How To Plant, Grow, and Care For Beets in Your Garden
Beets are becoming a popular and especially nutritious vegetable to have around your garden. But they can also be a bit picky with their growing conditions. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines the best ways to plant, grow, and care for beets. You'll learn all you need to know about growing this vegetable, as well as some tips and tricks you won't find anywhere else.
When it comes to root vegetables, beets are among the hardiest and most beginner-friendly. They grow in just about any climate and store well throughout the winter. Beets are also one of those unique vegetables that you can eat from top to bottom: the leaves, stems, and rounded roots are all edible and delicious.
A staple in any garden, beets are a cool-season crop that is ready to harvest in just two months after planting. Grown in spring, late summer, and fall, you can store beets for 1-3 months through the winter and preserve beets by canning, pickling, or freezing.
Although beets are most well known for their vibrant red bulbs, they also come in a diversity of shapes and colors, from golden-yellow to fuschia pink to candy-cane stripes. Regardless of the type you choose, growing beets is simple and rewarding. Let’s dig into how to plant, grow, and care for these delicious root crops!
Beets Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous Biennial
Species Beta vulgaris
Hardiness Zone USDA 2-10
Season Spring and Fall
Plant Height up to 24 inches
Fertility Needs Light
Temperature 50° to 70°F, Tolerates to 25°F
Plant With Pole Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radish
Soil Type Loamy, Well-draining, Slightly Acidic
Plant Spacing 3 inches for Plants, 12-18 inch Rows
Watering Needs High
Sun Exposure Full to Partial Sun
Days to Maturity 50-60 days
Pests Leaf Miner
Diseases Cercospora Leaf Spot, Scab
History and Cultivation
Health trends like blushing beet juice, vibrant beet hummus, and pink beet pancakes have brought beets into the modern foodie spotlight, but we now know that the nutritious red roots and greens have been popular for millennia.
Archeological records date beet cultivation back as early as 300 BC in ancient Greece. These delicious goosefoot-family crops have a unique history and impressive nutrient profile that has garnered them space in gardens and kitchens around the world.
What Are Beets?
Beetroot, most commonly called the beet, is a biennial plant that goes by the Latin name Beta vulgaris. Though it takes two years to mature and set seed, it is typically grown as an annual. Beets are root vegetables with burgundy-green leaves and dark red or other colored bulbous roots.
It is a member of the Chenopodiaceae or Amaranthaceae family, which also includes spinach, amaranth, quinoa, pigweed, and Swiss chard. In fact, chard is actually just a variety of B. vulgaris that has been bred for delicious rainbow-colored greens.
There are four primary types of beet, each of which has been specially bred and adapted for specific uses:
- Beets: bred for bulbous, hearty roots
- Swiss Chard: grown for its colorful leaves
- Sugar Beets: bred for extra sweet long, thick roots used to make sugar
- Beet Greens and Microgreens: rainbow greens specifically selected for earthy tender flavor and harvest at the “baby” green stage
There are dozens of unique seed varieties within each category, but this article will focus specifically on the classic beetroot. If you want to grow rainbow chard, be sure to check out our guide on growing Rainbow Chard, as well as the Top Varieties of Swiss Chard.
Where Do Beets Originate?
The first historical records of beets come from the Mediterranean coasts of Eurasia, where wild beet or sea beet (Beta maritima) was likely domesticated. Ancient Greeks cultivated beets mostly for the beet greens and called it teutlion. Romans were the first to grow beets for their roots and referred to it as beta.
Early beet varieties were white or black, but by the end of the 15th century, more varieties of golden and red beets were cultivated. Some coarser yellow types were used to feed livestock, whereas long, sweet types were developed by the Prussians to use in making sugar.
By the 19th century, European settlers had brought rounder, more bulbous beets to America. The Shakers were among the first beet seed growers and began offering commercial varieties of the ‘Early Wonder’ red beet and other heirlooms via mail-order seed catalogs. Many of these varieties are still available today!
