Growing beetroot (Beta vulgaris) is easy, giving delicious, round, red roots that can be boiled, roasted and pickled – and even grated into salads. The colourful young leaves can be picked fresh and used in salads, and mature leaves can be wilted and used as spinach. There’s a wide variety of beetroot to grow, with orange, yellow and pink cultivars to choose from.
How to grow beetroot
Sow beetroot seeds outdoors from mid-April to late June, into a shallow drill, 1cm deep. Space seeds 10cm apart, with 30cm between rows. Water the plants regularly and keep the area free from weeds. For the sweetest flavour, harvest beetroot when the roots are the size of a golf ball – larger roots can become woody.
How to sow beetroot seed
When to plant beetroot depends on the equipment you have to hand. Outdoors, sow seeds direct in the soil from mid-April to late June, in a shallow drill, 1cm deep. Space seeds 10cm apart, with 30cm between rows. As beetroot is a root crop, make sure the soil is free of large stones to avoid the roots being damaged as they grow.
To extend the beetroot season and ensure an early crop, select a variety known for its resistance to bolting and sow under cloches from the beginning of March.
Growing beetroot in pots, using sifted garden soil or high-quality compost such as John Innes No. 2, is a good option if you’re short on space. It’s an attractive crop and perfect for an ornamental kitchen garden.
You can also sow beetroot in modular trays and transplant the plants outdoors later on. In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don sows beetroot in modular trays indoors, explaining which compost to use and the best way to sow the seeds for good results. He also recommends his favourite variety:
Planting beetroot plugs
You can buy beetroot plug plants or you can sow seed in modular trays to transplant out after the risk of frost has passed to extend the beetroot season. To plant plug plants, leave them out during the day but take them in at night for a few days to help them acclimatise to outdoor temperatures (known as ‘hardening off’), and then prepare the soil as you would normally for planting.
Be careful when removing the plugs from their modules to avoid damaging the roots. Plant them at the same depth they were growing in the tray, at roughly 10cm intervals, and firm around them so that all soil is in contact with the roots. Water thoroughly and continue watering regularly until you see signs of new growth.
How to care for beetroot
Beetroot spacing depends on how large you want the roots to grow. For cricket-ball sized roots, thin out beetroot seedlings, leaving one plant roughly every 10cm. If you want to harvest beetroot when they are the size of a golf ball, keep the seedlings closer together. If you’re careful, you can replant the beetroot thinnings and water well until they re-establish. Alternatively, add the thinnings to salads.
Water beetroot plants regularly. This reduces the likelihood of the roots becoming woody or splitting. Hoe around the plants to keep the row free from weeds, taking care not to damage the swelling roots.
How to harvest beetroot
Growing different varieties of beetroot allows you to enjoy the crop over a long period, without having to store it. Most beetroot is ready to harvest in eight to 10 weeks but longer, cylindrical varieties take nearer 20 weeks.
When harvesting beetroot, grasp the foliage firmly where it meets the top of the root and pull. Beetroot is better harvested too early rather than too late – younger roots are more tender. Pull the roots when they are the size of a cricket ball (or smaller if you want a sweeter taste) and store only those that are undamaged. After lifting, twist off the foliage about 5cm from the root, leaving short stalks.
Pests and diseases
As they emerge from the soil, beetroot seedlings can be attacked by slugs and snails. Apply biological-control nematodes or grow the crop in a large container or bag of clean soil or compost out of the reach of hungry molluscs. A barrier of crushed eggshells may reduce losses. The bright young leaves of the seedlings are also appealing to birds, so consider using a cloche to protect the seedlings until they are fully established.
Cooking and eating beetroot
Wash beetroot gently in cold water, leaving on the long root and taking care not to pierce the skin. This prevents ‘bleeding’ during cooking. Beetroot can be boiled for one to two hours, depending on age, then drained and peeled, or try it wrapped in foil and baked in a low-temperature oven for around two hours.
Looking for inspiration on how to use your beetroot? Our friends at olive have curated a delicious collection of beetroot recipes, including a colourful beetroot salad bursting with citrusy flavours and creamy goat’s cheese.
How to store beetroot
Beetroot can be left in the ground and harvested as needed, but they can be susceptible to hard frosts, which can damage the roots. Cover beetroot beds with a thick layer of straw or cardboard, held in place with horticultural fleece and/or bricks. In very cold regions, it’s best to store beetroot indoors. Store only undamaged beetroots. Place them in a box filled with moist sand or compost and keep in a cool shed. The stored beetroot should last right through to March.
Advice on buying beetroot
- There are many varieties of beetroot available, from globe-shaped roots to long roots, and dark roots to pale roots. Choose a selection and grow a wide range to crop at different times of the year
- Before buying, ensure you have the perfect growing conditions for beetroot to thrive, including moist but free-draining soil and good light levels
- Beetroot is commonly available to grow from seed, but you may find suppliers offering plug plants in spring
Where to buy beetroot
Great beetroot varieties to grow
Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ is one of the most popular beetroot varieties, bearing deep-red, globe-shaped roots that have a delicious sweet flavour. As its name suggests, ‘Boltardy’ is resistant to bolting, which means it can be sown earlier than many other varieties. For the earliest crops, sow undercover as soon as the soil warms up at the start of the year. Later crops can be lifted in late autumn and stored in sand for use during winter.
Beetroot ‘Chiogga’ is a pretty variety with orange-pink skins and red and white rings on the flesh, which fade to pink when cooked. It is especially good in salads – slice in thin rings to show of its pretty flesh. The dark-green leaves and red stems can also be used in salads.
Beetroot ‘Kestrel’ has smooth, globe-shaped roots with a high sugar content, and dark-red skin and flesh. It’s perfect for eating as baby beets or left to mature without going woody. It has good resistance to bolting.
Beetroot ‘Cylindra’ has long, red, cylindrical roots, making it ideal for cutting into uniform slices. The roots have a rich, dark-red colour, sweet flavour and store well. Its easy slicing makes this a great choice for pickling.
Beetroot ‘Pablo’ is a fantastic beetroot, with smooth-skinned, round roots and dark-red skin. The roots are sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. Its sweet flesh makes ‘Pablo’ perfect for eating grated and raw in salads. The roots can be used as baby beets but also left to mature, without danger of them becoming woody. The mature roots store well into winter.
Beetroot ‘Red Ace’
Beetroot ‘Red Ace’ has dark-red, round or oval roots with a good flavour. Its growth is strong and vigorous, making the plants more tolerant of dry, sandy soils than other varieties – it’s less likely to bolt. ‘Red Ace’ is particularly suitable for exhibiting.
Beetroot ‘Blankoma’ is a white-rooted variety, perfect for gourmet gardeners or those looking for something a little different. Its roots are round or conical and earthy in flavour, with strong, tall, green tops that can be used like spinach.
Beetroot ‘Globe 2’
Beetroot Globe 2 is a popular round variety that is often grown for exhibiting. The roots are crisp and dark in colour, and have a very good flavour.