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.

Get gardening info on the go with our free app, HOMEGROWN with Bonnie Plants. Find out more, or download it now for iPhone or Android.

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.