Growing Carrots

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Carrots

Carrots on Table
Popidar/Shutterstock

Garden-grown carrots are full of flavor and texture. However, gardeners will complain that their carrots don’t grow straight. We’ll tell you how to properly plant and grow carrots.

About Carrots

Carrots are root vegetables that can be grown in many climates and they are also long-lasting. They prefer to be grown during the cooler ends of the growing season—spring and fall.

Carrots’ root is rich in sugar, and a great source of vitamins and carotene. Not all carrots are orange; varieties vary in color from purple to white! 

Carrot Problems and Answers

Some readers tell us they’ve stopped growing carrots because didn’t grow straight.  Don’t give up hope! It might just be your soil. Here’s what to try next season:

Do you carrots look round, short, fat, and/or more like a potato?

  1. Carrots need loose, light, airy soil. Most of us need to add sand. We use 100% sand mixed with ⅓ peat moss.
  2. Till deeper! Carrots usually give up if they grow down a foot and hit any soil clumps. While we’re not normally big fans of tilling, you must prepare a carrot bed. Till down 18 inches and make sure there are no rocks, weeds, or even soil clumps to impede your carrots’ growth.

Do you carrots look as if they have legs or do they split?

  1. Do not amend the soil. You have too much heavy compost or manure and too many nutrients. Not enough sand. Do not baby carrots.
  2. Seed directly in the ground. Don’t transplant. Try to distribute seed in an even fashion so seeds don’t grow together or use a seed-sower or thin vigorously to the right space.
  3. Main soil moisture with frequent shallow waterings during germination. The soil can’t crust over.

Finally: Don’t expect the perfect shape of grocery store carrots. Your carrots will still taste better, whatever their shape!

See more about planting and soil preparation below.

Planting

How to Plant Carrots

  • Prepare the seedbed for carrots well before sowing seed! See more about preparing the soil below.
  • Wait until the soil has dried out before digging it.
  • Plan to plant seeds outdoors 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. Find your local frost dates here. 
    • Tip: Plant additional seeds every 3 weeks or so for multiple harvests. 
  • Plant carrot seeds 3 to 4 inches apart in rows. Rows should be at least a foot apart.
  • Cover the newly sown seeds with sand or fine soil that will not crust over when dry.
  • Keep the soil moist with frequent shallow waterings. The soil can’t crust for small carrot seeds to germinate. (If you put your finger in the ground, it should be moist, but not wet, to the middle knuckle.)
  • Carrots are sometimes slow to germinate. They may take 2 to 3 weeks to show any signs of life, so don’t panic if your carrots don’t appear right away!
  • Carrots are best grown in full sunlight, but can tolerate a moderate amount of shade. Carrots grown in shade won’t be as robust as those in full sun, however.
  • Provide shade for seeds planted in mid-summer so that the soil does not heat up. Garden fleece will do this job.

Preparing the Soil

One of the most important things to consider when growing carrots (and other root vegetables) is the condition of your soil. Follow these guidelines to ensure a healthy carrot harvest:

  • Make sure your soil is free of stones. Stones obstruct the path of carrot roots, which can result in a stunted and misshapen crop.
  • Till your soil before planting. Carrots need deeply-tilled, loose soil that they can easily push through.
  • Use the right type of soil. Carrots grow best in sandy or loamy soil (as opposed clayey or silty soil), so add sand if necessary! Learn more about soil types
  • Avoid using manure or too much fertilizer. Have you ever seen a carrot that has grown “legs” or has forked? Fresh manure, or even recently-applied rotted manure, can cause carrots to fork and send out little side roots. Don’t use it before you plant your carrot seeds.

Stunted carrots.
Misshapen carrots can be caused by tough soil, overly-enriched soil, disease, and pests.

Care

How to Grow Carrots

  • After planting, gently mulch to retain moisture, speed germination, and block the sun from hitting the roots directly.
  • Once plants are an inch tall, thin so that they stand 3 inches apart. Snip them with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the fragile roots of the remaining plants.
  • Water at least one inch per week.
  • Weed diligently, but be careful not to disturb the carrots’ roots while doing so.
  • Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer 5-6 weeks after sowing. 
  • See more tips for growing carrots.

How Long Does it Take to Grow a Carrot?

  • Depending on the variety and local growing conditions, carrots may take anywhere from 2 to 4 months to mature. 

Pests/Diseases

  • Wireworms
  • Flea Beetles
  • Aster Yellow Disease will cause shortened and discolored carrot tops and hairy roots. This disease is spread by pests as they feed from plant to plant. Keep weeds down and invest in a control plan for pests such as leafhoppers. This disease has the ability to overwinter.

Harvest/Storage

How to Harvest Carrots

  • Carrots should be mature and ready for harvest in about 2–4 months, or when they reach at least ½ inch in diameter. You may harvest whenever desired maturity is reached.
  • If you’re growing carrots in the spring and early summer, harvest before daily temperatures get too hot, as the heat can cause carrot roots to grow fibrous.
  • Carrots taste much better after a couple of frosts. (A frost encourages the plant to start storing energy—sugars—in its root for later use.) Following the first hard frost in the fall, cover carrot rows with an 18-inch layer of shredded leaves to preserve them for harvesting later.

Carrots
Scrub off the dirt and remove the tops before storing carrots!

How Do You Store Fresh Carrots?

  • To store freshly-harvested carrots, twist off the green tops, scrub off the dirt under cold running water, let dry and seal in airtight plastic bags, and refrigerate. If you simply put fresh carrots in the refrigerator, they’ll go limp in a few hours.
  • You may leave mature carrots in the soil for temporary storage if the ground will not freeze and pests aren’t a problem.
  • Carrots can be stored in tubs of moist sand for winter use. 

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • Carrots are biennial plants. If you leave them in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds the second year.
  • Carrots have a long list of health benefits, not just those from Vitamin A. Read more in Carrots: Health Benefits!
  • Can dogs eat carrots? Yes! Carrots aren’t just great for humans—they make a great treat for your pets! Try this dog-friendly peanut butter carrot cake for your dog’s next birthday.

Recipes

2020 Almanac Calendar Club

Growing Carrots

Botanical Name Daucus carota subsp. sativus
Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Special Features