Hi, my name is Cris, and I am ready to admit that I am having problems growing root vegetables…
I think one of the hardest things to deal with as an avid gardener is continual failure in the garden (read my How to Recover from a Poor Gardening Season article if you need more encouragement). If you have one bad specific crop season, you can blame pests, weather, etc. However, if you keep having problems growing specific crops, it means something is wrong and it needs to be fixed.
It can be embarrassing to admit it when you keep failing at growing something. You know what’s even worse? I keep failing at growing root vegetables, something that is often described as “easy vegetables to grow”. Sigh…
I have been having problems growing root vegetables for over a year now. It started last spring, when none of my radishes grew bulbs. I had gorgeous radish greens, but zero bulbs! And every time I looked up tips for growing radishes (even my OWN post on how to grow radishes), the descriptions always started with things like “…radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow…it’s a great beginner garden veggie….even kids can grow them easily!”
It’s hard to read things like that and have a failure crop. Especially when I have a gardening website.
After my failed spring radishes, I tried to brush it off as bad seeds or bad weather. Then, this past fall, I tried growing fall radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and beets. Every single root vegetable that I grew this fall failed to produce large bulbs. That’s when I knew I needed to fix my problem.
I was finally ready to admit that I was having problems growing root vegetables. So I have carefully researched everything that I could find about why root vegetable crops might fail. There is a frustratingly small amount of information out there on troubleshooting root vegetable problems. I plan on asking fellow gardeners about it in person when I go to my next gardening class or conference.
In the meantime, I have gathered all of the information that I have found on problems growing root vegetables, and I am sharing it here with you. I will be trying these techniques this spring, and I sure hope that I can happily update this post next winter and say that my garden tips worked!
If you have any tips on dealing with problems growing root vegetables, feel free to add them to the comment section below. Also, if you have more questions, problems, and/or issues with growing root vegetables, you can add them to the comment section below, too. I might add them to this post and I will try my hardest to find answers for you!
Don’t forget to read my How to Recover from a Poor Gardening Season article if you need more gardening encouragement.
How to Deal with Problems Growing Root Vegetables
Let’s talk about the most common problems with growing root vegetables.
1. Soil pH Levels are not Correct
Is your soil too acidic or too alkaline for root vegetables to grow? You should click on my specific articles for each root vegetable’s preferred pH levels (the links are mentioned above and are also at the bottom of this post), however, in general, root vegetables prefer a soil pH level between 6.0-6.8. Check out my post on How to Properly Test Your Soil to learn how to figure out your soil pH levels.
In the past, I have used this soil test kit to check my soil pH levels. It works great, and I love how easy it is to use. However, this year, I am getting this 3-in-1 soil test kit. It is a bit fancier because it will tell me about the pH levels, moisture levels, and amount of sunlight the area is getting. If it works great, I will be sure to talk about it some more in future posts (and I will update this post, too).
After you figure out your soil’s pH level, you can decide what amendments to do to your soil:
- If you need to raise your pH level (ie: less acidic), you should add garden lime (like this) to your soil. You should try to use dolomitic lime if you can, because this type of lime is made up of both calcium and magnesium, both of which are good for your garden soil. You can also use wood ash to raise your pH level. Wood ash contains potassium and calcium, and, while not AS effective as lime, it will eventually raise your pH levels.
- Sometimes you need a MORE acidic soil. To lower your pH level (ie: more acidic), you should add both aluminum sulfate and sulfur.
Changing your soil pH levels takes time. This should be done the fall season before you plant in the spring. And even then, it is not something that changes overnight. This is a long-term solution to a problem.
2. You have Poor Soil Conditions
I talk about this in my How to Properly Test Your Soil, too. Check out that post to figure out how to use a water test to check your soil conditions. If your soil is too sandy, too compacted, too rocky, etc., it is difficult for root vegetables to grow properly. Adding good compost (learn how to make your own compost) or other garden soil is a good idea for giving your root vegetables some light, airy, non-compacted soil to grow in.
This is why I love gardening in raised beds. It’s a lot easier to prevent poor soil conditions in raised beds. However, you can fix your soil conditions if you do not use raised beds. Figure out if your soil is good quality for root vegetables to grow big bulbs underground by doing the water test in my How to Properly Test Your Soil post.
