Have you ever noticed that when you look for help on how to grow radishes, everyone just says “Oh radishes are easy!”? But when you have a bed full of meagre, fibrous little roots, all those promises of easy-to-grow radishes aren’t helpful at all.
The truth is, radishes are easy to grow, but they’re also very picky about their surroundings. If you can offer them the right growing conditions, you’ll soon be the sort of gardener who says “Radishes are the easiest plant for a beginner gardener.” In contrast, if you try to grow radishes in the wrong environment, you’ll spend your summer wondering what on Earth made you think you could garden.
After having experienced both sides of the radish-growing experience, I’m here to get you started on the right foot. Radishes are easy and fun to grow. Really they are. With the right soil and decent moisture, your radishes will grow like weeds.
There are many different radish varieties to choose from, in countless shapes and sizes. Some have a spicy, autumnal flavor, while others are mild and sweet. Some radishes are oblong, some are round. There are black radishes, white radishes, as well as red, pink, purple, and champagne colored radishes.
These gorgeous, black-skinned radishes are round and crisp. They have a mildly spicy, fresh flavor and a bright, white interior. Best of all, these black radishes can grow up to nine inches long.
This is one of the favorite radishes for year-round production in mild climates. They’re small, scarlet, globe-shaped roots with a gently spicy flavor. Best of all, their small size makes them perfect for container garden.
These are a quick-growing, popular variety of oblong radishes. They’re red-skinned, with white flesh and spicy flavor. French breakfast radishes are adaptable roots for less-than-ideal soil.
Traditional, daikon variety of radishes. It matures in the fall, producing high quality roots with a stunning flavor.
Radishes grow best in cool, moist conditions. When the weather is too dry or hot, the roots will become stressed and woody. As a result, if you’re planting radishes in the hot season, it’s important to find a space in dappled shade. Overheated radishes don’t produce strong roots: they grow tough and skinny instead of round and full of crisp flavor.
Growing guides vary greatly in terms of soil advice. Some say radishes love rich, fertile soil, others claim moderate soil is best. Everyone agrees that loose, well-drained, slightly alkaline soil is ideal. One of the biggest issues gardeners run into is trying to grow their radishes in soil that’s too rich.
I’ve found that soil with moderate nitrogen levels and rich levels of phosphorus and potassium helps radishes grow strong roots. Nitrogen-rich soil produces strong leaves and weak, woody roots. If you’re nourishing your soil in preparation for planting, use bone meal or other fertilizers low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus.
If there’s too much nitrogen, you’ll get plenty of leafy greens, but dwarfed roots.
Sow seeds directly into the soil; like many root crops, radishes don’t transfer well.
You should start radish seeds about 2 inches apart. They have a high, quick germination rate. About a week after germination, thin them out until they’re about 4-6 inches apart. Larger varieties will need more space, but most varieties grow well about 5 inches apart.
Tending Your Radish Bed
Once you’ve thinned out your radishes, there really isn’t much left to do. During their short growing stage, all you need to do is ensure a regular water supply. Droughts are devastating for radish crops. But, if your garden in getting drenched in rain too often, try covering your radish bed to prevent them from bloating up too quickly.
Over-watering is rarely a problem, but I do remember on summer when our little garden was nearly drowned in record-setting rains. The radishes grew huge, but when we bit into them, they were spongy and bland. Average, seasonal rains won’t destroy your crop, but extreme weather will. So watch the skies!
Radishes grow quickly. You may want to refresh the nutrients in your radish bed between plantings, but you won’t need to do so while your roots are growing. Most radish varieties are ready to pick within 40 days—many in under 30 days.
If you have mild springs and long autumns, this means that you can grow multiple radish crops, one after the other. Add a little manure and bone meal to the bed between plantings and enjoy a consistent harvest of spicy roots.
Slugs are a constant threat to radishes. The bane of many plants, slugs love devouring your little roots. I like to set beer traps in the garden to catch them. Just dig a little hole and set a tin can half-full of beer in the hole. Keep the rim of the can just above the level of the soil.
These pests will be attracted to the scent of the beer (they can’t resist it) and drown in it. It’s one of the most consistent ways to defeat slugs in the garden
Flea beetles are another consistent threat to radishes, and make many, tiny holes in the plants leaves. They can weaken your plants considerably if you let them. But, if you plant your radishes among mustard plants, the flea beetles stay far away. Mustard leaves have too strong and spicy a scent for flea beetles to handle.
Along with mustard, slow-growing brassicas are fantastic companion plants for radishes. In fact, during hot, sunny, summer weather, shade from cabbage or broccoli leaves can protect your radishes from overheating.
Quick-growing radishes intercrop well with many, slower brassicas to give you a consistent harvest from your cabbage bed. Instead of just harvesting once each fall, a cabbage and radish intercropped bed can offer weekly harvests. You’ll have plenty of tender leaves and spicy roots while you wait for the cabbages to ripen.
Harvesting radishes is easy. All you need to do is grasp right above the root and pull. But how do you know when they’re ready?
If you start to see the root peeking out over the soil, and it looks plump and full, pull it up! Healthy radish plants will usually produce edible roots within 40 days. If your radishes are lingering longer than that, with scraggly, thin roots, they’re not going to produce for you. Harvest the leaves and try again.
If you’ve been planting continuously throughout the summer, you can harvest all season long. Since they love cool, moist weather, they can grow well into the fall. Quick growing “summer radishes” can handle temperatures down to 32 degrees, while slower-growing ‘winter radishes’ like daikons and China Rose are comfortable down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit.
Enjoying your Harvest
Radishes are a cheerful bundle of nutrients, and a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin C. They can help your body detoxify gently as well. Try slicing them thinly and adding them to veggie tacos with heaps of cilantro for a deeply detoxifying meal.
They can also help clear out your sinuses. If the autumn pollen count is getting to you, take a big bite out of a spicy radish. You’ll start to feel those sinuses open up as you eat away your allergies.
Most people eat radishes raw or pickle them for a crispy, delicious winter-time snack. I love dilly, pickled radishes with lots of garlic. In addition, raw radishes are a fantastic topping on tacos and salads. They’re delightful on top of burgers or sliced into slender crescents and piled with sour cream on top of spicy curries.
Best of all, radish leaves make peppery additions to green salads. Mix them with romaine, arugula, young dandelion greens, and nasturtium flowers for a beautiful, flavorful fresh summer meal.
Raw isn’t the only way to enjoy radishes. Try whipping up a daikon curry: a hearty, delicious, vegetarian meal. Daikon’s mild flavor pairs well with curry’s heat.
Radish leaf soup is another unique and delicious way to use this versatile vegetable. Add the leaves right at the end of cooking to maintain their bright green hue.
Finally, of the most popular ways to enjoy cooked radishes is by making French buttered radishes. Halve your radish roots lengthwise, sautee them quickly in butter, and then cook them with fennel and dill for about 5 minutes. When they’re done, the radishes are tender, but not mushy. They’re full of flavor and taste fantastic as a side dish. Serve them with roasted rabbit or chicken.
How to Grow Radishes the Easy Way
If you’ve struggle to succeed with radishes in the past, don’t be afraid to try again! Everyone can grow these roots, but only if they’re given the right instructions. If your radishes failed to thrive before, take a close look at your soil.
Did you boost the soil with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer? Is your soil too acidic? Now that you know how to create the right environment for your radishes, they’re sure to succeed. Don’t let common wisdom cause you to doubt your abilities. You can grow these babies! With a little know-how, you’ll be saying “they’re so easy to grow” in no time!