The Ultimate Growing Guide for Beets: Plant Care Tips and Varieties

These true root vegetables can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions.

Close up of fresh beets in crate in farm field
Inti St Clair / Getty Images

Beets are true root vegetables and close relatives of Swiss chard. Though first eaten for their nutritious greens, they have been selectively bred to bring out the attractive and tasty beetroots we are familiar with. The deep color comes from betalains, which are phytochemicals, while the earthy-sweet flavor comes from a chemical called geosmin—the same chemical that produces petrichor, the smell of rain on soil.

Whether you love them for the tasty root or the gorgeous greens, you'll be pleased to know that these vegetables are unfussy and rewarding.

Botanical Name Beta vulgaris
Common Name Beet
Plant Type Biennial, grown as an annual root vegetable
Size 12-15 inches tall 
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Prefers sandy loam but tolerates heavier soil
Soil pH Neutral to slightly acidic
Hardiness Zones 2-10
Native Area Mediterranean

How to Plant Beets

Beets can be planted as soon as the soil is above 45 degrees F, successively through a cool spring, and again in fall, once the heat is below the 90s. The time it takes to harvest ranges from 50-70 days, depending on the varietal; if you time it right, you can have fresh beets (and their greens) for all but the hottest and coldest months of the year.

Growing From Seed

Beets are always grown from seed. The bumpy little balls in the seed packet are actually clusters of several seeds, so give them the recommended amount of space: plant them a half to full inch deep and 3-4 inches apart in rows separated by 12-18 inches.

Save Your Beet Seeds

Start with an heirloom varietal—hybrid won’t reproduce true-to-type offspring. Seed Savers Exchange recommends planting at least 5 plants with extra spacing and support for the seed stalks. These should be at least 800 feet from any other beet or chard variety that could cross-pollinate. When two thirds of the seeds have turned tan, cut the stalk and allow it to dry for 7-14 days. Thresh the seeds by running a gloved hand along the stalk or by putting them in a tub and treading on them. Store in a cool dry place for up to 5 years.

Beet Care

Beets are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions, but they do not thrive when over-watered or overly hot.

Light, Soil, and Nutrients

Beets grow best in full sun to partial shade. Before planting, test the soil for nutrients, as deficiencies in boron are difficult to amend later. Keep in mind the root that grows downward from the round part we eat can reach 18-24 inches in length. Beets do best in well-drained, friable, slightly sandy soil and do not thrive in clay soil.

What Is Friable Soil?

Friable soil forms clods that easily crumble, unlike clay, compacted, silty, or sandy soils. This chunky, crumbly structure allows air and water to permeate, which is ideal for root development.

Soil that gets dry and crusty on top leads to tough-textured beets, while heavy soils will restrict the development of the root. Work in some organic matter to improve soil structure. 

Water, Temperature, and Humidity

Water beets regularly using a drip line. Overwatering can lead to fungal diseases and spotty leaves, while insufficient water, especially in hotter months, will make the beet root’s texture woody. Don’t forget that the root extends downward much farther than the round part we eat, so it’s important that enough water filters down through the soil, rather than pooling near the surface.

Beets tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but a cold spell will cause them to bolt, shooting up a flower stalk to create seeds, which will make the root tough and inedible.

Beet Varieties

female Farmer hold big and small sugar beets in hands - close up
Farmer holding sugar beets. fotografixx / Getty Images
  • Detroit Red boasts a classic, deep purple color with medium-sized roots and rich flavor.
  • Golden Detroit is related to Detroit Red, but the root is a rich golden yellow, loaded with carotenoids, and mild tasting. 
  • Bull’s Blood is a standard beet, more of a dark red than purple, with colorful leaves that can enhance an ornamental garden. 
  • Chiogga beets have concentric pink and white circles, like a bullseye, that keep their color when the beet is roasted whole. This variety is also good for pickling.
  • Cylindra has a shape like a short, fat carrot, which allows closer spacing. Its fine texture makes it great for roasting. 
  • Early Wonder has a shorter time to harvest and provides tall, abundant greens that stay upright, tender, and clean.
  • Sugar beets are white and grow to about a foot long. They are only used in industry as a cane sugar replacement and for animal feed.

How to Harvest Beets

Beets can be harvested when the round root is a little bigger than a golf ball, though some varietals stay tender until a little larger. Scrape away some soil at the base of the stems to judge the size without pulling the plant out. When ready, loosen the soil around the beets with a trowel and pull holding the base of the bunch of stems. If you cut the greens from the root, immediately plunge them into very cold water to help them stay crisp, then drain and refrigerate.