Ever wanted to learn how to grow carrots, but not sure where to start? Read on for this ultimate guide to growing carrots at home. Freshly harvested carrots are so delicious, that you’ll never buy them at the store again!
Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables, and for good reasons! They are fun to grow, versatile in the kitchen, and easy to prepare for meals. Whether you eat them raw as a snack, roast them in the oven, or use them in comforting soups or stews, homegrown carrots are sure to be a hit.
While carrots often have a reputation of being difficult to grow, this is not the case at all. Carrots just need a little extra attention at planting time, and plenty of time to sprout. Anyone can learn how to grow carrots with these helpful tips!
The carrot (Daucus carota) has been cultivated for thousands of years and was one of the first vegetables to be domesticated. While these tasty roots are originally native to the regions of Europe and Southwestern Asia, they now grow worldwide.
Carrots are a root vegetable that is usually orange in color, and has a crunchy texture. The most commonly consumed part of the carrot is the taproot, although the stems and leaves are also delicious and can be eaten as well. While the carrot is a biennial plant, it is mostly harvested in the first year of growth.
Carrots are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and are an abundant source of vitamin A, which can help improve vision, and prevent age-related decline. They are also a good source of antioxidants that can protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
Common Types of Carrots
There are so many carrot varieties to choose from for your home garden. While orange carrots are the most popular, there are also colored varieties that will produce roots that are yellow, red, white, and even purple!
Carrots come in different lengths from 2 to 10 inches. Some taste sweet and are perfect for eating raw, while other varieties are good for storing for a long time in a root cellar, or cold area during winter.
Carrots are generally classified by the shape of their roots, and usually fall into one of four general cultivars:
Short, stout carrots that grow wide at the top and taper towards a blunt, round tip. Their squat, 6-inch conical roots grow more easily through heavy soil than other varieties. Chantenay carrots are delicious for fresh eating, and a good choice for freezing, canning, and storing. Varieties include Carson Hybrid, Hercules, Red Cored Chantenay, and Royal Chantenay.
Danvers is a medium length carrot with a wide top that tapers to a pointed, slender root that can reach about 7–inches long. This is the variety that my grandparents grew in their vegetable garden. Their roots easily penetrate through heavy, clay soils. They have a strong carrot flavor and can be used for fresh eating and preserved as frozen, canned, or storage carrots. Varieties include Danvers Half Long, and Danvers 126.
This is the type of carrot that you are likely to find at the grocery store, both full sized and whittled down as baby carrots. Imperator carrots have long, straight, and slender roots that taper to a pointed tip. Imperator carrots require deep loose soil to grow. The sweet flavor is delicious raw, cooked, or preserved by canning, storing, or freezing. Imperator carrots are available in several cultivars that vary in size, flavor, and texture, including Atomic Red, Avenger, Imperator 58, Japanese Imperial Long, and Sugarsnax 54.
Nantes are tube-shaped, blunt tipped, with almost the same width from top to bottom of the root. Nantes grows best in loose, well-draining soil without competition from weeds. The skin is smooth, with a sweet flavor, crisp texture that is good for fresh eating raw or cooked, or preserved by freezing, storing, or canning. There are numerous varieties that fall into the Nantes category, including Bolero, Little Finger, Mokum, Napoli, Nelson, Scarlet Nantes, and Yaya.
In addition, most seed catalogs categorize carrots by days to maturity, color, or use, such as fresh eating, processing, or storing. Most gardeners grow early varieties in spring for summer eating, and main season and storage crops that are left in the ground to mature for fall harvests for preserving. Some examples include:
- Early Carrots are usually small, and tend to be ready to harvest in around 60 days. Earlies are ideal for sowing in spring for a quick crop, or late summer for a fall harvest before the ground is covered in snow. Varieties of early carrots include Amsterdam, Minicore, and Mokum.
- Main Crop Carrots, or main season carrots can be planted in spring to mid summer, for summer to fall harvest. These usually take longer to mature, and can withstand summer heat without bolting. Main season carrots include Hercules, Nantes, Naval, and Sugarsnax 54.
- Storage Carrots: While many carrots can be stored in a root cellar or cool area for winter, some varieties are breed specifically to improve their long-term storage capabilities, including Bolero, Oxheart, and Kuroda.
- Colored Carrots are fun to grow. In addition to orange, carrots also come in purple, red, white, and yellow. They all have similar flavor and texture as orange carrots. Colored carrot varieties include Amarillo, Atomic Red, Dragon, Lunar White, Purple Haze, White Satin, and Yellowstone. You can also buy a mix of different colors that are packaged together and have the same maturity rate such as Calliope Blend, Rainbow Mix, and Starburst Carrot Blend.
