Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Carrots
Garden-grown carrots are full of flavor and texture! They are a popular, long-lasting root vegetable that can be grown in many climates. Learn all about planting, growing, and harvesting carrots.
Carrots are easy to grow as long as they are planted in loose, sandy soil during the cooler periods of the growing season—spring and fall (carrots can tolerate frost). Depending on the variety and local growing conditions, carrots may take anywhere from 2 to 4 months to mature.
The Importance of Good Soil
Proper soil preparation is extremely important for carrot growing! If the carrot roots can’t easily grow unobstructed, it can lead to stunted and misshapen crops.
Here’s what to do to prepare your garden soil:
- Till down 12 inches and make sure there are no rocks, stones, or even soil clumps to impede your carrots’ growth.
- Avoid amending the soil with nitrogen-rich material such as manure and fertilizer, which can cause carrots to fork and grow little side roots; instead, work in old coffee grounds.
- If soil is heavy clay or too rocky, you need to plant carrots in a raised bed at least 12 inches deep and filled with fluffy, sandy or loamy soil (not clay nor silt).
Finally: Don’t expect the perfect shape of grocery store carrots. Your carrots will still taste better, whatever their shape!
Sow seeds directly in the garden or containers. Do not transplant. Try to distribute seed in an even fashion so seeds don’t grow together, use a seed-sower, or thin vigorously to the right space.
- Carrots need a location that receives full sunlight, though they can tolerate partial shade, too.
- As discussed above, soil must be loose, sandy, and airy so that carrot roots can easily push down through the soil.
- Sow seeds outdoors 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. Find your local frost dates here.
- Sow ¼ inch deep, 3 to 4 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart.
- Cover with a layer of vermiculite or fine compost to prefvent a crust from forming (which would hamper germination).
- For multiple harvests, sow seeds about every 3 weeks.
- Keep the soil moist with frequent shallow waterings. For small carrot seeds to germinate, the soil mustn’t form a hard crust on top. (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 leaf, so don’t panic if your carrots don’t appear right away!
- To help spot the first appearance of their tiny leaves, mix carrot seeds with quick-germinating radish seeds or sow radish seeds in rows between carrot rows.
Misshapen carrots can be caused by heavy, compact, overly-enriched soil.
Check out this video to learn how to plant carrots.
- Gently mulch carrots to retain moisture, speed germination, and block the sun from hitting the roots directly.
- When seedlings are an inch tall, thin so that they stand 3 to 4 inches apart. Snip tops 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 to start, then two inches as roots mature.
- Weed diligently, but be careful not to disturb the young carrots’ roots while doing so.
- Fertilize with a low-nitogen but high-potassium and -phosphate fertilizer 5 to 6 weeks after sowing. (Note that excess nitrogen in the soil promotes top, or foliage, growth—not roots.)
- See more tips for growing carrots.
- Black (Itersonilia) canker
- Carrot rust flies
- Flea Beetles
- Root-knot nematodes
- 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.
- Generally, the smaller the carrot, the better the taste.
- Harvest whenever desired maturity/size is reached—the size of your finger or at least ½ of an inch in diameter.
- 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 one or a few 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 tops with an 18-inch layer of shredded leaves to preserve them for harvesting later.
- Note: Carrots are biennial. If you fail to harvest and leave the carrots in the ground, the tops will flower and proeduce seeds in the next year.
Scrub off the dirt and remove the tops before storing carrots!
How Do You Store Fresh Carrots?
- To store freshly-harvested carrots, twist or cut off all but ½ inch of the tops, scrub off any dirt under cold running water, and air-dry. 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 also be stored in tubs of moist sand or dry sawdust in a cool, dry area.
Carrots come in a rainbow of colors, sizes, and shapes.
- ‘‘Bolero’: slightly tapered; 7 to 8 inches; resists most leaf pests and blights.
- ‘Danvers’: classic heirloom; 6 to 8 inches long, that tapers at the end and has a rich, dark orange color; suited to heavy soil.
- ‘Little Finger’: heirloom; a small Nantes type of carrot only 4 inches long and one inch thick; good for containers.
- ‘Nantes’: cylindrical (not tapered); 6 to 7 inches; exceptionally sweet; crisp texture.
- ‘Thumberline’: heirloom; round carrot, good for clumpy or clay soil and containers.
- For unusual color, try heirloom ‘Red Cored Chantenay’ and bright ‘Solar Yellow’.
Wit & Wisdom
- Not all carrots are orange; varieties vary in color from purple to white, and some are resistant to diseases and pests.
- Long-lasting carrots are rich in sugar, and a great source of vitamins and carotene. Read more in Carrots: Health Benefits!
- The Irish called carrots “underground honey,” due to this root vegetable’s sweetness.
- Carrots were the first vegetable to be canned commercially.