How To Grow Rutabagas (Swede)

Planting seed in the proper season, along with good soil preparation, will contribute to success with rutabagas.
rutabagas should be yellow on the inside when cut

rutabagas should be yellow on the inside when cut

By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Brassica naups var. napobrassica

There’s nothing difficult about how to grow rutabagas in the home garden. Just keep in mind two inflexible rules: rutabaga is a cool weather crop and the seeds are generally not planted until mid to late summer so that the crop matures in the fall, and the soil must be enriched with potash or sifted wood ashes – plus phosphorus -- for healthy root development. Otherwise they may grow spindly instead of plump.

Always remember that the tasty rutabagas don’t grow well in hot weather. Gardeners in very hot climates grow rutabagas all winter, rather than growing them with mid-summer vegetables like corn, beans, peppers, and tomatoes. The flavor of rutabaga actually gets sweeter with cold weather.

The season is crucial for planting rutabagas, so it’s important to know when to plant. Figure that rutabaga seeds take 80 to 120 days to mature into full bulbs, depending on the variety and on local conditions; they can be harvested as they reach maturity or stored in the ground after a frost or two as long as the ground doesn’t freeze hard. Once harvested, rutabagas keep well if handled properly, and can be stored for months in a root cellar or refrigerator.

Experts offer several general guidelines about when to plant rutabaga seeds, since there are no hard and fast rules that apply across the great variety of climates in North America. Figure on eight or ten weeks before the first frost to plant, any time after July 15, or even, for gardeners living in very cool zones, late in spring for the longest possible growing season. Use the average date of first frost as a starting point, and then count backwards three or four months. That’s when to plant.

The seeds go directly into the ground, and are generally not started indoors for later transplanting. Growing rutabagas also calls for good soil. A loose, friable soil is ideal for the even growth ofthe bulbous upper roots. The soil should have plenty of moisture throughout the growing season, rather than alternating periods of very wet and dry. Work in plenty of composted manure and other organic materials. And for the best quality rutabagas, incorporate a compound called potash or dig in plenty of ash from the wood stove, sifted to remove large chunks.

Fully grown rutabagas will be about the size of a small grapefruit or a softball, so leave almost two feet between rows, and eventually six inches or more between plants (the seeds are thinned over the season to achieve that spacing). That way the edible roots will grow uniform and round.

Rutabagas require full sun in colder climates, although in hot zones they may benefit from just a little shade protection in the afternoon hours.

Next Up

How to Store Rutabagas

Rutabagas keeps for months when properly prepared and placed in the right kind of storage space: humid and close to freezing.

How to Grow Yams

Yams and sweet potatoes have been confused for centuries, find out the difference and which one is best to plant in your garden.

How and Where to Store Sweet Potatoes

Here are some key instructions on curing and storing sweet potatoes.

How to Grow Purple Sweet Potatoes

Purple sweet potatoes are fun to grow and cook with. There are several different varieties to try.

How to Grow Sweet Potato Plants

Learn the basics about growing sweet potatoes and their origin.

How to Grow Organic Sweet Potatoes

Find solutions for sourcing organic sweet potato slips and fertilizing with naturally derived nutrients.

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Containers

Short on garden space? You'll be happy to know sweet potatoes can be grown in containers.

Types of Rutabaga

With nearly a dozen rutabaga types on offer from breeders and growers, the Laurentian rutabaga usually comes out on top for ease of growing.

Do Sweet Potatoes Flower?

Whether it is an edible or ornamental sweet potato, flowers are not usually part of the equation.

The Different Types of Sweet Potatoes

There are over 400 different sweet potato varieties around the world, figure out which is best for your garden.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.