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

How Can I Tell When Root Vegetables Are Ripe?

“How can I tell when an underground veggie (onion, potato, etc) is ready to harvest.   I have tried growing onions and I get large green growth above ground and there is basically a marble-sized onion bulb underneath — or smaller!” Question from Naomi of Oakdale, California

Answer: It’s an excellent question. In most cases, it is pretty easy to tell because most root crops bulb up at the top. You can expect this to happen with beets, onions (see image below), radishes, turnips, and rutabagas. It also happens to carrots and parsnips, though sometimes their bulbous tops are less prominent.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic are different matters. These tuberous (or bulbous in the case of garlic) crops remain underground, so you need to gauge how the plants up top are growing to determine harvest time. Here are guidelines for harvesting each.

Potatoes: “New Potatoes can be harvested as soon as the plants begin to bloom. Wait for larger potatoes. These can be harvested after the plants have fully died away. You can harvest all of your potatoes at this time for storage, or just harvest them as needed. Be sure to get them all out of the ground shortly after the first frost of the season. Otherwise, they will develop an unpleasant sweet flavor.” (Click here to read the full Ask a Garden Expert.)

Sweet Potatoes: “Sweet potatoes are harvested 90-120 days after transplanting or immediately after a frost has blackened the tops of the plants.” (Click here to read the full article.)

Garlic: “Dig up the garlic bulbs in summer when the leaves have declined significantly and start to turn brown.” (Click here to read the full Ask a Garden Expert.)

I hope that these tips helps.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Here is what a fully bulbed onion looks like.

What are Some Good Root Vegetables for Containers?

“I need ideas for growing root vegetables in containers.” Inquiry from Karen of Randolph, Vermont

Answer: You can grow just about any root vegetable in containers, but I choose smaller varieties for greater yields–petite French Breakfast radishes rather than giant Korean daikon radishes. Here are some excellent small, fast root vegetables for pots:

D’Avignon French Breakfast Radish: This traditional radish always tastes crisp and sweet when I grow it, and it is fast! Give the roots just 21 to 30 days for full development.

Adelaide Baby Carrot:  These are the most crisp and sweet baby carrots ever! Give them around 50 days to mature from seed.

Boro Beets: Harvest these deepest red beets as baby beets or wait until they are a bit larger. They are very fast growing–ripening in about 50 days from seed.

Scarlet Ohno Turnips: Red exteriors and pink interiors make these crunchy, sweet turnips extra special. Like the other root crops mentioned, they take about 50 days before they are ready to harvest.

All of these root crops are just right for spring. Be sure to plant them in containers that are deep and wide enough for a good crop. Plant them in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and holds moisture well. To learn more about growing beets, take a look at our video below!

Happy root gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist