Turnips, also called white turnips, are far from the boring vegetable people make it out to be. A close cousin of mustard and rapeseed, and a distant cousin of radishes, turnips are a highly nutritious and easy-to-grow root vegetable. Most varieties are ready to harvest in 35 to 60 days.
While this article is referring to white turnips, the recommendations also apply to the yellow rutabaga, a different vegetable which is also called Swedish turnip or swede in other countries. Both vegetables have similar light requirements.
Turnips, like all root vegetables, grow best in full sun, at least 6 hours a day, but will tolerate partial shade. The more time spent under shade, however, the slower your turnips will grow, and you may end up with smaller bulbs. If growing turnips mainly for their green tops, however, they will thrive in partial shade.
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Light Requirements for Growing Turnips
Turnips grow best in full sun, and the more sunlight they get, the better. Sunlight is energy, and more energy means faster growth, more lush turnip greens (which are also edible!) and more energy going into the roots, forming large, juicy turnips.
That said, turnips, similar to radishes, will tolerate partial shade but grow smaller roots.
Full Sun vs. Partial Shade vs. Full Shade
Whenever you see the term full sun, it means being exposed to direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day, even if it’s shaded for the rest of the day. So, if where you’ve planted turnips is already getting 6 hours, it has plenty of sun to grow.
Partial shade is anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of direct sun per day. Turnips can easily grow in partial shade, although it will grow more slowly and may have smaller roots. If you are growing turnips for their green tops, partial shade is more than enough to get a good harvest.
Full shade means fewer than 3 hours of sun per day or no sun at all. It’s not recommended to grow turnips in full shade, but you may be able to grow them for their tops, which will also be more leggy than turnip greens grown in partial shade or full sun.
The Best Locations for Planting Turnips in Partial Shade
General recommendations for growing vegetables in partial shade all apply to turnips as well. The best locations for partial shade would be near an east-facing or west-facing wall or fence where the turnips can still get at least 3 to 6 hours of sunlight per day.
You can also interplant turnips along the edge of a vegetable bed that is growing something else, such as a row of tomatoes. The benefit of this is that while your tomatoes may partially shade your turnips, you are still going to get a harvest and will make more efficient use of space.
Planting around a small tree, along a shrub line, or in containers on a partially shaded deck or patio will have a similar effect.
If you are mainly growing turnips for their greens, I actually recommend planting in partial shade so you can use the more sunny spaces to grow other, more demanding vegetables in full sun.
The worst places to plant turnips are locations that are fully shaded, such as a north-facing fence, underneath a large tree, or a patio with an awning completely shading out the turnips.
Recommended Turnip Varieties for Growing in Partial Shade
Purple Top White Globe (60 days) – This is a very popular, tried-and-true turnip variety that is renowned for its delicious, sweet roots. As the name implies, it’s an off-white turnip with purple shoulders. Although it takes a bit longer to mature than other varieties, it would be remiss not to include it.
Milan Purple Top (45 days) – An Italian heirloom, the Milan Purple Top is a fast-growing variety with excellent, mild flavor. The shape is round but can sometimes come out more flattened.
Oasis (50 days) – A pure white turnip, Oasis is a hybrid with excellent disease resistance and one of the best turnips to eat raw. It’s mildly sweet and has a flavor similar to melon. Some people prefer eating it raw like an apple or pear. They are also a smaller variety so they’re perfect for containers and smaller gardens, too. A must-try.