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How to Grow Root Vegetables in Your Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 22, 2020 • 3 min read

Root vegetables take time and effort to grow, but they’re worth it once you're enjoying homegrown roasted potatoes, carrots, or parsnips sautéed in olive oil.

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What Is a Root Vegetable?

A root vegetable is any underground part of a plant that humans consume. Some popular types of root vegetables are carrots, beets, potatoes, yams, and onions. Root vegetables are naturally gluten-free, and many are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

Types of Root Vegetables

Many types of root vegetables are wonderful plants to have in your garden because they can be harvested over a long period of time and don't take up too much space.

  1. Stem tubers and root tubers: Stem tubers (potatoes, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, oca) and tuberous roots (sweet potatoes, yucca, cassava, tugi, jicama) are underground storage organs where plants stockpile nutrients for winter or dry months. In order to grow effectively, these types of root vegetables need damp, loose soil with ample drainage. You can grow tubers in garden beds, a potato grow bag, a five-gallon bucket, or a deep flowerpot.
  2. Rhizomes: Also called creeping rootstalks, rhizomes are underground plant stems that send out stolons or "runner" stems which run horizontally along the soil surface. Grow these root vegetables in raised beds so their stolons don't interfere with the rest of your crops. Common rhizomes include asparagus, turmeric, rhubarb, bamboo, ginger, and hops.
  3. Taproots: This type of plant has an enlarged root that is thick at the top and tapers to a point at the bottom. To grow undisturbed, taproots require a loose, rock-free soil. Examples of taproots include carrots, beets, daikon radishes, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, jicama, daikon, kohlrabi, and celeriac (also called celery root).
  4. Bulbs: Typically are made up of layered segments, bulbs grow just under the surface of the ground and produce a leafy stem above the ground. Use bulbs like red onions, white onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks to enhance the flavor of other foods. The best environment for growing bulbs is a deep garden bed with a large surface area and loose, well-drained soil.
  5. Corms: Similar to bulbs in that they grow just under the surface of the soil, corms survive during dry and cold seasons by storing nutrients. Examples of corms include taro, water chestnut, malanga, and arrowhead.
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7 Tips for Growing Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are rewarding and productive crops, but they require proper care.

  1. Build a raised garden bed. A raised bed offers you better control of the type of soil in your garden, making it the ideal environment for root crops to flourish. Root vegetables flourish in well-drained, deep, loose soil where their roots can easily expand. Root crops generally grow well in sandy loam and peat soil, and they tend to struggle in clay soils.
  2. Perform a soil test. This will help you properly adjust your soil pH levels and make sure your soil contains enough of the proper nutrients. You'll generally want to use organic fertilizers high in phosphorous and potassium to encourage root growth. The optimal soil pH for root growth is between 6 and 7.
  3. Thin out your sprouted seedlings. Thin your crops by removing some seedlings from the ground so the remaining seedlings have more space to grow. This is especially important for root vegetables since they need extra root space to absorb enough nutrients.
  4. Know your growing seasons. Most root vegetables grow best in cool weather, but some are capable of thriving in the summer heat. Beets, radishes, carrots, and turnips are easy-to-grow, cool weather crops that provide a worthwhile harvest even in a small space. White potatoes also love cool weather; plant them as soon as the ground thaws in late winter. Sweet potatoes require a long, hot growing season. Onions and garlic are among the rare crops you can plant in fall for a spring harvest—the bulbs overwinter underground.
  5. Grow root vegetables in full sun. Most root vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
  6. Use companion plants to deter pests. Pests can damage to the shoots of root vegetables. Companion plants can keep some of these pests away or attract useful predators. For instance, cilantro serves as a companion plant for potatoes by attracting beneficial insects (like ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitoid wasps, and lacewings) that prey on Colorado potato beetles. Chives and garlic can keep carrot root flies away from carrots.
  7. Remove the leaves after harvesting. This will ensure that moisture stays in the root and doesn't flow back into the shoot. Store root vegetables in a cool, dark place.

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