How to Grow Beet: Planting, Growing, Harvesting
Beet is a cold-season root vegetable, grown for its sweet roots and spicy, mustardy leaves. A staple in spring and fall gardens, the humble beet plant is beginner-friendly crop that takes up little space and is ready to harvest in as little as 6 weeks.
In this guide, we’ll share our top tips for growing beets successfully, how to sow and water them, how to harvest and store, and which pests and diseases to watch out for. And, if you’re in a pinch for space or don’t have access to an outdoor vegetable garden, we’ll also take a look at how to grow beets in containers.
Common Beet Varieties
The common beet (Beta vulgaris), also known as beetroot, garden beet, red beet, or golden beet, started off as a seaside plant growing on the shores of Europe, northern Africa, and southern Asia. After it was domesticated, this maritime plant went on to have a very prolific career as a vegetable, creating numerous varieties and cultivars. In fact, the common beet, sugar beet, chard, mangold (Mangelwurzel), and Swiss chard are all subspecies of the same plant, sharing a common ancestor.
Today, there are many beet varieties to choose from, available in a wide range of colors. Here are some wonderful cultivars you can try growing in your garden:
- Detroit Dark Red: an heirloom variety with dark red roots 3 – 4 inches wide, with a sweet flavor and tender texture.
- Cylindra: another heirloom beet cultivar, with an elongated root, deep red flesh, and a touch of earthy flavor.
- Early Wonder: a small, red root variety that looks very similar to radish, it’s ready to harvest in just 50 days after sowing.
- Chioggia: the iconic Candy Cane Beet, this Italian cultivar has a unique color when sliced, with white and pink (or red) rings.
- Lutz Green Leaf: also known as Winterkeeper, this heirloom variety produces larger roots and is ideal for winter storage.
- Golden Beet: a variety with small roots and sweet, yellow flesh.
- Avalanche: a cultivar with white skin and flesh, it has a noticeably mild flavor, with no bitterness.
All beets have a distinctive, earthy sweetness. This unique taste is caused by geosmin, a chemical compound that’s also found in petrichor. So if you like the smell after it rains, you’re definitely going to enjoy the aroma of fresh beets.
When Is the Best Time to Plant beets?
Beet is a cool weather vegetable, ideal for a spring or fall crop. You can start planting beets in your garden in early spring, 2 – 3 weeks before the last frost. For a continuous harvest, sow beets once every 3 weeks. Sow beets in mid-summer for a fall harvest, and plant one last batch of seeds 3 weeks before the first frost for a winter crop.
Beet plants are cold tolerant, and can even tolerate a mild frost. The ideal temperature for growing them is between 60°F and 70°F (15°C to 21°C). If you’re growing beets in hot weather, they are likely to bolt. In a warmer climate, the best practice is to sow beets in early to mid-fall, ready for a winter harvest. Check our vegetable garden planner before you start sowing, to see which months are ideal for growing beets in your hardiness zone.
Where Should You Plant beets?
Beets grow best in full sun, so plant them in a part of your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. They can also tolerate some partial shade. In warmer climates, or during the hotter months, planting beets in a shady spot of your garden can prevent them from bolting.
How to Plant and Grow beets
Beets are a cool season crop you can plant throughout spring and fall. Let’s take a closer look at the requirements for growing beets in the garden.
Prepare the Soil
Plant your beets in neutral, well-draining, nutrient-rich, loose soil. For best results, start preparing the soil in the fall, before the ground freezes and becomes difficult to work. Dig up the soil to a depth of 1 foot (30 cm) and remove any rocks, weed roots, and other debris. Beets love a fertile soil mix, so take the time to incorporate plenty of compost or well-rotted manure.
Beets can be very sensitive to acidic soil and may struggle to grow if the pH is too low. The easiest way to find out the pH of your soil is using a soil test kit. Aim for a pH of 6.5, and add some limestone if the pH readings are below that.
Sow Beets Seeds
Before you start sowing your beets, it’s important to understand how the seeds work. Unlike most vegetable seeds, the beet seed is actually a fruit that contains 3 to 5 seeds covered by a hard, leathery coat. After germination, each of these seed clusters will produce 3 to 5 seedlings, which you’ll have to thin out.
Start by soaking beet seeds in room-temperature water for at least 24 hours. This will soften the outer shell of the seeds and help them germinate faster. You can then sow seeds directly in the garden soil, or start them indoors.
For outdoor planting, sow beet seeds in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked with. The seeds need a soil temperature of at least 40°F (4°C) to germinate. Plant the seeds ¾ of an inch deep (about 2 cm) and about 12 inches apart (30 cm).
For indoor propagation, sow beet seeds in plug seedling trays filled with a well-draining soil mix. Put one seed in each plug, cover with a thin layer of soil, water the seeds well, and keep the tray in a warm, sunny room.
Beet seeds can take anywhere between 7 and 14 days to germinate. They can germinate in as little as 5 days if you’ve planted them in a warm, sunny part of your garden or if you’re using a heat mat for the seedlings. In cool weather, they can take up to 21 days to sprout.
If you’re starting your beet seeds indoors, you can transplant them to the garden when they have at least two pairs of true leaves and when the soil temperature is above 40°F (4°C). Like most root vegetables, such as carrots, beet roots are very delicate. Work slowly and carefully when transplanting beet seedlings, to avoid damaging the young plants.
