How to Grow Sugar Beets (Beginner’s Guide)

Sugar beets are commonly grown in agriculture for their high sugar content.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them at home for your own glazed beets!

In this article, we’ll talk about some of the basics to grow and care for sugar beets so you can grow them at home.

They’re often not discussed because they’re not as popular as “regular” beets.

But for those that wanna know, here’s what you’ve been looking for.

You’ll see that these beets have a lot going for them- easy to grow, plenty of yield, and a lot more uses than you thought previously.

Quick care guide: Sugar beets

Plant type Perennial, Annual (depends on harvest type)
Origin Europe, Germany, Washington
Scientific name Beta vulgaris
Other names Swiss Chard, Beetroot, Mangel-Wurzel
Soil type Loamy, rich, fertile, well-draining
Soil pH 6.0-6.8 (slightly acidic)
Sunlight requirement Full sun
Bloom season Spring, summer
Colors Green, yellow, white, lime, brown
Max height 14 inches
Max width 6-8 inches
Low temperature -40F
High temperature 85F
Ideal temperature range 60-70F
Humidity Moderate
Watering requirements Often during first year of growth, spring, and summer
Fertilizer requirements Low
Fertilizer NPK 1-1-1
Days until germination 2-3 weeks
Days until harvest 4-5 years
Days until bloom 4-5 years
Speed of growth Slow
Hardiness zones 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Plant depth 0.25 inches
Plant spacing 4-5 inches
Plant with Brussel sprouts, cabbage, beans, kohlrabi, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, onions, radishes, catmint, or catnip
Don’t plant with Pole beans, field mustard
Propagation Seeds, transplants
Common pests White grubs, aphids, wireworms, flea beetles, cutworms, and webworms
Common diseases Downy mildew, root rot, blight, stem rot, fruit rot, fungus
Indoor plant No
Outdoor plant Yes
Grown in container Yes
Flowering plant Yes
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Low (very easy)
Uses Decoration, edible crop, fodder

What’s a sugar beet?

A sugar beet is the lesser-known garden beet that’s overshadowed by the “regular” beet.

Table beet, sugar beets, beetroots, they’re all unique.

Sugar beets are one of the bunch that’s quite different.

A lot of never realize the sweetness that they offer because they pluck the too early and taste an unripe beet.

They don’t have that nice texture or flavor of their other beet cousins, but sugar beets can taste pretty amazing if you grow them right.

They can be used for traditional meals, cakes, sweeteners, and more. Plus, they’re completely edible- including the roots.

The nice thing about sugar beets is that they’re creamier. They’re also slightly larger than regular beets.

Sugar beets are pure creamy-white with a 1-3 times larger size than regular bees. Because of their large size, you can get a lot more yield from the same plot space.

They taste dull and sweet, which is why they’re not as popular are regular beets. This is the reason why people don’t bother growing sugar beets.

They also lack the nutritional profile that their siblings have. So you trade off a lot for a larger yield.

Sugar beets don’t have the color, flavor, texture, nutrients, or the rep. But they are bigger. So that’s nice.

But they can be used for a variety of recipes or as a natural sweetener. They’re fed by farmers to their livestock.

If you’re willing to travel the path less ventured in the world of beets, sugar beets are good to play around with.

Are they easy to grow?

Yes, sugar beets are easy to grow and are commonly used in farming.

They may take a bit of effort in the beginning, but once you set it up, it’s basically passive. A single beet will reach up to 3 pounds and produce up to 22% sucrose content.

When should you plant sugar beets?

This depends on where you’re growing them.

The right time to sow is generally in late spring if you’re in the northern US, or early spring if you’re in the southern US.

It varies also depending on the cultivar you’re growing and spring planting is the general rule of thumb.

It takes about 100 days for it to be harvest ready, so that should give you enough time to grab them before they get killed by the winter.

You’ll need to do some research for specifics. If you’re growing from seed, read the seed packet. It tells you everything you need to know!

How do you grow sugar beets at home?

Growing sugar beets for your personal use is easy as they don’t require that much space for a small yield.

But if you want to grow a lot, you’ll need a few acres of land. If you’re just growing them at home to eat a few times a year, they don’t take up that much real estate in your garden.

Sugar beets are just like any other crop- you start by seed, care, and then harvest. That’s all there is it to it.

How to propagate sugar beets

Sugar beets on a farm.
Grow them in your garden? Sure thing!

Propagating sugar beets can be done both indoors or outdoors.

Like most garden plants, it’s easiest to maximize the chance of germination by starting them indoors.

You can start from seed or use transplants if you want to skip the germination.

Starting from seed

Use a seed starter kit and fill it with a high-quality potting mix.

Use a well-draining soil, preferable the one that you plant to use you move them outside to reduce plant shock.

Sow 2-3 seeds per compartment. Then water generously.

