The beet plant (Beta vulgaris) is a fast-growing vegetable that can be grown just about anywhere. Although beets are known as a root crop, all parts of the beet plant are edible. Tender beet greens can be harvested when thinning a row of beets, and mature leaves make good greens when it's time to pull up the whole plant. The most commonly known root beets are red, but golden and striped varieties are now popular, as well.
Beets are a cool-season vegetable crop, and you may be able to get both an early crop planted in the spring as well as a crop planted in the summer or fall. Most beet varieties are ready to harvest about two months after planting.
|Botanical Name||Beta vulgaris|
|Common Name||Beet, beetroot|
|Plant Type||Annual vegetable|
|Mature Size||12 to 18 inches tall, 18 to 24 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil pH||6.0–7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Not grown for flowers|
How to Plant Beets
Beets are easy to grow from seed in your garden or in containers. You will need to consider how much room you have to dedicate to this crop. The size of the plants will depend on the variety you grow and at what stage you harvest, but on average beetroots grow 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Leaves can spread about 18 to 24 inches and grow to 12 to 18 inches tall.
If planting in the spring, wait until the soil has warmed and dried out. A soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. You can sow successive plantings as long as the daytime temperature isn't above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plant your beets in the fall, seeding can begin again once nighttime temperatures begin cooling off. Be sure you leave about a month before your first expected frost, from your last seeding.
Because beets are generally grown as a root crop, they will do best in full sun but should do fine in part shade. You can tuck beets in between taller plants in the garden.
Beets prefer acid soils. A light, well-draining soil is best. Rocks, clay, and anything that can interfere with root development should be removed. Beets need boron to prevent black heart—a condition that causes deformed leaves and corky black spots on the roots. You can provide boron by using compost or seaweed extract as a soil amendment. To prevent deformed roots, keep the area free of weeds.
Provide at least 1 inch of water every week. Mulching will help to keep the soil from drying out and getting too warm.
Temperature and Humidity
Beets are not quite as cold-tolerant as cool-season vegetables, like broccoli, but they can tolerate a light frost. They like cool temperatures, so beets are generally grown in the spring or fall.
If your soil is not rich in organic matter, supplemental feeding will be necessary about two weeks after the beets emerge. Any good vegetable fertilizer will do, applied as directed.
- 'Burpee Golden' beets have a beautiful yellow-orange color but are relatively temperamental when growing.
- 'Chioggia' is an heirloom beet with concentric red and white circles.
- 'Detroit Dark Red' is great for fresh eating or canning and pickling.
- 'Mini Ball' produces individual-sized beets and is great for growing in containers.
You can start harvesting the beet greens when they are a couple of inches tall. The greens are most tender before they reach 6 inches long. Most varieties of beets will reach full maturity i 50 to 70 days. Beetroots are ready to harvest when they are approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Larger roots are tougher and more fibrous.
Harvest the roots by tugging or digging. Leave at least 1 inch of the stem on the bulb to avoid bleeding during cooking.
Beets are ideal root cellar vegetables and can be stored for three to four months at near-freezing temperatures with high humidity (98 to 100 percent). Beets can also be canned, pickled, or frozen.
How to Grow Beets From Seed
Beets don't transplant well and are always direct sown from seed. For a longer harvest, beets can be planted in succession every three weeks.
The beet seeds found in the packets are really clumps of four to six seeds. You can plant the whole clump and thin the seedlings when they get a few inches tall, or you can try to separate the clumps into individual seeds before planting. The safest way to do this is to gently run a rolling pin over the clumps—but be careful not to crush the seeds. Most gardeners find it easier to simply thin the young greens. You can eat the thinned leaves in salads. To prevent damage to the roots of the plants staying in the ground, thin plants by cutting the shoots at the soil line with scissors or shears; do not pull them up.
Beets grow with a portion of the root above ground, so seeds do not need to be planted deeply; 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep is sufficient. As the temperature warms, plant them 1 inch deep because it will be cooler underground. Space the seeds about 2 to 3 inches apart. That's all the space the roots need, and when the leaves start growing together, they provide a cooling mulch for the roots. While you can plant the seeds in narrow rows, wide rows, or blocks, it's easiest to simply broadcast the seed and then thin the plants to the recommended spacing. All thinned plants can be eaten.
Beet seeds can be slow to germinate because of their tough outer shell. Soaking the seed clusters overnight will help soften the shell and speed germination. You can always use the old trick of planting fast-sprouting radishes in the same row as your beets. It helps to mark the row and loosen the soil. By the time the beets start to develop, the radishes are ready to be pulled.
Another germination trick is to cover the seed in the garden with vermiculite, peat moss, or some other non-crusting material. This will keep the seeds moist and warm but will not prevent them from breaking through the surface. This trick is very useful in gardens with less-than-ideal soil.
How to Grow Beets in Pots
Their compact growth habit makes beets a good choice for containers. The pot should be at least 12 inches deep and 12 to 24 inches wide across the top. Be sure it has holes in the bottom to provide good drainage. Small varieties of beets, including 'Mini Ball' and 'Baby Ball', do particularly well in containers.
Fill the container with a premixed potting soil formulated for vegetables. Plant the seeds with 2- to 3-inch spacing. Keep the pot well watered, as the soil can quickly dry out in pots. When it's time to thin, carefully cut off the shoots at the soil line so as not to disturb the remaining plants.
Common Pests and Diseases
Many of the common problems with beets are shared by other root vegetables, such as potatoes. In addition to black heart, caused by a boron deficiency (described above), be on the lookout for:
Bacterial infections: A variety of soil bacteria can cause discolored spots on leaves, which can gradually infect the roots. Affected plants should be removed, and rotate crops the next season. Do not plant beets in garden space previously occupied by potatoes.
Viral infections: Various viruses, often transmitted by leafhopper insects, can cause twisted, distorted leaves. Combat virus infections by planting resistant varieties and fighting leafhoppers with pesticides.
Fungal infections: Similar to bacteria, fungal infections cause small brown or gray spots to cover the leaves. To prevent, rotate crops every two to three years. At the first sign of infection, apply a fungicide spray.
Root rot: Usually caused by the Fusarium fungus, root rot causes the above-ground foliate to wilt, as though in need of water, while the underground root begins to rot away. Root rot tends to appear in cycles—two or three disease-free years might be followed by a bad season where many plants are affected. Root rot can be minimized by keeping your garden weed-free and by avoiding overwatering. Affected plants should be removed.
Insect pests: Watch for leaf miners, leafhoppers, flea beetles, aphids, and caterpillars. Pests usually are identified by ragged holes left when they feed on leaves. Use an appropriate pesticide, or pick off pests by hand.