- Short and Baby Carrots: True baby carrots are small, mini carrots that are harvested young for their sweet, fresh flavor. Some are rounded ball shaped, while some grow tapered short roots. Short carrots are ideal for growing in containers, indoors under lights, or heavy or poor soil in the garden. Baby carrot varieties include Adelaide, Atlas, Bambino, Little Finger, and Tonda di Parigi
Tips for Growing Carrots
Carrots grow best in a sunny location with at least 6 to 8 hours of sun a day. The soil should be loose, and well draining, so that the roots can penetrate it easily. Here are tips for growing carrots.
When to Plant Carrots
Carrots are a cool season crop that can tolerate light frosts. Plan to grow carrots during the cool gardening seasons of early spring and fall.
The time to start your seeds will depend on your last frost date. This is the average date of the last expected frost for your area. You can find your estimated last frost date by contacting your local extension office or enter your zip code here at PlantMaps.com.
For a spring and early summer harvest, you may begin sowing your carrot seeds about 2 to 3 weeks prior to your last spring frost date, once the soil temperature has warmed to at least 40˚F, and can be easily worked.
What you’re aiming for is soil that has drained and dried off after the winter snow has melted. If you take a handful of soil and squeeze it, the clump should hold together without any extra moisture dripping out. If you wiggle your fingers a bit, the clump should easily crumble. If your soil is too wet, wait a few days longer, and check again. Seeds planted in wet soil will rot. You can learn more about troubleshooting carrot seed germination in this article: Tips for Germinating Carrots
The best rate of germination occurs when the soil temps have reached 55˚ to 65˚F. Avoid planting your carrots in soil that has exceeds 75˚. High temperatures results in poor germination, low yields, as well as bitter carrots.
For a fall harvest, start sowing your carrot seeds about 10 weeks prior to the first winter frost date. You want to give your seeds enough time to turn into fully formed carrots before the fall frost and snow wipes out your garden.
How to Prepare the Garden Bed
Carrots grow their best in a light, sandy, loamy soil that is high in organic matter. A loose soil is vital to ensuring a perfectly straight carrot. The number one cause of forked, and malformed carrots is heavy, compacted soil.
Before sowing your seeds, prepare your garden beds by removing weeds and loosening the soil deeply with a digging fork. Enrich the soil with mature compost, and a balanced organic slow-release fertilizer.
Carefully inspect your soil as you work it, and remove rocks, sticks, and other large pieces of material. Eliminating obstacles will give your carrots a light, easy pathway to growing to their full potential!
If the weather has been dry, give the beds a good soak the day before you plan on sowing your seeds.
Giving your carrots enough room in the garden bed is also vital to their growth. Please ensure that your garden bed is at least 10 to 12 inches deep and as wide as possible.
Planting Carrot Seeds
Since carrots have a long taproot, they don’t transplant well. When planting carrots, direct sow seeds in the garden or in the container where they will grow.
Carrot seeds can be difficult to space out properly since they are so small. Pelleted seeds are coated with a layer of clay to increase its size for easier handling. In addition, consider making homemade seed mats to evenly space the seeds, make sowing easier, and eliminate thinning later.
Sow your carrot seeds thinly over the surface of the soil, or in shallow furrows. This will make thinning your carrot sprouts much easier in the future.
It can be very easy to suffocate your carrot seeds by planting them too deep. Make sure to only give them a light dusting of soil, just enough to cover the seeds. Water in well, and keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds sprout. Learn more about direct sowing seeds in this article: How to Direct Sow Seeds in the Garden
It takes anywhere from 14 to 21 days for the carrot seeds to sprout. Succession sow, or plant another round of carrots every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest.
How to Care for Carrots
Carrots are fairly easy to care for once they become established, but there are a few things you need to know about growing carrots in order to keep the plants healthy and help them thrive.
Carrots should receive about 1-inch of water per week either naturally from rain, or by watering by hand. Check the soil moisture by poking your finger in several inches deep. If the soil is dry, give your carrots a good watering.
Moisture fluctuations can slow growth, and trigger the roots to fork and crack. If you are not getting enough rain, aim for once a week watering for heavy soils, and twice a week for sandy soils to help keep the soil evenly damp.
Thinning the Plants
Once the carrots are several inches high, thin the plants so that each seedling is spaced 2 to 3-inches apart. Wetting the soil before thinning will help the roots slide out easier, reducing the risk of disrupting the other plants.
Keeping Up with the Weeds
Make sure to weed your carrots frequently. Too many weeds can cause your carrots to struggle, as they grow deeper into the soil. Pluck weeds gently from your garden, as not to disturb any growth. Learn more Tips for Controlling Weeds in the Garden.
