How to Grow Spring Root Vegetables

Sweet spring beets, carrots, scallions, radishes, and turnips! Few vegetables are as awaited in my home garden. Though root vegetables can continue to be grown throughout the season, they are the sweetest and arguably easiest to grow in the spring. The best time to start them is usually a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Even better, they are fast to produce and easy to grow.

My Favorite Root Vegetables

Once I find a really good vegetable variety, I continue to grow it. Here are a few raised in my garden regularly.


‘Detroit Dark Red’ beets are an easy-to-grow standard.

The uniform, red ‘Boro’ beets are known for having superb sweet flavor and can be harvested as baby beets or a bit larger. They are very fast growing–ripening in about 50 days from seed. Another good red is the classic beet, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ (55 days). The popular variety is easy to find and has sweet, uniformly round roots. (Click here to watch a video with more details about growing beets.) For those seeking a more unusual beet, try the tasty white, ‘Avalanche‘ beet. It is another easy one sure to provide good results in the garden. All young tender beet greens may also be selectively harvested and eaten in salads or sauteed as a vegetable.


‘Purple Haze’ carrots are both beautiful and tasty.

A good friend shared some of her freshly plucked ‘Adelaide’ Baby Carrots (32-50 days) with me a few springs ago and I was hooked.  They are the most crisp, sugary carrots ever! Expect them to take 50 days to fully mature from seed. Another winner is the purple-red, The National Garden Bureau’s AAS-winning carrot ‘Purple Haze’ (73 days). The carrots take longer to mature but are worth the wait. Start them in March for May harvest. Those seeking a faster, reliable, classic orange carrot should try ‘Caravel‘ (58 days). It is an early-to-produce variety with good sweetness and production.


French breakfast radishes, such as D’Avignon , grow quickly and taste best when grown in cool weather. Heat produces a spicier taste.

The sweet and crisp ‘D’Avignon’ French Breakfast Radish is a traditional elongated French breakfast radish. In my garden, it tends to be sweet rather than hot. Give the roots just 21 to 30 days for full development. Watermelon radishes are both beautiful and tasty. The ‘Chinese Starburst‘ hybrid (60 days) is a good variety to choose for bright pink color and sweet and spicy flavor.


Red turnips, like ‘Scarlet Ohno’, tend to have beautiful pink interiors.

Classic purple-topped turnips are available through almost every seed vendor, but there are a few more unusual varieties worth considering. The red-skinned ‘Scarlet Ohno‘ turnip is crunchy, sweet, and pink on the inside. Expect them to take about 50 days before they are ready to harvest. Another Asian variety is the Japanese ‘Tokyo Market’ (35 days), which is white, fruity, and crisp. It is recommended for fresh eating in salads.


Scallions are gratifying to grow and harvest.

In general, scallions grow quickly and taste the mildest when grown in mild, cool weather. The fine, tender scallions of ‘Kyoto Kujo Negi‘ are tasty and fast. In just 40-50 days you can grow your own tender scallions from seed.

Root Vegetable Planting Time


The carrot seedlings shown are ready for thinning.

Root vegetables require a sunny garden space and friable loam high in organic matter and with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Those with tap roots, like carrots, parsnips, and Asian radishes, are most in need of rich loam.

If your soil is high in clay, I recommend double digging your growing area. Double digging loosens the soil and involves amendment with compost (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend), peat moss,  and slow-release vegetable fertilizer to encourage superior rooting. [Click here to read an article about double digging.]

Direct sow your root vegetables. Start by labeling your rows. To seed your crops, create shallow rows with a stick and sprinkle them with added peat or compost to gently cover the seeds and help germination. Finally, lightly water the rows. Keep the seeds lightly moist until the seeds start to sprout. Once they sprout and begin to grow, you can water more vigorously.

Thin seedlings when they reach 2-3 inches in height. I generally allow 4-5 inches spaces between plants, depending on the variety. Keep the most vigorous seedlings, if possible, and remove the thinnest.

Root vegetables require regular watering and weeding. Follow these steps and they should grow beautifully!

