how to plant, grow & care for beetroot
complete growing guide
Don’t let crinkle cut pickled beetroot put you off – it doesn’t have to be that way. I love beetroot raw or roasted, red, orange or pink, and that's what makes it look such fun on the plate. There is even a variety called ‘Chioggia’ or ‘Candy Stripe’ and when you cut into it, you'll see the flesh is stripy - pink and white. Sown regularly every three or four weeks you will be picking baby beets in June, right up to the full-size ones at Christmas that will store through the winter. Browse our range of beetroot seeds and seedlings for a tasty addition to your kitchen garden.
- Common name Beetroot
- Latin name Beta vulgaris
- Type Half-hardy annual vegetable
- Height & spread 30cm
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full Sun
- Spacing 15cm
- Yield Up to 250g
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Grow in a greenhouse? Yes, but not required
how to grow beetroot
where to grow beetroot
Soil type: Beetroot is not too fussy about soil, but a fairly rich, moist but free draining soil will give you the most succulent crop.
Aspect & Position: Grow them in an open sunny position, although if you want a particularly early crop you can also grow them in the polytunnel or greenhouse.
when to plant beetroot
You can start sowing beetroot seeds in the greenhouse in March, but it is best to wait until the soil warms up in April to sow outside.
how to plant beetroot
sowing beetroot seeds direct
Make sure the soil in your chosen spot is raked to a fine tilth after forking in some decent organic matter. You can also rake in a handful per square metre of general purpose fertiliser, such as Organic GroChar Fertiliser.
Mark out a straight row using a string or line and make a shallow seed drill of about 1.5cm using the corner of the hoe. I usually water the drill before I sow the seed, that way you are not in danger of washing away the seeds and the moisture is at the bottom of the drill where the roots really need it.
Beetroot seeds are quite large so they can be placed individually along the row, no closer than 2cm. If they all germinate this will still be far too close, but you can then thin them out to 6cm apart and eat the thinnings as baby beet leaves. Beetroot seed is naturally ‘multigerm’ which means that each seed can result in three or four plants. So, when it comes to harvesting take one baby beet from one clump, and on down the row, leaving the others in the cluster for harvesting later.
After sowing the seed in the drill pull the soil back over to cover them. If the soil is dry you will need to water using a rose on the can to avoid compacting the soil. Label the row with the variety and date and stand back and admire your work. Don’t feel you have to fill the whole row.
Beetroot is best sown successionally, i.e. little and often, so that you don’t get a glut, but a steady supply throughout the season. You can keep sowing them right through spring and summer, giving you a harvest as late as Christmas.
sowing beetroot seeds in gutters
If the garden soil is still a bit cold and wet, you can get ahead by sowing beetroot seed in gutters, germinating them somewhere warm and dry and then transplanting the young seedlings when the weather warms up. Beetroot hate having their roots disturbed, so this is an ideal method.
Use a length of plastic guttering that you can handle easily. Fill with peat free compost almost up to the top of the gutter, water lightly, then pop the seeds individually (beetroot seed is quite big) at about 4cm spacing, down the middle of the gutter. Put the guttering in the greenhouse or on an indoor windowsill and watch the seed germinate in around 10 days’ time.
planting out beetroot seedlings
Once your beetroot seedlings have four leaves and are looking sturdy enough to face the outside world, harden them off for a few days by keeping them inside at night and outside during the day.
Make an indentation in your prepared soil outside using an empty piece of gutter, water the bottom of the indentation and let it drain away. Carefully slide the seedlings, soil and all into their new home and water in well. Once you have the knack, they will hardly notice the change and grow away as if nothing has happened. You will still need to thin them out gradually, eating the baby beets at radish or golf ball size before leaving the main crop to grow on to the size your recipes need.
growing beetroot in a pot
You can grow beetroot in a large container, as long as it is deep enough for the developing roots. I have used an old zinc cistern in a courtyard garden to grow a few choice varieties, enriching the soil with home-made garden compost and sowing the seeds direct into the surface. Again, this is an ideal method if you are right there to water regularly and eat the thinnings as a salad vegetable.
how to care for beetroot
Beetroot doesn’t need a huge amount of water unless you are growing it in the greenhouse or in a container when you will need to give it a helping hand. Beetroot grown outdoors may need additional watering in particularly dry spells, if the soil looks like it is drying out.
Make sure your seedlings don’t get smothered by weeds, and thin out gradually so that they don’t have to compete too much for water and food. Some varieties will bolt (go to seed) if they are stressed, so, better to eat the thinnings than let them be too crowded in the row.
When you're harvesting beetroots, go through your patch and have a little rummage and you’ll find the bigger ones are starting to push themselves slightly out of the ground. You should be able to see the ones that are ready to harvest.