Mulching the Soil
I highly recommend mulching your carrot patch. Once the carrot seedlings are established, add a layer of mulch on the soil surface keeping it a few inches away from the stems of your seedlings so it doesn’t smother the plants.
Mulching has many benefits, including moisture retention, temperature regulation, and weed deterrent. Mulch can come in many forms such as shredded paper, straw, or dried leaves. Learn How Organic Mulch Helps Your Garden.
Fertilizer should be applied about 5 to 6 weeks after sowing your seeds. You will want to use an organic granular fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. Nitrogen is primarily used to increase foliage production, which will promote growth in the carrot tops, not the roots.
Sow another round of carrot seeds every 3 weeks for a continuous harvest until the weather warms. Carrot seeds will not germinate in temperatures above 75˚F, so stop spring sowings once the summer heat hits.
Begin sowing carrots again in late summer for fall harvests starting about 10 weeks before your first fall frost date. Succession sow every 3 weeks up to the last expected frost date in your area: 3 Succession Tips to Maximize Your Harvest.
Extending the Harvest
Carrots are hardy, and can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F. Carrots can remain in the ground through frost, but be sure to harvest before the ground freezes. The carrots are difficult to remove once the ground is frozen. To make harvesting easier, you can add a layer of mulch to protect the tops of the carrots, and help keep the surface from freezing.
Established carrot plants will not be harmed by light frosts, but young seedlings may be vulnerable. Cover the plants with a frost blanket or row cover to protect them during a cold snap. Also read How to Protect Plants from Frost for more tips.
How and When to Harvest Carrots
For most varieties, you can begin to harvest carrots for fresh eating between 2 to 3 months after sowing the seeds. The best way to determine if a carrot is ready is by examining the top of the root.
On average, a carrot should be about as wide as your thumb, or at least a half an inch. Of course, size varies between different cultivars. Carrots tend to taste sweeter when they’re smaller, so don’t fret if you don’t have enormous carrots. They’ll be delicious even when they’re small!
Harvest carrots in the morning while the ground is still cool. Young carrot roots should easily pull out from the soil. Give them a firm hold and twist as you pull it up from the ground.
Longer, more mature carrot roots might prove to be a little more difficult. Harvesting with the help of a garden fork is effective in digging your carrots out of the soil. Use the digging fork to loosen the soil under the roots, and then gently pull the carrots out of the ground.
I recommend eating freshly harvested carrots as soon as possible. Over time, the sugars in the carrots diminish, causing them to lose their natural sweetness. However, if you have a surplus of carrots, they’re very easy to store in your refrigerator, or preserve for later by freezing, canning, or storing in a cool area, or root cellar.
Growing Carrots in Containers
If you are short on gardening space, carrots can be grown in a variety of containers. The advantages to growing carrots in pots you can easily move them around as needed so they get a lot of sun, and containers won’t require as much weeding as traditional garden carrots.
The key is to choose the right carrot to match the container. If you use a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide, you can grow longer carrots that. If all you have are shallow pots, stick to the shorter varieties.
Choose a good quality potting mix suitable for growing vegetables in containers. Sift the soil mix first if it has any chunks, or wood chips. Mix in a balanced slow release organic fertilizer, and then hydrate the soil by letting it soak for several hours. Fill the pot once the soil is evenly damp.
Scatter the seeds, cover with soil, firm in gently, and water in well. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds sprout, and the carrots become established. Then let the soil dry out a bit in between, watering only when the top inch of soil is dry.
Once the greens are about 5 inches tall, thin the plants so they are spaced to one plant every 2 inches. A feeding every 2 weeks with a balanced organic liquid fertilizer such as fish and seaweed emulsion will keep your plants nourished. Harvest your carrots once the reach a usable size, and sow more seeds every 2 weeks.
Growing Carrots Indoors
Growing carrots indoors in containers under lights is a great way to have a steady supply of baby carrots all year long. A medium sized container that is about 8-inches deep will grow plenty of baby-sized carrots.
Fill the pot with a damp potting mix suitable for containers. Mix in a balanced slow release organic fertilizer, and sow your seeds. Water the plants regularly, thin as needed, and wait until the roots are big enough to harvest.
Troubleshooting Pests and Diseases
When growing carrots, be on the lookout for pests and diseases. Here are some tips to help troubleshoot some of the pests and diseases you may encounter when growing carrots:
Aphids, leaf miners, caterpillars, slugs, grasshoppers, and other insects may chew on the foliage. While wireworms, weevils, and voles can damage the roots beneath the ground. Most cause minor damage. Cut and destroy affected foliage, discard damaged roots, and control weeds to keep the population down. Covering bed with a floating row cover right after the seeds germinate can control most flying pests.
