen out of the root zone. Most vegetables only need an inch to an inch and a half of water a week from either rainfall or irrigation. If in a container, they should be watered when the top inch and a half or so of potting soil becomes dry to the touch. Water in the morning at the base of the plant, keeping the foliage dry, to prevent some disease problems. Mulching around the plant conserves moisture, keeps weeds down, and prevents splashing up onto the leaves which can cause some disease problems.

The red coloring sounds like a phosphorus deficiency. Phosphorus deficiencies give a plant a reddish-purple cast. Most phosphorus deficiencies, early on, are a result of soils that have not warmed up to 60 degrees or more. Start using a liquid fertilizer specifically for vegetables to remedy the problems.
Let us know how it grows~ Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Lisa Van Nostrand

Where will I be able to buy turnip plants? This will be my first year to try them, but we have had great success with tomatoes, butternuts, eggplant, and various peppers.

Mary Beth

Hi Lisa,
We stock turnip seedlings in areas with milder winters and in our Fall selections. You can locate our plants in stores near you by using http://www.find.bonnieplants.com and talking with the garden center manager to see what will be available. Congratulations on your success this summer! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

adele

I love this website. I just stubled upon this website looking for a little more information about growing greens and I got all my questions answered. Thank you so much.

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Adele,

I am so glad to hear that! Please come back often, as we add new content all the time. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, too! We include tons of gardening information and links to new articles on our site. You can also “Like” us on our Bonnie Plants Facebook page.

Happy growing!
Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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