Thin seedlings when the young beets are at least 3 inches tall (7.5 cm). Each beet cluster will contain up to 5 beet plants. Pick the largest, healthiest looking one, then grab the others from the base of the leaf stems and gently pull them out of the soil. The thinnings are edible and can be used as beet greens in a spring salad.
Water your beets thoroughly and regularly, to encourage healthy root growth. If beet plants are not watered often enough, the roots will become woody and develop an unpleasant, bitter taste. However, too much water can be harmful to this root crop and, when combined with poor-draining soil, can make the beets susceptible to root rot.
You can use a drip-feed irrigation system with a timer to keep the soil consistently moist for your beets. After thinning them, you can also add a top dressing of straw mulch, which will help retain soil moisture.
Beets don’t typically need fertilizers. If the soil has been amended with organic matter before sowing, that will be enough to keep these plants happy. However, if you are planting several successive beet crops throughout the year, you can use an organic liquid fertilizer to give them a boost.
Aim for a fertilizer that’s high in potassium and phosphorus, such as bone meal or liquid seaweed. You’ll want to avoid using nitrogen-rich fertilizers for your beets, as this will stimulate leaf growth instead of root development.
Weed your beet plants regularly, especially when they’re young. Ideally, you’ll want to pull out the weeds by hand, preferably after watering your plants, when the soil is loose and easy to work with. Use gardening tools carefully, to avoid damaging the roots. After a couple of weeks or so, the beet leaves should be wide enough to shade out nearby weeds, and your beets will look after themselves.
When to Harvest Beets
Beets are a fast-growing crop that takes 6 to 8 weeks to mature. As a rule of thumb, beets are ready to harvest when the roots are the size of a golf ball. Try harvesting beets before they get too large. Baby beets have a mild flavor and tender texture, with a delicate earthy sweetness. Older beets tend to be woody and stringy, with a stronger flavor.
You can also harvest beet leaves when the plants are at least 6 inches tall (15 cm). Harvesting beet greens is the same as picking lettuce or spinach leaves. Select the larger, outer leaves, and pinch them off with your fingers. Never pick more than a third of the plant, so that it can spend its energy on growing the root. You can eat these tasty greens raw, or sautee them with a bit of butter.
How to Store Beets
The best way to store beets after harvesting is in a root cellar, preferably in wooden crates filled with sand or sawdust. Stored this way, beets can last up to 5 months. If you notice that the roots are starting to sprout, that’s a sign that the beets are starting to spoil. At this point, it’s best to just take them out of the crates and toss them in the compost pile.
If you don’t have a root cellar, you can put beets in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. They will last for 2 weeks or so, but the sooner you eat them the better. Alternatively, you can also store beets by blanching and freezing, canning, or pickling them.
Common Beet Problems
The most common beet pests are leaf miners, leafhoppers, and flea beetles, which eat the leaves, and wireworms, which target the roots. The best way to prevent these pests is to use a row cover, and use companion planting to attract beneficial insects.
Beets are resistant to most plant diseases but can be susceptible to powdery mildew and Cercospora leaf spot. Mildew is easy to manage by improving air circulation between plants and spraying infected leaves with a solution of water, baking soda, and liquid, non-detergent soap. For the Cercospora leaf spot, pull out and destroy the infected plants, and rotate crops by not planting beets in the same spot for at least three years.
Companion Planting With Beets
Some of the best companion plants for beets are spinach and Swiss chard. These plants belong to the same family and although they have the same growing requirements, they don’t compete for nutrients. You can also plant beets with radishes and lettuce, for an early spring salad combo, or with carrots, cabbage, or broccoli. Onions, catnip, and nasturtiums will also keep your beets safe from pests.
Avoid planting beets next to pole beans, field mustard, and fennel. Pole beans and beets tend to slow each other’s growth, but on the plus side, bush beans don’t have the same effect. Fennel, on the other hand, releases a compound that stunts the growth of all nearby vegetables, and should always be planted on its own.
How to Grow Beets in Containers
Growing beets in pots is a great way to maximize your garden space and grow beets indoors, on a patio, or on a balcony. Beets have a compact growth habit, which means they don’t take up too much space, but for best results, go for small varieties, such as Baby Ball, Cylindra, or Early Wonder.
Start by picking the right pot for your beets. You’ll need a container at least 12 inches wide (30 cm), with drainage holes at the bottom. Fill the container with a well-draining, nutrient-rich soil mix. Soak seeds for 24 hours, then plant them directly in the soil, at least 3 inches apart (7.5 cm). Water them well, and keep the pot in a warm, sunny room.
Thin beet seedlings when they’re at least 3 inches tall (7.5 cm). To avoid disturbing the soil and damaging the roots, you can simply snip off the weaker seedlings with a pair of scissors. Keep watering the plants as they grow, and get ready to harvest your beets when the roots are the size of a golf ball.
With their mildly sweet roots and peppery leaves, beats are a delicious treat to grow in your vegetable garden. They mainly need a loose, well-draining soil and regular watering, but once you’ve ticked those two boxes, growing beets requires very little work. So make sure to add them to your list of vegetables to grow in your garden, and you can enjoy fresh beets every year.