Growing Beets in the Home Garden
Beets prefer a cooler climate although they are tolerant of heat. Temperatures of 60 to 65 F and bright sunny days are ideal for beet plant growth and development. They can withstand cold weather short of severe freezing, making them a good long-season crop.
Beets prefer loose, well-drained soils but will tolerate a wide range. Remove stones and debris since this will hinder growth. In high clay soils, add organic matter to improve soil structure and to help avoid crusting after rainfall. Beets also make an excellent raised bed crop since soils are generally less compacted and there is less foot traffic. Beets are also sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. They prefer a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 and will tolerate 6.0 to 7.5.
Fertilizers and lime are best applied using soil test results as a guide. Arrangements for soil testing can be made through your local Extension office. A fertilizer with the analysis of 5-10-10 can be applied at the time of seeding and again when the plants are about three inches high.
Establishing the Planting
Plant the seeds in a well-prepared seedbed as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Sow the seeds 1/2-inch deep and in rows 12 to 18 inches or more apart depending on the method of cultivation.
Space the seeds, which are actually fruits containing several seeds, one inch apart in the rows. When the seedlings are one to two inches tall, thin to about one plant per inch. As they grow, thin to about three to four inches between plants.
Succession planting can be done at three week intervals throughout the season. Avoid seeding during daytime temperatures of 80 degrees F, wait until it is cooler. Most varieties will mature within 55 to 70 days and can be planted until late summer.
After plants are well established, the application of a mulch will conserve soil moisture, prevent soil compaction and help suppress weed growth. Any mechanical cultivation should be very shallow in order to avoid damage to the beet roots.
In order to obtain the highest quality, beets must make continuous growth. Soil moisture and plant nutrient element supply must be adequately maintained to prevent checking of the growth. Supplemental watering may be necessary during dry spells.
Weeds, insects and diseases must be controlled in the planting. Principal insect and disease problems of beets are flea beetles, leaf miners, aphids and Cercospora leaf spot. Regular inspection of the crop can help deter a major pest infestation. Check with your local Extension office for current control recommendations when you notice a problem.
Harvesting and Storage
Beets can be harvested at any time in their growth cycle. Greens are best when four to six inches tall. Beet roots are generally most tender after growing for 40 to 50 days. The best size is between 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. As beets get larger, they tend to become more fibrous. When harvested, leave at least one inch of foliage on the root to avoid bleeding during cooking.
Beets are suited to long-term storage if kept at temperatures near freezing and with high humidity to prevent wilting.
Choice of cultivar depends on your tastes. Excellent varieties for Ohio home gardens include Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red and Little Ball for red beets. More recent introductions include Pacemaker III, Red Ace Hybrid, Warrior and Avenger. Burpee Golden and Albino White are alternatives for a different color of beets. Below are some varieties and their characteristics.
- Burpee Golden – Round type with a unique yellow-orange color.
- Pacemaker III – Uniform, smooth a tender round beet, cercospera leaf spot tolerant, high quality tops.
- Red Ace hybrid – Exceptional weather tolerance, cercospera leaf spot tolerant, early maturity.
- Little Mini Ball – Sliver-dollar sized round roots.
- Detroit Dark Red – Excellent canning, pickling quality, tender & sweet, good boiling greens.
Additional Extension publications that may be useful include:
- Bulletin 287 – Home Vegetable Gardening
- Bulletin 736 – Vegetables for Ohio Gardens.
The author gratefully acknowledges James D. Utzinger, William M. Brooks, and E. C. Wittmeyer, on whose fact sheet this is based.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Marianne Riofrio, Dr. Robert Precheur and E.C. Wittmeyer.