You can grow beets from seeds or seedlings, but just like carrots, beets do better if you don’t disturb them once they’ve started growing. Ideally, you should just grow your beets from seeds. If you’re determined to start them ahead of time and transplant them, just plant your seeds to allow for the least disturbance possible of the seedlings’ roots.
Seed Planting Process
Beet seeds take a week or two to germinate, so plan ahead. If you live in a cooler area, you’ll want to get started early.
Sow your beet seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your expected last frost date. For best results, use a seed starting formula. Make sure your seed tray has deep individual soil compartments; 3 inches is good. Beets have deep root systems, so you want to give them a good head start.
Once your seedlings emerge, they are going to need plenty of light. Put them by a sunny window or turn on grow lights about 4 inches above your seedlings. Leave the lights on for 16 hours, off for eight hours. Don’t leave the lights on 24/7; most plants need a little darkness to grow.
Once your seedlings begin to grow, you’ll want to harden them off before you transplant them to your garden. So, about three to four weeks after you plant the seeds, give your new seedlings a little sheltered outside time, starting with an hour or two a day in indirect sunlight, progressing to a full day outside. Bring your seedlings in for the night after each outdoor foray. This process helps strengthen the plant’s cells, giving them a better chance of thriving when you transplant them.
Your garden soil temperature should be at least 40 degrees F before you set your seedlings out. When your seedlings are ready for the outdoor garden, have planting holes ready for them. Pop the seedlings out of their little containers and put them right into their outdoor home. Don’t disturb the soil or root ball; the less you fuss with them, the better.
Cover the roots and attached soil with fresh garden soil and give them a good drink of water. If you’re concerned about pests moving in on your young plants, put a row cover over them.
Sowing directly in the garden
Beets don’t really like to be interrupted when they’re growing, so direct seeding is best. Beet seeds can go in the ground as soon as the soil temperature has reached at least 40 degrees F. Get a soil thermometer and check your garden bed to make sure the soil’s not too cold. For spring planting, you can usually start planting four to six weeks before your last frost.
Beets seeds look unlike anything you’ve seen. The seeds come in clumps which are actually a fruit cluster encompassing two or three seeds. This cluster can be a bit of a barrier to seed germination, as you might imagine. If you’d like to give your seeds a bit of a head start, soak them in room temperature water for anywhere between one and 12 hours.
The fact that each seed cluster has two or three seeds lets you know a couple things: you’ll likely have a better chance at successful germination, and if you do, you’ll definitely be thinning out seedlings once they’re established.
Once you’ve soaked your seeds, it’s time to get planting. Your garden bed should be prepared with rich, loose, sandy soil, amended with some compost. Plant your seeds about an inch apart in a groove or in holes about a half inch deep. Your rows should be a foot apart. Cover the seeds with soil and give each row a good soak—but don’t overdo it.
Germination should occur in a week or two. Keep the soil moist, but drained. When your plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them to 3 inches apart.
Have you tried growing beets from seeds or seedlings? Which method do you prefer—and why? Please share your experiences with us.