Another issue with poor soil conditions that I have learned over time is that proper aeration and drainage is SUPER IMPORTANT for growing root vegetables. Those roots cannot grow well if the soil is heavy. I have started adding vermiculite and perlite to my garden beds to make the soil lighter and full of air and my root vegetables are growing with GREAT SUCCESS now! Yay!
3. You are Over-Crowding Your Root Vegetables
It is very important to thin your root vegetable seedlings! Root vegetable plants cannot properly grow good-sized bulbs if they are competing with other root vegetables for bulb space.
Here’s some information on how much space your root vegetables need:
- Radishes: They need 2 inches of space per plant, and 12 inches of space between rows.
- Beets: They need 3 inches of space per plant, and 12 inches of space between rows.
- Rutabagas: 6 inches of space between plants, and 1.5 feet of space between rows.
- Turnips: 6 inches of space between plants, and 12 inches of space between rows.
- Carrots and Parsnips: 1 inch of space between plants, 12 inches of space between rows.
4. Poor Amounts of Sunlight for Your Root Vegetables
You might think that since root vegetables grow mainly underground, they do not need much sunlight. However, they still need at least 4 hours of sunlight each day in order to grow. They can grow in partial sunlight, but root vegetables still prefer full sun if you can give it to them.
This is one of the reasons why I am buying this 3-in-1 Soil Test Kit. I can test the amount of sunlight the area is getting at the same time that I am testing the moisture levels and pH levels of the soil. Score!
5. Your Soil has a Nutritional Imbalance
What I have learned is that root vegetables can produce smaller bulbs than normal (or no bulbs at all) if your soil is lacking phosphorus AND/OR if your soil is too high in nitrogen.
Too much nitrogen can give you beautiful and healthy greens at the expense of the actual root part of the vegetable. Too little phosphorus can stunt the growth of your root vegetables. Together, you get major problems growing root vegetables.
How do you fix your soil nutritional imbalance?
For a long-term solution to nutritional imbalances in your soil, you can get a 5-10-10 (5-nitrogen, 10-phosphorus, 10-potassium) fertilizer and work it into the top three inches of your soil. Make sure you are careful to get a good quality, organic 5-10-10 fertilizer option from your nearby gardening store. Ask your garden store clerks questions about the options they have. Or whip out your smart phone and quickly research the 5-10-10 fertilizer options that you find at your local gardening store. This option will help your garden soil over time, but it might not help in time if you want to plant root vegetables in the next few weeks.
For a short-term solution to a nutritional imbalance in your soil, you can add bone meal to your soil to boost your phosphorus levels (here is an option for bone meal). Simply add bone meal (check out instructions on the bone meal package for amount) to the top inch of soil right before you plant your root vegetables seeds. You need to be careful about adding bone meal to your garden soil: only add it if you have discovered through proper soil tests that your soil is low on phosphorus. You should also consider only adding bone meal to the parts of your garden where you are growing root vegetables this year. Not all plants need high doses of phosphorus, so you probably do not want to add bone meal to every part of your garden.
I will be testing my soil in each garden bed to figure out the pH levels and if I have very low levels of phosphorus in every raised bed, or if it is only a problem in some of my beds. I will be fixing the nutritional imbalances one garden bed at a time.
Want more information on Organic Soil Amendments for your soil? After dealing with problems growing root vegetables, I heavily researched soil amendments and created an e-book on this topic. Click here to learn more about Organic Soil Amendments.
How I am Going to Deal with My Problems Growing Root Vegetables
Nutritional imbalances is the main issue that I am concerned about for my root vegetable growing problems. I might need to fix my pH soil levels, but the other things I have mentioned are not the problem for me. Since I use raised beds with drip irrigation in full sun, it HAS to be a soil nutrition problem.
I plan on fixing my pH soil level, if the test shows that I have a problem there. However, that is a long-term solution, and I want to grow radishes successfully this spring (and my other root vegetables in the fall). So I will be adding bone meal to my root vegetable raised beds this year.
Here’s hoping that I have fixed my problems growing root vegetables, and that I can add some photos of some gorgeous and healthy radishes and other root vegetables to this post later this spring! <3
Please let me know if you have any tips or questions concerning problems growing root vegetables in the comments!
UPDATE SPRING 2021: By fixing the soil with all of these tips, I’m happy to announce that my root vegetable growing issues are now gone. Yay!