Nutritional Superfood Worth Its Weight in Silver
The nutrition of beetroot and beet greens have earned this plant “superfood” status, garnering attention from chefs and health foodies around the world. But all the hype is nothing new. The ancient Greeks and Romans used beets for both food and medicine, praising their use as a mild laxative and cure for fevers. Hippocrates used beet greens to dress wounds, and the ancient Jewish text Talmud advised eating beetroot for longer life.
Most interestingly, the Greeks considered beets worth their weight in silver! This root was offered to the sun gods and also eaten by Aphrodite (the goddess of love) to enhance her romantic appeal. Many cultures even considered beets an aphrodisiac.
Modern research has confirmed that these ancient beliefs about beets are actually rooted in science. These vibrant roots and greens are a natural source of amino acids tryptophan, which promotes serotonin production, and betaine, which protects cells and has an anti-inflammatory effect on many diseases.
Beets are also significant dietary sources of Vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, boron, potassium, and fiber. Their high antioxidant content has earned them a “superfood” reputation. They’ve even been shown to boost energy levels and lower blood pressure.
Beets are most commonly propagated by seed. The seeds are fairly large and easy to handle, making them an excellent choice for beginners and children’s gardens. Like chard, B. vulgaris seeds are seed clusters that may have one or several seeds inside, making thinning seedlings important for uniform roots. Beet can be directly sown or transplanted into the garden.
How to Direct Sow Beets
You can plant beets as soon as the soil temperature reaches 45°F. Seed about 15 beet seeds per foot at 1/2 inch deep in rows 12-18″ apart. Once germinated, you can thin seedlings to 1 plant every 2″. Beets are best succession planted every 2 weeks for a continuous supply.
Beet seedlings can be quite popular with birds and rodents, so I prefer to use a row cover to hold in moisture, add warmth, and keep critters out.
Maintain continuous moisture levels until germination, but avoid overwatering because beets and chard are very prone to damping off. Beet plants take 5 to 8 days to emerge or up to 3 weeks in cold soils. They will be ready to harvest in about 50-60 days, depending on the variety.
How to Seed Beet Microgreens
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to enjoy the nutrition of beets without having to grow them to full-size roots, consider growing beet microgreens. This can be done entirely indoors under grow lights and yields delicious baby rainbow greens in as little as 15-25 days.
Start with shallow trays or flats filled with a quality potting mix or soilless medium. Broadcast beet seeds thickly on the soil surface so they are approximately 1/8″-1/4″ apart.
Press the seeds into the soil and cover with vermiculite or more soil mix to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact. Water in the seeds thoroughly and maintain a soil temperature around 70°F until germination.
A humidity dome, germination heat mats, and grow lights will yield the highest quality microgreens. It is best to bottom-water microgreen flats in order to prevent splashing or damage to the tender stems. Use scissors or a knife to harvest in big bunches and enjoy on salads, sandwiches, wraps, or as delicate nutritious toppers to any meal.
How to Start Beet Seeds Indoors
Beets are often started indoors and transplanted to provide earlier harvests and a buffer against poor weather conditions in the early spring. You can sow seed in a greenhouse or indoors about 5-6 weeks before heavy frosts become infrequent. This could be up to 8-10 weeks before your last frost date.
Use 72 or 128-cell trays filled with a quality well-drained seed starter mix. Sow the beet seeds 1/2 inch deep, 1-3 seeds per cell.
After 5-6 weeks, the seedling roots will have thoroughly filled out their cell containers and be ready to transplant (if the weather has cooperated).
Planting beets is very simple and similar to other vegetable crops. They are often grown in bunches in smaller cells and closer spacing will take a bit more time to plant, but the earlier dependable harvests may be worth it for you!
How to Transplant Beets
When it comes time to plant beets in the garden, you can use a hori hori knife or your hands to make small dibbles in the soil. Grasp the baby plants from the base and gently wiggle free from their cell flats.
Transplant each cell bundle of 2-3 seedlings approximately 3 inches apart in rows 12-18 inches apart. This makes it easy to harvest beets in bunches.
The spacing of beets truly depends on your preference. For baby beets, consider a closer planting of 1-2″ or transplanting in bundles. Growing in partial sun will also yield small beets. For larger beets, space 2-3 inches apart and give more space between rows.
