How to Grow Carrots: What You Need to Know
Carrots are an early spring or fall plant that grows well in many gardens. I started growing carrots a few years ago, and my first attempts were dismal. I had no idea how to grow carrots, so I had to do my research.
Growing root vegetables is difficult even for experienced gardeners. It can be tricky to grow long carrot. Misshapen, tough roots is a disappointment.
My Favorite Carrot Varieties
Carrots are part of the Apiaceae family, along with dill, fennel, parsley, and other flowering plants. If you leave carrots in your garden over the winter, flowers pop up from the tops of the greens.
Over the years, I’ve tried several carrot varieties, and most of them aren’t the classic orange color that we associate with carrots.
A few of my favorite carrot varieties include:
- Amarillo Carrots: Develops in 75 days with a lovely yellow color and a sweet taste.
- Danver’s Half Long: The original Danver’s date back to the 1870s, and these are the traditional orange carrots.
- Kyoto Red Carrot: This variety is better suited for fall and winter gardening because the cold temperatures lead to a sweet taste.
- Cosmic Purple Carrot: The exterior is purple with an orange interior that has a sweet and spice taste.
How to Grow Carrots
Carrots can be grown just about anywhere. They’re biennial, so USDA hardiness zones don’t matter so much. Gardeners anywhere, from Alaska to Florida, can grow a great harvest of carrots.
Picking the Right Area for Carrots
The roots are underground, but the tops of carrots require full sunlight. Carrots can handle some light shade, particularly in the strong heat of the middle afternoon. Sunlight is important though for the quick growth needed.
Preparing the Soil
One of the issues I had, when I grew carrots, was that I didn’t prepare the soil correctly. The soil needs to be free of trash, rocks, and any large pieces of anything, such as bark or mulch. Fine, fluffy soil is ideal for carrot growth.
You want to make the soil sandy and well-draining. Heavy soil leads to carrots that mature slowly, and you’ll end up with strangely shaped roots.
To prepare the soil, dig up the area or till it well. I use a rake to soften the soil deeply. Remember, unlike tomatoes, the crop you’re after grows under the soil, so you have to prepare the soil deeply. Aerating the soil makes it easier to grow long and straight carrots.
Before you plant, make sure you add some fertilizer. You can use a 10-20-10 fertilizer; one cup for every 10 feet is ideal. I add compost and peat moss to my garden beds.
Check the soil pH level as well because carrots don’t grow well in highly acidic soil. The idea pH level is 6.0 to 6.8.
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When to Plant Carrots
Carrots are a cool-weather crop. The best time to plant carrots is when the temperatures at night drop to 55 F and daytime temperatures should be around 75 F. These temperatures are ideal for optimum growth.
Starting planting your first crop of carrots two to three weeks before the final frost date. Continue to plant new seeds every two weeks for a continuous harvest throughout the fall. Sowing every two to three weeks is calling succession planting.
Planting Carrots in the Garden
Since carrots are grown for their roots, you need to directly sow the seeds in the garden. Transplanting and disturbing the roots will cause the plants to die.
Carrot rows should be around 1 to 2 feet apart, and the seeds need to be planted at 1/2 inch deep and 1-2 inches apart. It can be hard to plant tiny seeds far apart, so don’t worry if you don’t get the spacing right. You’ll thin the plants later.
Carrots take around 15 days to germinate. One of my favorite tricks is to plant radish seeds with carrots. Doing so helps prevent the soil from crusting over, making it harder for the seeds to sprout. Radishes sprout quickly, so they loosen the soil and lets you see where the carrots are planted.
When the plants are 4 inches tall, thin the plants to 2 inches apart. At that point, some of the carrots might have developed, and you can chop them up for some soup.
Can You Plant Carrots in Containers?
Yes! Carrots grow well in containers. The soil in containers is often loose and well-draining. You don’t want any resistance in the soil, so containers are often preferred if you can’t provide loose soil in your vegetable garden.
Taking Care of Carrot Plants
Now that your carrots are in the ground and growing, it’s time to take care of your carrot plants.
Carrots need at least 1 inch of water every week. In the beginning when you plant the seeds, you need to keep the ground moist to help germination. After the plants sprout, aim for the one inch of water or more each week.
