Beetroots are deliciously sweet and colourful, packed with vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds, and very easy to grow from seed. Sow small batches regularly from spring through to mid-summer, for continuous harvests from early summer to mid-autumn. Late harvests can also be stored for winter use, so you can enjoy home-grown beetroot almost all year round.
Plants take up very little room, especially when harvested young, so are ideal if space is limited, and can even be grown in containers. Ready in as little as 40 days (though usually between 50 and 60), they can be harvested any time from the size of a golf ball up to a cricket ball, but don’t let them get much bigger or they may turn woody. The leaves are edible too, and often tinted or veined with red, providing ornamental appeal.
These resilient plants are seldom troubled by pests or diseases, so they rarely disappoint. Just keep them well watered and sow bolt-resistant varieties in cold conditions or for growing during hot summer weather.
Month by Month
There are many beetroot varieties to choose from. Bolt-resistant varieties are a reliable option, especially for early sowings, which are otherwise prone to bolting (flowering prematurely, which suppresses root growth).
Most varieties produce rounded or oval roots, but there are also choices with long, cylindrical roots. They vary in colour too – as well as the usual deep purple-red, there are varieties with crimson, orange, yellow, white or even pink-and-white striped roots. The paler colours are easier to prepare in the kitchen, as they don’t stain your hands, however the rich red and yellow pigments have beneficial antioxidant properties.
Colour can also indicate flavour, with darker roots usually having a richer, more earthy taste and pale ones being milder and sweeter.
The leaves are edible too and can be used like spinach or eaten raw when young. Many varieties produce attractive foliage with dark red veins, while ‘Bull’s Blood’ has particularly attractive glossy deep-red leaves that make a colourful addition to salads.
When choosing varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they grow well and crop reliably – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
What and where to buy
You’ll find a wide selection of beetroot seeds in garden centres and from online suppliers. Some offer collections of several different coloured varieties.
A few suppliers also sell young plants in spring and early summer, for immediate planting outdoors.
Preparing the Ground
Choose a sunny site with fertile soil that drains well and doesn’t become waterlogged.
Weed the ground thoroughly, then add plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure. This improves drainage and enriches the soil. You can also rake in a general-purpose fertiliser, at a rate of one handful per square metre/yard.
If sowing in early spring, especially in heavy clay soil, it’s best to warm the ground first for a couple of weeks using cloches or plastic sheeting. This shouldn’t be necessary on light, sandy soil, which warms up more rapidly in spring. Wait until the soil temperature reaches at least 7°C (45°F) before sowing, and leave the covering in place until the seedlings are growing strongly.
Beetroot seeds are large and easy to sow, in most cases made up of a cluster of seeds rather than just one. They are usually sown straight into the ground, from early spring to mid-summer, but can also be sown in modules indoors for an early start.
Beetroot seeds can be slow or reluctant to germinate – soaking them in warm water for an hour before sowing should produce better results.
Early sowings can be made indoors, especially in colder areas. Use modular trays filled with seed compost and sow one seed cluster in the centre of each, at a depth of 2.5cm (1in). If more than one seedling germinates per module, thin out the weaker ones to leave the strongest.
Alternatively, to grow clumps of small roots, sow up to four seeds per module. Don’t thin out the seedlings, then transplant them outdoors without splitting them up, spacing each clump 15cm (6in) apart.
After a few weeks, once growing strongly, prepare the seedlings for planting out by hardening them off, to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions. Prepare the soil as outlined above, then transfer each module straight into the ground, 10cm (4in) apart, with minimal root disturbance.
The easiest option is to sow beetroot seeds outdoors, once the weather starts to warm up in spring – from late March or April through to July. If you want to sow earlier, from late February, cover the row with fleece or cloches and choose bolt-resistant varieties. Beetroots sown from June onwards can be stored for use in winter.
It’s useful to make regular sowings of short rows every fortnight or so, to provide ongoing harvests over a long period.
After preparing the ground (see above), sow the seeds in drills, 2.5cm (1in) deep, with 30cm (1ft) between each row. The corky seed clusters are quite large, so are easy to sow individually. Water along the base of the drill, then sow the seeds 10cm (4in) apart.
Alternatively, you can sow two or three seeds together, spacing the groups 15cm (6in) apart, to produce clusters of smaller roots, ideal for harvesting as baby veg. This is a particularly useful way to grow when space is tight.
Cover the seeds with soil, then water the row if the ground is dry.
Sowing outdoors in containers
Beetroots can also be sown in large containers, at least 40cm (16in) wide, filled with multi-purpose compost. Choose varieties with rounded roots, rather than long deep ones.
Sow the seeds 10cm (4in) apart, then cover with about 2.5cm (1in) of compost. Water gently to avoid disturbing the seeds.
Place the container in a warm, sunny spot and water regularly.
Thinning out seedlings
If you want to grow larger roots, up to cricket ball size, then thin out the seedlings, if necessary, when they’re about 2.5cm (1in) high. Leave one plant every 10cm (4in), removing the weaker ones. Add the thinnings to salads.
Alternatively, if you’ll be harvesting them when small, about golf ball size, you can leave them at a closer spacing.
Water seedlings regularly until well rooted and growing strongly.
Once established, beetroots don’t usually need much watering, although the roots will generally be more tender if the soil is kept fairly moist. But don’t be overgenerous – excessive watering can lead to too much leafy growth, at the expense of root growth.
During dry spells or in very free-draining soil, water plants every 10–14 days – a lack of water can cause the roots to turn woody, while uneven watering may cause them to split.
Plants in containers need regular watering throughout their growing period, as the limited amount of compost dries out quickly.
If your plants aren’t growing strongly, apply a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, such as sulphate of ammonia, at a rate of 30g (1oz) per square metre/yard, then water in.
Weed regularly to reduce competition for nutrients and water. Ideally weed by hand close to the plants, to avoid accidentally damaging the top of the root with a hoe blade. Weeding is particularly important while the plants are young.
Loosen the soil with a hand fork, then pull up alternate plants once the roots reach golf-ball size, leaving the rest to grow to maturity if you wish. Harvest these when no larger than a cricket ball.
The roots can be eaten raw, especially when young, or can be steamed or roasted to bring out their sweet flavour. It’s usually best to wear rubber gloves when preparing red varieties, as they will stain your hands.
Beetroot leaves can be cooked like spinach, and young leaves can be added raw to salads. The leaves can either be harvested at the same time as the root or you can take a few leaves from each plant through the growing season. Just be careful to leave at least four or five on each plant, to help it continue growing strongly and swelling its root.
Beetroots sown from June onwards can be harvested in autumn and stored for use in winter. Larger roots store better than small ones. Harvest carefully to avoid damaging them, brush off the soil and cut or twist off the leaves about 2.5cm (1in) from the base. Then place in a container of dry sand, potting compost or coir, in a garage or shed, where they should keep for at least a couple of months.
In mild areas, where there is no risk of the soil freezing in winter, beetroots can be left in the ground until needed.
Beetroots are very easy to grow, resilient and usually trouble free. Simply water in dry spells to prevent them turning woody. Occasionally, birds may eat young seedlings, but fleece will usually deter them. In hot, dry weather or if sown in very cool conditions, beetroots may bolt (produce flowers rather than swelling the root) – to avoid this choose bolt-resistant varieties.
If you’re a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems or queries.
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