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ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Beating beet problems

Q: For the past two years, I’ve had a problem growing beets. When they reach 3 to 4 inches, I find something has either chewed or dug them up. The leaves are lying down, and there is no beet, although there couldn’t be much of one this early. What could be the problem, and what should I do to treat it?

My garden is well fenced in, so I don’t think it could be an animal other than something very tiny, ie. mole, mouse.

A: There are a number of problems that could cause you to find beet leaves lying dead where you were hoping to find a happy beet seedling. It could be insects, rodents or even a disease.

Mice and voles can get into fenced gardens, and both will chew beet plants. It can be hard to get rid of them, but it helps to eliminate nesting spots. There is information on managing mice and voles at

garden/yard-garden/wildlife/voles-in-the-landscape/ as well as at

Cutworms can chew the stems of beets, too, so that the leaves drop around the seedling spot. Forest tent caterpillars (army worms) can attack beets, but they typically chew the leaves, rather than cutting the plant off at the base. There’s good info on dealing with cutworms at

If the leaves are yellow and wilted, it could be root rot. Wilted and stunted plants can also be caused by flea beetles, but they usually leave holes in the leaves.

There are good photos of damage to beets at

To prevent many problems with beets, it’s helpful to start with cultivation. Beets do not grow well in acid soil, so have your soil tested and follow the results.

Plant your beets in a different spot in the garden next year. Rotate your crops on a three- to four-year schedule. Dig or till the garden deeply to disturb pathogens and create better soil conditions. The spot should be well-drained. If your soil is heavy clay, amend it with compost to allow for better beet growth.