Rutabaga Plants

A hardy plant that favors cool climates, rutabaga resembles its cousin the turnip but offers more flavor and creamier texture.



A hardy plant that favors cool climates, rutabaga resembles its cousin the turnip but offers more flavor and creamier texture.

Photo by: Shutterstock/William Hager

Shutterstock/William Hager

By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Brassica napus var. napobrassica

Rutabaga plants have a lot to offer the home gardener. They are easy to grow and harvest, they extend the growing season through autumn, and they store well for months in the ground or in a root cellar. They are delicious, nutritious, and versatile in the kitchen. And they make good forage for livestock.

Closely related to turnips, rutabagas are also known as Swedes, yellow turnips, table turnips, and Mangel-Wurzel, among other names. Rutabagas are part of the plant genus that also includes broccoli, cabbage and mustard.

The rutabaga plants themselves have three main parts: a green leafy top, a round bulb-like edible root, and a long taproot with fine hairs. The greens, especially when young and tender, may be cut and cooked to make a nutritious side dish or an ingredient in soups and stews.

The long, straight taproot is cut off when a rutabaga is harvested, as are the green tops, and the remaining root bulb is about the size of a small grapefruit. The flesh of this part of the plant is usually gold or yellow in color, and is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber, as well as containing sugars, protein, and trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals. Rutabaga is prepared for eating by cooking and mashing it – often with potatoes – or by roasting it with other root vegetables.

It’s best to plant rutabaga seeds in the middle of summer, when spring crops are through producing and the soil is about 80° F. Germination takes place in about 14 days, and the emerging greens are a dark blue-green in color. Those seedlings are thinned every few weeks to give the developing root bulbs sufficient room to grow; thinnings may be used as sprouts in fresh dishes.

In order to grow to their full size rutabaga seeds need to be planted in loose, fertile soil with plenty of organic materials mixed in. That way roots won’t be bent or stunted. Moisture should be even throughout the growing season, rather than having soil become too wet at one time. The plants need full sunshine, except in the hottest climate, where they may benefit from light afternoon shade.

Gardeners should weed the growing rutabaga plants carefully several times during the season. A layer of loose straw mulch can help keep down weeds that might compete for nutrition. Too little potash in the soil can cause poor quality root bulbs or the failure to form bulbs at all.

Rutabaga plants can be plagued by the same pests that damage any other cabbage-family or turnip-related plants.

When rutabagas are ripe the plants’ “shoulders” will turn purple – if plants are of the “purple top” varieties – and bulge out of the ground. The optimum size for harvesting is for these bulbs to be three to six inches diameter. Plants can be left entirely in the ground through several frosts, but need to be pulled up before the ground freezes entirely, about 20° F.

Store them in cool, moist, dark conditions.

Next Up

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.

Harvesting Rutabagas

With a long and flexible harvest period, rutabagas make for low stress in the home garden while providing delicious flavor.

Growing Rutabaga From Seeds

No need to start rutabaga seeds indoors and then transplant, as these trusty plants grow readily from seeds sown outdoors.

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 Rutabagas (Swede)

Planting seed in the proper season, along with good soil preparation, will contribute to success with rutabagas.

Swedish Turnips (a.k.a.- Rutabagas)

A Rutabaga by any other name is a Swede, or Swedish turnip. Think of chilly Scandinavia when you think of this vegetable.

Is a Rutabaga a Turnip?

Not quite a turnip, rutabaga is a cool-weather garden crop that’s also a sweet treat for the winter table.

How to Grow Sweet Potato Plants

Learn the basics about growing sweet potatoes and their origin.

Freezing Rutabagas

Take the time to prepare rutabaga – both greens and roots – for freezing. Learn how to blanch the greens and mash the roots.

Rutabaga Seeds

Economical and reliable for several years, rutabaga seed makes it easy to plant a nutritious, delicious garden crop for fall.


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