Smaller root vegetables can also be grown in containers, but I choose smaller varieties for greater yields–petite French Breakfast radishes.

When Are Root Vegetables Ready?

The ‘Tokyo Market’ turnip is nicely bulbed up at the top and ready for harvest.

Most root crops bulb up at the top when they are ready. The round, protuberant tops appear on all of the root vegetables mentioned in the article. Once their tops become substantially round and bulb up at the top, try pulling one to sample. If the vegetable appears as described in the seed catalog, your vegetable is ready. Use the sample as a guide to harvest the rest of your crops.


Double Digging for Flawless Root Crops

What Are Good Small-Space Garden Vegetables for Spring?

“What food crops can I plant in my vegetable plot this upcoming spring, if any?  I already dug out my summer plot and have limited land, so I would like to use it, if possible.” Question from Jennifer of Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania

Answer: There are so many wonderful cool-season spring vegetables that will grow well in your limited garden space. These can be started indoors as early as late January and planted outside in mid to late March in your area (Click here to learn more about seed starting). For smaller gardens, choose more compact varieties. Here are good spring vegetables to consider growing:

Cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, kohlrabi, and kale), greens (arugula, endive, lettuce, mustard greens, radicchio, and spinach), spring root crops (radishes, potatoes, scallions, spring carrots, and turnips), and peas are all excellent spring vegetables. Most of these don’t need a lot of space. Some of the “larger” crops, like cabbage and peas, all have compact varieties available, if you search for them in seed catalogs. For example, the little ‘Farao’ cabbage and 2-3-foot ‘Sugar Daddy‘ snap peas are both small are space-saving.

Spring is also a great time to plant cool-season herbs, like chives, cilantro, and dill, as well as some fruits, like strawberries.

Below are some more articles and videos to consider reading/watching on the subject of spring edibles.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

5 Fast Cool Season Vegetables for Instant Gratification

Can You Help Me Grow Better Root Vegetables?

Growing and Storing Fall Carrots, Beets, and Turnips

Carrots can be grown and harvested into early winter.

Root crops are the finest vegetables for the fall garden. Specialty varieties of carrots, beets, and turnips have been bred just for fall and winter growing and storage. Once the first frost hits, they sweeten up for better flavor. If properly stored, they keep beautifully through winter. Cold-frame gardeners can also rely on them for consistent winter production.

There’s a reason why root-rich stews, roasts, and soups are favored in colder months. These vegetables are superior winter keepers that taste the best in the late-season cool weather. That’s why they have been in constant cultivation for thousands of years across Eurasia. They provided needed food and nutrition when no other fresh vegetables were available. Today’s gardeners also reap the benefits of carrots, beets, and turnips with the added advantage of superior varieties for taste, texture, and performance.


‘Dolciva’ is the best carrot for retaining sweetness and flavor after months of storage. (Image from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Carrots (Daucus carota) are available in lots of colors. Classic orange carrots originate from Europe and tend to be the crispest and sweetest. Purple or red carrots were initially cultivated in the Middle East, Russia, and India and are stronger-tasting and less sweet. All types can be grown as winter carrots, but some perform better than others.

True winter carrots are exceptionally cold hardy, long tapered, often slower to mature, and remain crisp and sweet through the winter months. The heirloom orange varieties ‘Imperator 58’ (75-days, 1933 All-America Selections Winner) and ‘Danvers 126’ (70 days) are two excellent choices favored by gardeners for decades. Newer winter keepers that remain tasty in storage are the slender orange ‘Interceptor’ (120 days), super sweet ‘Napoli’ (58-days), and super keeper ‘Dolciva’ (105-days).

Grow long-tapered carrots in deep, fertile, light soil with a slightly acid pH of 5.5 to 6.5 for best root development. Sow seed in the ground in late August to early September. Amend carrot beds with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and acidic Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss—working both deeply into the soil. Double digging ensures amendments are incorporated deeply into the soil. (Learn how to double dig your beds here!)