Direct Sow vs. Transplanting
Direct sowing is the quickest and easiest way to grow beets, but there are a few more risks to seeding directly into the garden: A heavy frost could kill your seedlings, critters could eat the seeds, or beet seedlings may dry out and never germinate.
Transplanting beet seedlings provides a buffer against these issues and yields earlier harvests, but it is more work.
Transplanted beets won’t be as uniform as directly sown beets because their taproots tend to tangle together. As you’ll see in the harvest section, it may take a little extra care to hold transplanted beet plants in place while pulling the largest harvests first.
How to Grow Beets
Growing beets for their roots is very similar to growing Swiss Chard, except the spacing is closer. Beets grow best in the cool shoulder seasons, but some varieties are tolerant to hot weather.
These plants are quite forgiving, so you don’t need to have a “green thumb” to grow beets (though you may end up with a red thumb when preparing them!).
All jokes aside, these deep red roots are very beginner-friendly crops for any size garden. With a few simple tips, you’ll be harvesting beets and beet greens throughout the spring and fall.
Beets prefer full sun. They need to be planted in an area with at least 6 hours of full sun exposure throughout the day. Avoid planting beets in areas that don’t get enough sunlight if you want to harvest them for medium-large sweet roots.
However, if you prefer to grow B. vulgaris for beet greens or baby beets, a garden space in partial shade will be just fine. Shade will yield smaller, more tender roots and greens.
Perhaps the most finicky thing about growing beets is irrigation. Beets are a thirsty crop that prefers plenty of water throughout its lifecycle. You need to keep beet plants well irrigated to prevent issues like powdery scab (unsightly rough brown spots on roots), cracking, or delayed maturity.
Overhead irrigation typically isn’t recommended because it causes a lot of splashing onto leaves that can lead to fungal diseases. Soaker hoses or drip lines are great for growing beets because they can run right alongside the roots and save water.
Provide young plants at least 1″ of water per week and ensure plenty of water during hot, dry spells. Keep soil consistently moist but never soggy or too wet.
A loose soil that is loamy and well-drained is ideal for growing beets. The soil Ph should be over 6.0. A generous incorporation of organic matter and/or peat moss or sand can help fix heavy clay soils that may cause problems for beets.
Climate and Temperature
Beets are a cool-weather crop ideal for spring plantings or late summer sowings for fall harvest. They prefer growing in daytime temperatures between 60 and 70°F and cool nights around 50 to 60°F. However, they are very cold tolerant, and mature plants can withstand down to 25°F.
Sudden fluctuations in weather may cause zoned white rings in the roots. This is nothing to worry about but is easily prevented by using row cover to buffer against temperature swings.
When it comes to fertility, beets are not too picky. If your soil is lacking in organic matter or compost, consider using a supplemental seaweed extract or diluted fish fertilizer every couple of weeks throughout the growing season. There are also some commercially available fertilizers for beets that will do well if needed.
The one nutrient beets often lack is boron, which can lead to “black heart rot” (black sunken-in spots on the roots), weak leaves, or poor root growth. If you suspect your soil is lacking in bioavailable boron, you can side dress with an organically-approved Borax at a rate of 1/2 ounce per 100 square feet.
Growing beets doesn’t require any special maintenance. Just keep your beds well weeded to prevent competition. Be sure to hold beetroots in place when pulling out weeds to ensure that you don’t accidentally pull up your beetroots.
The most fun thing about beets is the huge diversity of root colors, shapes, and sizes. Like their cousins Rainbow Chard, beets can add a colorful array to your garden.