You don't want to start at the beginning of the row and just harvest down the row because you will then end up taking really small ones out which is a bit of a waste unless you want baby beetroot. You really want to pick them when they're the right size, roughly between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. This is when they're really tender, but they're not too small so you're not wasting them.
The root should pull easily from the soil by hand, but you may find that you need a trowel if you have a heavier soil. What I always do is wash them under a tap in the garden into a bucket and then just chuck the bucket with the soil onto the garden rather than bringing all the soil into the sink, and blocking the drains.
Harvest your beetroot before hard frosts come and you can store them over the winter months. Store the roots in boxes of sand or sawdust in a cool, frost-free shed. They should last right through the winter.
- Start sowing seed indoors or in gutters in March.
- Sow direct outdoors in April
- Continue sowing at 3 or 4 week intervals.
- Thin out gradually and weed.
- Harvest full size beets.
- Harvest before hard frosts come and store.
pests, diseases & common issues
why did my beetroot grow leaves but no bulb?
The bulb is a storage mechanism for the plant, so if it does not get enough food, water or light it will not have enough surplus to store. Usually this happens because the soil is too poor, or the plants are too overcrowded. Alternatively, if the soil is too rich in nitrogenous matter, the plant will put all its energy into leaves, and not the root. So don’t manure too heavily and add a little potash in the form of biochar or wood ash.
why is my beetroot not growing?
You need to wait until the soil is warming up before you sow the seeds outside, otherwise they will be slow to germinate and even slower to grow.
why are my beetroot leaves turning yellow?
Sometimes this can be due to over or underwatering, and occasionally a mineral deficiency such as boron if the soil has had too much lime applied in the past.
why are my beetroots so small?
Usually this is because they are struggling for food, so make sure you improve the soil with well-rotted compost before you sow next time. You could rescue the crop by raking in a little general purpose fertiliser around the plants. Make sure you thin your seedlings to 6cm apart so that they do not have to compete too much with their neighbours.
why do sparrows eat beetroot leaves?
Because they know a good thing when they taste it, and there probably isn’t much other greenery around for them. You can net your crop to deter them, or frighten them off with a dangling CD, hopefully as the summer progresses, they’ll find other more robust plants to peck at.
why is my beetroot bolting?
Plants bolt (go to seed) when they are stressed and realise they need to propagate themselves before it is too late. Ensure they have the right amount of what they need: food, water, light and air and they should concentrate on storing their surplus energy in the form of a nice tasty root. Sadly, you can’t turn the clock back, once they decide to bolt there is no holding them back, just pull the plant up and harvest the leaves as a green vegetable and start again. Make sure when you sow new seed it is not too thick, as competition for resources is usually the main cause.
frequently asked questions
how long does beetroot take to grow?
It rather depends on the weather conditions and the size of beetroot you prefer. But the rule of thumb is around seven weeks for baby beets and 12 weeks for a full-size root.
how deep does beetroot grow?
The roots are relatively shallow with the bulbous part often forming above ground level.
can you grow beetroot in containers?
You can grow beetroot in a large container, as long as it is deep enough for the developing roots.
how often should beets be watered?
If you are growing them outside in the open ground they should not need much watering at all unless there is a particularly dry spell. Then it is better to give them a decent drink once a week, rather than a sprinkle every day.
what happens if you don’t thin beets?
If you sow the seed too thickly you will get a mass of spindly leaves and no roots. Try to sow relatively thinly (every 2cm or so) and then thin out every other one to eat as micro leaves, and then again a couple of weeks later every other one can be taken as baby beets, leaving the wider spacings for the mature roots.
is it safe to eat beetroot leaves?
Absolutely, these are a mainstay in the bags of supermarket salad leaves as they keep well and are packed with flavour. They also look very pretty on the plate with the red stems. Once they get bigger, or indeed as you harvest the roots, cook the leaves as you would spinach or chard.
how many beetroots do you get from one plant?
Most varieties are ‘multigerm’ which means that they have three or four embryos in each seed, often resulting in as many bulbs which will need thinning.
can you grow a beetroot from a beetroot?
You might be able to grow beet leaves or flowers by cutting the top off a root and standing in a dish of water, but you will not get another beetroot per se. They are an annual plant so once they have made a root they are primed to flower and set seed.
does beetroot need full sun?
It does really, you might get a decent crop of beet leaves in shade, but the root will not form properly without sunshine. So at least half the day the plant needs to be in full sun.
can you grow beetroot all year round?
Beetroot seed will not germinate in cold conditions. If you sow the seed indoors it will germinate, and given enough artificial light (using horticultural grow bulbs) you can get a winter crop. But given that it stores well as a winter root vegetable there isn’t really much point.
what to grow with beetroot
As it is quite a quick crop it is quite useful to sow as a follow on from early potatoes, or between rows of brassicas that haven’t filled out to full size. It is also fantastic planted with chamomile, onions and lettuce, as the smells deter the aphids that can sometimes affect the young plants.
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