Best and Worst Companion Plants for Turnips

I don’t know about you, but turnips always remind me of Peter Rabbit or another Beatrix Potter tale. Something about these charming vegetables just seems to belong in a storybook!

Turnips belong to the brassica family, alongside fellow garden mainstays like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Unlike these close relatives, however, turnips do their best work underground.

Root vegetables like turnips are excellent candidates for companion planting, also known as interplanting or intercropping. In this article, I’ll share the best companion plants for turnips and tell you why exactly they’re worth growing (if you aren’t already).

What Are Companion Plants?

Companion plants are purposely grown together in the same bed because they enhance each other’s growth or provide some other benefit. Almost any plant can be a companion for another, but only select pairings have proven advantages. (And pairing together the wrong plants can actually hurt your garden in the long run!)

For example, some companion plants enrich the soil, improving the availability of key nutrients. Others repel harmful insects or attract beneficial ones, reducing the need for potentially harmful pest control strategies.

In essence, companion planting is all about building beneficial relationships between plants. And, when done correctly, companion planting can be one of the most powerful tools in a gardener’s arsenal.

5 Reasons to Try Companion Planting

1. It extends the growing season. Intercropping can extend your vegetable growing season by up to several weeks if done correctly! Planting a variety of crops that mature at different rates or during different parts of the year will help you make the most of your available space.

2. It helps control pests. Natural pest management is probably the most famous benefit of companion planting. While claims that certain plants deter pests simply by existing are often overblown, intercropping IS key to controlling local pest populations without the use of harsh chemicals. 

3. It improves the soil. Companion planting can maintain and even improve soil health by adding organic matter (and nutrients), preventing erosion, fighting compaction, and promoting greater biodiversity of soil-borne organisms.

4. It attracts beneficial wildlife. Growing a wide variety of different plants is by far the best way to draw more pollinators and birds to the garden. It will also attract beneficial insects like parasitic wasps, ground beetles, and hoverflies. These predatory insects are essential for sustainable pest management.

5. It makes the garden more aesthetically pleasing. Last but not least, companion planting will make your garden more visually attractive. This is true whether you’re growing edible crops or ornamentals. 

Best Companion Plants for Turnips

Turnips can hold their own in the garden, but they also don’t mind a little company. Adding companion plants that appreciate the same growing conditions is the best strategy for a winning vegetable harvest.

Turnips are a cool-season crop. This means that most gardeners should sow turnips in either early spring or fall when temperatures are relatively low. In some regions, turnips can even be cultivated through winter. It also means that you’ll have free space for a separate warm-weather crop in the summertime.

You can plant turnips in full sun or part shade. Since heat stress can contribute to premature bolting, it’s a good idea to surround turnips with taller plants that will provide a bit of shade toward the end of the season.

Vegetables

Peas: Peas and other legumes collaborate with beneficial soil microbes to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it into the ground. Growing peas in your vegetable garden can help replenish nitrogen used up by turnips and other crops.

Beans: Beans are also legumes, so incorporating them into your garden may improve the soil quality over time. I recommend growing pole beans that will happily climb up and away from your turnips.

Garlic: Companion planting with garlic is a highly researched topic when it comes to the home vegetable garden. There’s evidence that growing garlic can deter select pests and may even improve nutrient availability for nearby crops.

Brassicas: Turnips belong to the brassica family, which also includes vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. These veggies grow fairly well together in nutrient-rich soil. Planting turnips near other brassicas may deter pests.

Spinach: Spinach acts as a leafy ground cover that retains soil moisture and suppresses weeds. It’s a great cool-weather companion for turnips that won’t compete for resources.

Lettuce: Different lettuce varieties work together with turnips much the same way as spinach. Since turnips perform their most important growth underground, you can space these two crops very close together.

turnips growing with lettuce

Swiss Chard: Slugs and snails will happily munch on leafy greens like Swiss chard. If you plant a border of turnips, the slugs and snails are likely to fill up before they make it to the Swiss chard.