Best Early Beets
- ‘Early Wonder Tall Top’: one of the oldest varieties in America, great for greens and beetroots, excellent disease resistance
- ‘Subeto’: productive, early beet matures in 50 days and performs well in spring, smaller tops
Best Classic Red Beets
- ‘Boro’: widely adapted, fast-maturing with a smooth deep red root and excellent flavor
- ‘Red Ace’: a workhorse in the garden, this is your classic reliable beet with strong tops and sweet, tender roots
- ‘Detroit Dark Red’: perfectly round 3″ beets with succulent flesh and sweet flavor
Best Golden Beets
- ‘Touchstone Gold’: striking yellowish-orange round beet that retains its color and sweet flavor when cooked, great germination, young greens are delicious
- ‘Badger Flame’: an oblong golden-yellow beet highly coveted amongst chefs and foodies for its superb flavor and crisp tender flesh that can be enjoyed raw
Best Striped Beets
- ‘Chioggia Guardsmark‘: super high quality strain of Chioggia with pink and white candy-cane stripes and excellent flavor
- ‘Chioggia Bassano’: an Italian heirloom with stunning concentric rings of pink and white, mellow flavor and tender flesh
Best Storage Beets
- ‘Cylindra’: an elongated cylindrical shaped beet excellent for canning or storage as a fall crop, tolerance to scab and best performs when hilled
- ‘Merlin’: a deep red beet for early winter harvest, holds well in a root cellar or perforated plastic bag in the cooler, suitable for warm climates as well
- ‘Ruby Queen’: classic sweet red beet, best for pickling or fermenting
Pests and Diseases
Fortunately, beets are not sensitive to many pests, but they may fall victim to a few plant diseases. Let’s take a deeper look at the different nuisances that you’ll be dealing with when it comes to beets in your garden.
If you notice little winding trails through your chard or beet leaves, you may have a case of leaf miners. Their feeding often results in white blotches or premature leaf drop. The adult leaf miners are small black and yellow flies that lay their eggs in the beet leaves. The eggs hatch into larvae that tunnel through beets.
The easiest way to prevent leaf miners is to check transplants for damage before planting, remove beet plants from the soil after harvest, and plant beneficial insectaries that attract natural enemies. Mature leaves are typically able to handle a small leaf miner infection. The beets are still edible.
Scab is a fungal pathogen that typically only causes aesthetic skin-deep damage. Beets succumb to these ugly brownish scabs under hot, dry conditions. If you prefer bright-colored, tender beets, keep the plants well-irrigated and don’t let the soil dry out in hot weather. The scab fungus is less problematic for a healthy well-watered beet plant growing in soil that is slightly more acidic.
Cercospora Leaf Spot
This annoying fungal pathogen causes unsightly brown or greyish flecks with purple or red halos on beet greens. It may cause yellowing or browning on the leaves and, in severe cases, kill whole plants.
Avoiding overhead irrigation and practicing crop rotation is the easiest way to prevent Cercospora leaf spot. You should also remove all plant material from the garden so that the fungus is unable to overwinter on beet residues.
Beets are most known for their hearty dark red roots, however, their tasty greens can also be used like chard in any recipe. Beetroot has been used in soups, stews, juices, slaws, salads, and even baked goods for centuries. My particular favorite is substituting vibrant roasted beets for food coloring in any red velvet or brownie recipe (no one will ever notice!).
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you take care of beets in the garden?
Beets are easy beginner-friendly crops that prefer plenty of water, full sunlight, and well-drained soil. Growing beets is very simple in almost any climate. Plant beets in the early spring by sowing seeds about 1/2″ deep and covering lightly with soil. Keep moist until germination and thin to 2-3″ between plants and 12-18″ between rows. They prefer cool weather and moderate fertility.
What time of the year do you plant beets?
Plant beets a few weeks before the last spring frost or throughout late summer and fall. Beets are cool-weather crops that thrive in temperatures between 50 and 70°F but tolerate cold down to 25°F once established.
What month should I plant beets?
Plant seeds in March or April in most climates and keep consistently moist. Use row cover to help buffer against temperature extremes. Beets enjoy cooler weather and can be succession planted every couple of weeks all season long unless your summers are exceptionally hot.
Do beets like sun or shade?
Beets prefer full sunlight to produce large round roots that are flavorful and colorful. However, you can also grow beets in a bit of shade if you prefer to harvest tender greens and smaller roots.
If you’ve been wanting to grow beets in your garden, there is no better time to start than now! Their large seeds, easygoing growth requirements, and quick maturity make them perfect for beginner and veteran gardeners alike.
These red roots are eager to please and add some vibrancy to your garden and plate. Next thing you know, you’ll be harvesting beets all spring and autumn for delectable dishes and nutritious meals.