The classic beet ‘Detroit Dark Red’ is a great keeper! (Image from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Favored for centuries by Eurasian gardeners living in colder climates, beets (Beta vulgaris) are very hardy and will keep for months. Beets for winter growing are exceptionally hardy and stay smooth and sweet without getting fibrous and woody. Their tops can also be eaten like Swiss Chard. Lots of classic red beets are beautifully suited to cold-weather growing.

The slow-to-mature heirloom ‘Lutz Winter Keeper’ (80 days) was first developed in the 1800s and has proven to be a great selection for fall gardens, yielding large, red beets with good flavor that store very well. Another old-time winter beet is ‘Detroit Dark Red’ (55 days). The classic mid-American variety has uniformly round roots with good sweetness.

Beets prefer a neutral pH and do not grow well in acid soil, so add lime to beet beds if your garden soil is acidic. Next, amend with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend for increased fertility. Before planting beets in the ground, soak the seeds overnight for faster germination. Varieties that take longer to produce should be started no later than early September.

Beet seeds have 2-3 embryos, which means a single seed can yield two or three seedlings, encouraging more seedling clumps that require thinning. For easier thinning plant the single-embryo variety ‘Moneta’ (46 days), which produces just one seedling. Its red beets are also delicious and great for fall and winter cultivation. (Click here to see our video about growing beets!)


The red turnip ‘Scarlet Ohno Revival’ is a reliable cold-season variety. (Image thanks to High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Turnips (Brassica rapa) are members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) along with other cole crops like cabbage, which is why their roots have a sweet cabbage-like flavor. Their slightly bitter greens are also edible.

Historians determined that humans first began to eat turnips in prehistoric times. The easy root crops were grown and eaten by the Greeks and Romans, and in India, they were raised for their flavorful, oil-rich seeds. Turnips are also important to East Asian culinary traditions.

The old-time ‘Purple Top White Globe’ (50 days) is the classic turnip that most gardeners grow. The white roots have electric purple tops, and the young leaves are favored in the South for turnip greens. For something unique, try the red-rooted ‘Scarlet Ohno Revival’ (50 days) turnip, which can be eaten fresh or cooked. The white-rooted Japanese variety ‘Tokyo Market’ (35 days) has a fruity, sweet flavor ideal for eating fresh in salads.

Grow in fertile loam with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH of 6.5 to 8. These are faster growing, so gardeners can wait until early October to sow seeds in fall gardens or cold frames.

Storing Root Vegetables through Winter

Well-protected cold frames allow hardy root vegetables to be grown into winter.

Homeowners used to have root cellars for keeping produce through cold months. The humid cellars maintained roots at optimal storage temperatures between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. These days we have refrigerators, but if you have a large harvest, you’ll likely need more storage space. Here are four smart, space-saving ways to store your root harvest in winter. (Always remember to remove the greens from your root crops before storing them!)

  1. Provide Garden Cover: This easy method allows gardeners in milder winter areas to keep their crops in the ground. Before hard freezes hit, cover your root crops with a 1- to 2-foot layer of straw. This will protect them from harsh cold and winter heave. Just uncover and dig them as you need them.
  2. Grow in a Cold Frame: The best cold frames are stone or brick-lined, sunken, and plexiglass covered to hold in the heat from the winter sun. Topping cold frame crops with rich compost will add extra protection from cold and make winter harvest easier.
  3. Dig a Root Clamp: This is an old way to store roots without a root cellar. Dig a broad hole about 3-feet across and 1 or 2-feet deep in your garden. Add a thick base layer of straw, layer in your roots, add another thick top layer of straw and cover the sides with a layer of soil and compost. Leave a chimney of thick straw at the top for protection and aeration. Dig in through winter when you want to gather roots for eating!
  4. Create Root Box for a Cool Basement or Garage: If your basement or garage stays below 40 degrees Fahrenheit through winter, create root boxes! Take an aerated wooden or thick cardboard box, layer in straw and lightly moistened peat moss, and add moistened root crops between them. Then collect the roots as you need them.
Home growers used to rely on earth-covered root cellars to store winter root vegetables.