Cover with a humidity dome and keep them moist until they germinate.

When they sprout, you can remove the cover. Thin to the biggest plant per compartment a few weeks after they germinate.

If you can start them out in the yard, it’s preferable since sugar beets don’t like to be moved.

Sow in the cooler season during the spring if you’re up north.

If you’re in the south, plant it in the fall. Just be sure that you’re in the right hardiness zone. Depending on the type of sugar beet you’re growing, it also varies.

Put the container near indirect sunlight in a warm cozy area.

When they’ve grown 2-3 pairs of true leaves, harden them off by exposing them to the outside environment for a few hours each day over the course of the week.

Seeds generally take 2-3 weeks to sprout. The soil should be moist at all times, but not wet.

Beets are biennials, meaning they only produce flowers in their second year.

You can harvest them in their first year, as the beets come before the flowers. This is when they have the most favorable taste.

Seeds can be hard to find, as they’re mainly only grown in a few states. If you don’t have any locally available, you can order them online.

If you plan to save your seeds, you need to let them grow into year two to produce seeds.

When they grow a few pairs of true leaves, you can move them outside to their new house in your garden.

Direct sowing

In the fall, plant the seeds when the temperatures are stable.

Until you’re ready to plant, keep them in the dark. Store within a dry mason jar.

Sugar beets should be planted when the temps are stable outside. The temperature should be around 60F following the last frost for a spring planting.

Prepare seed beds in direct, full sun with firmly packed soil.

Sow at 1.5” and ensure the soil is free of roots, stones, and other obstructions. Soil pH should be around 6.0, so it’s slightly acidic.

If you want to plant during the fall, that’s also possible.

The soil should be well-draining, rich, and fertile. Till the soil and remove any clumps, rocks, weeds, or other debris. Keep the soil soft and well-tilled.

Plant the seeds and give them a good pat-down.

Space them adequately because crowded spaces mean smaller yield. They compete for nutrients amongst each other.

4-6 inches is a good space between each beet. Plant each seed about 1.5” deep. Keep them moist, but not wet.

Note that if you plant different beet types in the same area, they’ll cross-pollinate. If you want them to remain true to their type, only plant single species in a plot.

When the seedlings grow a few pairs of true leaves think to 4-5 inches apart. In the beginning, you can plant them 1” apart.

Then thin them out later. Space rows 18” for max yield.

From seedlings

If you happen to have a local nursery that sells seedlings, you can move them into your garden.

These don’t take well to being moved around, so be very gentle when you do so. Planting prepared soil.

Use the same depth as it was previously growing in. Space each plant 4-6 inches apart. Set out early in the spring or later in the fall.

Harden them off for a few days before you cut them out of their original pots. This will reduce the shock.

How to care for sugar beets

Sugar beet close up shot.
Sugar beets are easy to grow.

Sugar beets are relatively easy to care for.

The only thing you really need to worry about is the sunlight. Everything else is pretty standard.

Hardiness zone

Sugar beets grow in zones that are temperate, which are usually zones 6-10.

You can get away with a slightly higher or lower zone, but you’ll need to accommodate for it. Add mulch if it gets under 40F in the night.

Use partial shade if it gets too hot in the daytime. You can adjust it as needed.

Soil

Sugar beets tolerate a wide range of soil types.

Keep it organic if possible. Ensure that it’s well-draining, firm, and slightly acidic.

Otherwise, it should be fine. They’re not picky about the soil type. Remove any rocks, clumps, sticks, or other debris in the soil.

pH

Keep the pH slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, between 6.0-8.0.

If you don’t know your soil’s pH, use a soil test strip to find out.

You can control the pH using lime or other soil amendments or you can just buy soil at the right pH.

Spacing

Space each plant 1” apart if direct soil sowing, then thin to 4-5 inches apart after they grow a few pairs of laves.

They do need space to grow and not compete with each other, so keep that in mind. The more space you provide, the larger the yield to a point.

Depth

Plant each seed about 1.5” deep. Pack firmly with soil on top after you plant. Sugar beets like a bit of firmness in their substrate.

Watering

Water regularly. The soil should always be moist, but never wet. It should be well-draining with no clumping.

If you don’t know your soil’s water saturation, get a moisture meter to find out. Overwatering will lead to rot issues, so don’t do it.

Fertilizer

Sugar beets can use some tasty plant food to help give them something to eat.

This will result in larger blooms, more yield, and improve the taste of the crop.

Keep in mind that the nitrogen (N) level of the soil makes a big difference. If your soil has a lot of nitrogen already, it’ll result in leggy plants with lots of leaves.

This is nice for looking at but results in poor yield.

This is why you should test your soil first. Then you’ll know what your soil needs and you can feed as needed. Start with a balanced organic fertilizer with equal NPK. If your plant likes it, keep it. If your plant starts growing weirdly, adjust it.