Herbs

Mint: Mint has a very strong smell that might deter some pests from entering your garden. It spreads quickly, so some gardeners opt to use mint as a low-maintenance groundcover. Keep in mind, however, that this herb can be extremely invasive.

Rosemary: Rabbits and other foraging animals tend to avoid pungent herbs like rosemary. Planting a border of rosemary around your turnips might keep unwanted grazers away from the tender greens.

Thyme: Thyme attracts a variety of pollinators and beneficial predatory insects to the garden. It’s low-growing and can be used as a ground cover to prevent weeds around your turnips.

Dill: Using dill as a companion plant will help to control the number of pests on turnips and adjacent crops. This strongly scented herb is a powerful attractant of beneficial insects, like parasitic wasps and lacewings.

Flowering Ornamentals

Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are a very popular trap crop for aphids and other garden pests. While they are most commonly grown for pest control or ornamental purposes, avid food gardeners should know that the entire nasturtium plant is edible!

Calendula: Also known as pot marigolds, these flowers supposedly repel pests while also attracting predatory insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies. These beneficial predators will help keep your turnips bug-free.

Sunflowers: Sunflowers can provide crucial sun protection for turnips during the hottest months of the year. The blooms attract a variety of beneficial insects and birds love the large seed heads that develop later in the season.

Zinnias: These daisy-like flowers attract a variety of beneficial insects, especially pollinators, which can help make your vegetable garden more productive overall. Some gardeners believe that zinnias deter common brassica pests.

Sweet Alyssum: Sweet alyssum is a low-growing annual or tender perennial that provides good ground cover between larger plantings. It is extremely attractive as an ornamental filler in containers and flower beds. I also like to tuck it into the vegetable garden whenever possible.

Vetch: Both hairy and common vetch are legumes commonly used as cover crops during the cool season. These plants protect the ground from erosion, suppress weeds, and add vital nutrients back into the soil when used as green mulch.

Worst Vegetables to Grow with Turnips

It’s a good idea to space out fellow root crops like carrots and parsnips. You don’t need to leave a ton of space between these vegetables and your turnips, but you should separate them from non-root crops.

In addition to the vegetables listed above, starchy crops like potatoes will compete with your turnips for valuable resources if grown too close together.

Avoid planting horseradish, beets, rutabagas, or radishes in the same bed as turnips. These are all root vegetables within the brassica family, and are susceptible to the imported crucifer weevil (Aulacobaris lepidii) or root maggot (Delia spp.). Growing these crops together makes it all too easy for the weevils and maggots to hop from plant to plant.

How Growing Turnips Could Improve Your Garden!

The above info should have you well on the way to incorporating new companion plants into your turnip patch. But what about the benefits of adding turnips to an existing vegetable garden?

Turnips as Living Rototillers

Root crops like turnips break up the soil as they grow. In fact, sources like Michigan State University recommend planting turnips in the ‘off season’ as a cover crop to reduce soil compaction. 

Though the edible part of a turnip is only a couple of inches across at maturity, the plant’s roots can easily extend up to 2 feet deep. And they’re extremely adept at penetrating tough soil to access hard-to-reach nutrients. 

When the turnips are harvested (or rot away in the ground), they leave behind a network of tunnels that allow water, oxygen, and nutrients to readily pass through the soil. This also makes it much, much easier for less vigorous plant roots to penetrate deeper into the soil.

Turnips as a Trap Crop

You can also use turnips as a sacrificial ‘trap crop’ for your leafy brassicas. A trap crop is a plant grown to distract pests from more vulnerable crops nearby.

Since turnips are related to cabbage and other members of the brassica family, they attract the same types of pests. The difference is that a turnip won’t be seriously hurt if these pests feed on the foliage (the root is what we gardeners are after). 

Interplanting turnips may reduce the amount of leaf or flea beetle damage on your cabbage, kale, and collards. Try placing the turnips in the most accessible part of the garden, such as along the edge, for the best results.

If you have enjoyed this article, here’s another you might also enjoy: Turnip Growth Stages.

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.