- Carrot Rust Fly: Carrot rust flies appear as small flying insects that attack your taproot vegetables, such as parsley, parsnips, and carrots. Symptoms of carrot rust flies include wilted greens with stunted growth, as well as tunneling in the root with rust-color excrement left behind by the flies. Using row covers is an effective method of deterring flies from devastating your carrot crops. Row covers can be purchased at any garden retailer, or can be DIY’ed at home using chicken wire, mesh netting, and a little elbow grease.
- Flea Beetle: Flea beetles are small black and beige beetles that attack the foliage of your carrots. They leave behind noticeable holes in the leaves of the foliage. While flea beetles affect most garden vegetables, a large infestation will slow the overall growth of carrots. Using row covers is an effective barrier to prevent flea beetles from making their way into your garden bed. Along with many other benefits, mulching is also used to deter pests. Laying down mulch between your plants makes it more difficult for the beetles to crawl on the surface, which discourages them from pursuing your carrots.
- Wire Worm: Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. The worms can cause severe damage to carrots by creating tunnels through the roots as they feed. To reduce problems with wireworms, maintain healthy soil, practice good sanitation and remove infected roots and foliage, rotate your crops with non-host species, and turn the soil to expose the wireworms to birds or chickens to help keep the population down.
There are many fungal and bacterial diseases that can infect both the roots and the greens. Foliar diseases can destroy the greens, reducing photosynthesis, while root diseases caused by soil dwelling organisms can infect the root. The best way to prevent these diseases from reoccurring is to remove the affected plants, practice good soil hygiene, and to use crop rotation. If you discover persistent carrot infections in your garden, try growing disease resistant varieties.
- Aster Yellow Disease: Aster yellows is a common bacterial disease that can affect your carrots. Signs of aster yellow disease include short and distorted carrot tops, in addition to thin, hairy roots. Carrot roots that are affected by aster yellow disease also have a bitter taste. Unfortunately, there is no cure once plants are infected. Since the disease needs live plant tissue to survive, killing the plants will stop the spread. Completely remove diseased plants from the garden and either burn or bury deep under ground. Leafhoppers and other flying pests can spread aster yellow disease as they travel from plant to plant. You can prevent aster yellow disease by using floating row covers, as well as regularly weeding your carrots.
- Black Canker: Black canker is a fungal disease that is as nasty as its name implies. It appears on the crown and shoulders of your carrots as shallow, brown/black cankers. In addition, the foliage develops brown spots all over. Luckily, there are options to prevent black canker from appearing. First, covering the shoulders of your carrot roots with extra soil. Second, there are cultivars of carrot that are specially bred to resist black canker disease.
How to Preserve Carrots
Freshly harvested carrots will last several weeks stored in the refrigerator. Slice off the tops, leaving about a half an inch left still attached to the root. You can keep the carrot tops, as they are also edible. If you don’t care for carrot tops, they do make for a great addition to your compost bin.
Give your carrot roots a good scrub under cold water to remove any residual dirt. Let them air dry, then place them in a plastic bag, and in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer to help retain their delicious flavor. Here are several ways to preserve carrots longer:
Blanching and freezing carrots is a great way to preserve your carrot harvest. Having plenty of carrots in the freezer makes it so easy to use them in cooked recipes because the prep work has already been done. Learn how to freeze carrots with this easy step-by-step guide: How to Freeze Carrots.
Canning carrots is a great way to preserve. Pressure canned carrots are shelf stable, and can be prepared quickly for meals. Since the canning process cooks them, they only need 10 minutes on the stove to heat up. This step-by-step pressure canning tutorial will show you how to safely can carrots: How to Can Carrots.
Storing in a Root Cellar
Like most root vegetables, the flavor of carrots sweetens after a frost. For carrots grown for winter storage, let carrots remain in the ground for a few light frosts, but be sure to harvest before the ground freezes. Dig up the carrots, and trim off greens to 1-inch. Brush off the loose soil, but do not wash. Store only good-quality roots without any bruising, splits, or damage.
Store carrots in buckets, boxes, or totes packed with damp sand or sawdust. Sort the carrots by size, and layer the carrots starting with the largest roots on the bottom so you can use up the smaller ones first. Cover each layer with about 1/4-inch of sand or sawdust, and add a final layer of 2-inches on top. Ideal storage conditions are at a temperature of 32 to 35˚F and 90% relative humidity. Under these conditions, carrots can last up to 6 months in a cool basement or root cellar.
Carrots are a delicious, nutritious, and easy-to-grow vegetable. They can be grown in a variety of climates and soil types, making them a perfect choice for home gardeners. I hope by following the tips in this guide, you’ll be able to grow your own bounty of carrots.
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