Or just test your soil from the get-go. Apply as directed. Excessive fertilizing will result in burned leaves or reduced Sucralose levels in the yield.

So be wary of that as well. Sugar beets are known to be heavy feeders, so you’ll want to find the perfect food for them.

Pruning

Prune the foliage when it gets leggy.

This will help reduce the number of pests hiding in it, and it also helps bring the humidity down. Excess humidity will lead to rot, mildew, or other fungal infections. Prune spent flowers.

Or prune them before they even bloom if you have no interest to collect any more seeds for next year entirely.

The flowers aren’t necessary for crops to produce. They’re only good for attracting beneficial pollinators (birds and the bees) to your yard and extracting seeds to save.

Otherwise, you can cut the buds off if you want your plant o focus on growing crops.

Temperature

Sugar beets prefer temperatures between 60-80F.

If you’re in the right zone, growing the right type, you should have no problems. Warmer zones can be dealt with by planting in partial shade.

Cooler regions can be mulched to help insulate the heat. Nighttime temps should stay around 40-50F.

If your zone is cooler, use a mulch to help keep them warm. Beets will stop producing when it gets too cold, so you should adjust your planting time as needed (earlier).

Humidity

Aim for a humidity level between 60% or higher. They prefer humid environments but are not extremely wet.

The humidity will help them thrive with the majority of the moisture drawn by the roots.

They are grown in an active root zone of about 3’, so you don’t need to go crazy with the watering. If you’re planting in the right zone, then you should be OK.

Sunlight

Sugar beets need full sun. They grow well in the spring heat and will produce the most yield in direct sun.

If you’re in the right zone, you don’t need to worry about all the light pummeling down on them.

If you’re in a warmer zone, you can plant them in partial sun if the afternoon scorch is too powerful. Artificial shade also works, such as that from garden umbrellas.

Maintenance

Other than regular feeding and pruning, sugar beets require little maintenance.

Keep the soil moist, feed regularly, and prune off any spent flowers or leaves that don’t look lime green.

Sugar beets compete with weeds and will lose to them. So make sure you regular weed or spray with an organic herbicide. Manual hand pulling is also good.

Harvesting

Sugar beets can be harvested around 100 days after planting.

The actual time to harvest varies depending on your local conditions, growing environment, or type of sugar beet you’re growing.

However, you can tell when they’re ready to go because they fill out in shape and start to become soft. This is usually in September or October.

Can you harvest before flowering?

You can harvest them before they flower.

The flowering has nothing to do with harvesting. It’s just for it to produce seeds and propagate next season.

Flowering doesn’t occur until year two, but you can harvest sooner than that.

Container planting

While you can grow them in pots, it’s not advised.

They need space to grow their roots and will need a large pot to pull it off. Additionally, using a container will be difficult to adjust the soil parameters.

As you add plant food, it builds up over time. This can lead to excess NPK which can burn the plant. It also limits your harvest.

But if you want to grow them in pots, get one that’s big enough to sustain it.

Otherwise, care is the same. Water more often, feed less often. Watch the soil parameters.

Storage

When you harvest, use them immediately, or else put them in the fridge.

They’re good for a few days if kept moist. If you’re storing seeds that you saved from a flower, put them in a dry area out of sunlight.

Overwintering

Sugar beets need no overwintering care if you’re in the right zone. Cover the roots with mulch, straw, or leaves.

This will protect the sugar beets from damage in the cold if you’re in a colder zone.

Otherwise, sugar beets can be left out. Be sure to watch out for deer, rabbits, and other wildlife which will gladly eat them up!

Companion plants

You can grow sugar beets with other edibles like Brussel sprouts, cabbage, beans, kohlrabi, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, onions, radishes, catmint, or catnip.

Don’t plant beets near pole beans or field mustard.

Pests

Some of the common pests that you’ll find eating your beets are white grubs, aphids, wireworms, flea beetles, cutworms, and webworms.

These can be controlled with regular pruning, manual removal, and organic insecticides. Dish soap also kills them, but you should rinse your plant after you spray.

Diseases

Sugar beets are vulnerable to root rot, mildew, leaf spot, and Cercospora.

These are commonly caused by excess moisture, so make sure you don’t overwater. Keep your plants pruned and allow for evaporation.

Recipes

Sugar beets can be glazed, roasted, or made into latkes. There are many different dishes that you can look up online.

Further reading

Here are some other resources you may get a kick out of:

Enjoy your beets

Sugar beet harvesting.
Can you guess what this is?

Now that you know all the basics of sugar beet care, it’s time to grown your own beets at home.

If you want a no-nonsense beet that takes care of itself, this is it.

You can use it for a variety of dishes, substitute for sugar, or as fodder for animals and farming.

If you have any questions, post a comment and let me know.

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