Light requirements: Full sun.
Planting: Space 12 to 18 inches apart.
Soil requirements: Rutabaga grows in ordinary soil, but root quality improves when you add compost, blood meal or other organic matter prior to planting. Soil pH should be 5.5 to 7. Remove any large rocks that might impede root growth.
Water requirements: Evenly moist soil is the key to tender, non-bitter roots. Mulch soil to reduce water evaporation and help keep soil moist.
Frost-fighting plan: Established plants tolerate light frost (28 to 33ºF). Frost sweetens root flavor. Protect newly planted seedlings from late spring or early fall frosts by covering plants with a frost blanket.
Common issues: Roots with brown rings or discolored centers indicate boron deficiency. Alternating wet and dry soil can cause roots to split. Watch out for slugs, aphids, cutworms, looper caterpillars, and flea beetles. Clubroot typically occurs on poorly drained, acid soils and can linger in soil for up to 20 years. Don’t plant rutabagas in beds known to have been afflicted by clubroot.
Harvesting: Begin harvesting rutabaga roots when they’re 3 to 5 inches in diameter, about grapefruit size. Early, small roots offer succulent, tender flavor; frost sweetens maturing roots. Harvest roots as you need them, leaving the rest of the crop in the ground. Rutabaga leaves are also edible. Pick younger leaves, never removing more than a few per root. To harvest, hand-pull or carefully dig roots. In coldest zones, prolong harvest by snipping leaves back to a few inches and heavily mulching planting beds with straw. Continue to harvest as needed until soil threatens to freeze, at which point the rutabagas must either be picked or mulched.
Storage: Rutabagas store for months when held in humid conditions. Prepare roots for storage by cutting tops to an inch above roots. Place in a cold, moist root cellar held as closely to 32 degrees as possible. To store in the refrigerator, place unwashed roots in vegetable storage bags and tuck them in the crisper. They’ll stay fresh for 2 weeks.
For more information, visit the Rutabaga page in our How to Grow section.