Mulching Around Carrots
After the carrots sprout, gently mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. It also stops the sun from hitting the roots directly. Using mulch also helps to speed up germination.
Keep It Weeded
During the first few weeks after you sow your carrots, the plants are too small to compete against weeds; they’ll die. Take care to weed your garden thoroughly to survive against the weeds.
Make sure you don’t use any anti-weed fertilizers or weed-killing sprays because they can damage your vegetable plants.
How to Thin Carrots
Unless you’re really skilled, chances are you’ll plant the carrot seeds too close, so they need to be thinned. Carrots won’t grow to maturity until they have proper space to do so.
Here’s how to thin carrots.
- Hold the carrot plant between your forefingers and thumb at the soil level.
- Pull up firmly to dislodge the plant, or use gardening scissors to sip off the greens at the root level.
- Mound more soil around the leftover plants,
You should start thinning when they’re four inches tall, removing the smallest of the plants. Then, a month later, thin to 1.5-2 inches apart.
Should I Fertilize Carrots?
Carrots can benefit from an application of fertilizer when the greens are 5-8 inches tall. Some gardeners like to add some compost tea or kelp meal. You can also add some more compost by side dressing your plants.
All root crops need plenty of potassium, but excessive amounts of nitrogen can be problematic, causing forking and split roots.
Harvesting and Storing Carrots
Harvesting carrots is easy. They continue to grow after you plant them, and they don’t take too long to mature. Check the seed packs to find the dates of maturity, but most varieties take between 65 and 80 days to mature.
To harvest carrots, remove the dirt from the top of the roots to see the size of the carrots. Then, gently pull the carrot up from the soil. Don’t pull too hard or the carrot greens might break away, leaving the carrot stuck in the ground.
It’s a bit of a gamble when you harvest carrots. Are they going to be ready, or will you be disappointed? Harvesting immature carrots often mean that the taste is bland because they haven’t had enough time to develop sweetness.
To store freshly-harvested carrots, twist off the tops and scrub off the dirt under cold water. They need to air dry, and then you can seal in airtight plastic bags. Put them into the refrigerator.
Don’t put fresh carrots into the refrigerator without cleaning or they’ll go limp.
Another awesome idea is to leave the mature carrots in the soil for temporary storage to harvest when you want. Make sure you layer mulch heavily over the carrots that are in the garden.
Common Questions about Growing Carrots
How Do You Save Carrot Seeds?
Saving carrot seeds is a bit trickier than other seeds, in my experience. It’s different than saving beans or pumpkin seeds; that’s quite straightforward.
Because carrots are biennial, you have to save seeds from carrots grown this year, next year. Yes, that’s a bit confusing, but carrots won’t flower until the following year.
That means you have to sacrifice the root from your best-looking plants for carrot seed saving if you want to have future crops with traits you like.
Here’s how you save carrot seeds.
- Allow the seed heads to fully ripen on the plant.
- When they start to brown and dry, carefully cut off the heads and place them in small paper bags. Leave them to dry completely.
- Once dried thoroughly, seal the heads in the container and shake vigorously.
- Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.
Why Do My Carrots Look Short, Fat and Round?
Do your carrots look more like a potato than a normal carrot? You aren’t alone! I’ve had the same issue dozens of time.
This problem is due to your soil. Remember, carrots need loose, light, airy soil that is tilled deeply.
Now, you can’t fix the carrots you have already, but you can eat your round carrots. Next time you grow carrots, try adding 100% sand mixed with some peat moss to achieve the light, loose soil. Also, try to till down 18 inches to get rid of any rocks, weeds, or soil clumps.
Why Do My Carrots Look Like They Have Legs?
If your carrots have legs or they split, it might mean that you have too much heavy compost in your garden and not enough sand. It also means you might have too many nutrients.
Make sure you don’t transplant carrots; seed directly in the ground.
Starting Growing Carrots Now
Carrots are one of the best crops to add to your garden. Not only are they easy to grow, but they’re full of nutrients that will keep your family healthy this year.
Is it ideal to grow carrots on top of ridges and in a swampy area?
How close do you plant the radishes to the carrots? In the same row or a few inches apart?
I plant a row of carrots then a row of radishes. The rows are spaced about 5-6 inches apart for easier harvesting and plenty of root space to grow.