Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Celery
Homegrown celery is more flavorful than typical store-bought types. This cool-weather crop requires 16 weeks of cool weather to come to harvest.
In cool spring and summer regions, plant celery in early spring. In warm spring and summer regions, plant celery in late summer for harvest in late autumn or early winter.
Here’s our advice on sowing, growing, and harvesting celery.
Celery is a hardy biennial grown as an annual which is mainly grown for its edible 12- to 18-inch stalks.
Unfortunately, commercial celery is one of the most pesticide-laden crops available. So, not only is garden celery better-tasting, but also it’s less chemically-laden.
Though this edible stalk has the reputation of being fussy, it’s really quite easy if you understand its specific needs:
- A long-growing season (130 to 140 days). Celery requires about 125 days of a long, relatively cool growing season.
- A cool, cloudy season where growing temperatures range between 60°F and 70°F. Celery can’t tolerate high heat.
- A constant, unfailing water supply. The soil must stay watered at all times. If celery has a spell without water, it will be problematic (stringy, tough, and/or hollow stalks).
- Rich, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. Celery is a heavy feeder and needs to be fertilized during its growth period, too. Because celery roots are shallow (just a few inches deep), make sure nutrients are in the top of the soil.
Transplants are hard to find, so be prepared to start plants from seed.
- Select a site that receives full direct sunlight.
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches with a garden fork or tiller. Mix 2 to 4 inches of aged manure and/or compost into the soil. Or, work in some 5-10-10 fertlizer. The soil should retain moisture, bordering on wet but still draining.
- Celery prefers a soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8. Get a soil test if you’re not sure of your soil pH.
- Due to a long growing season, start celery seed indoors. For a spring crop, start seeds 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost date. (For a fall crop, start seeds in time to transplant seedlings 10 to 12 weeks before the first autumn frost date.)
- Before planting soak seeds in warm water overnight. This will speed germination.
- Press soaked seeds into seed-starting soil; to get good gernation, do not cover with soil.
- Cover starter trays/pots with plastic wrap to retain moisture. Germination should occur in about a week.
- Soon after seedlings appear, place a fluorescent grow light 3 inches above them for 16 hours a day (plants need dark, too).
- Maintain an ambient temperature of 70° to 75°F during the day and 60° to 65°F at night.
- Mist regularly
- When seedlings are 2 inches tall, transplant them to individal peat pots or to deeper flats with new potting soil. In flats, set the plants at least 2 inches apart.
- Harden off seedlings before transplatning by reducing water slightly and putting the outdoors for a cople of hours each day.
Tranplants in the Ground
- Plant celery outdoors when the soil temperature reaches at least 50“F and nighttime temperatures don’t dip down below 40“F. (Cold weather after planting can cause bolting.)
- Work organic compost into the soil prior to planting. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.) Or mix in fertilizer (about one pound of 5-10-10 per 30 square feet).
- Plant seedlings 8 to 10 inches apart.
- Water thoroughly.
- Celery requires lots of water. Make sure to provide plenty of water during the entire growing season, especially during hot, dry weather. If celery does not get enough water, the stalks will be dry and small.
- Add plenty of compost and mulch around the plants to retain moisture. Sidedress with a 5-10-10 fertilizer in the second and third month of growth (one tablespoon per plant and sprinkle it in a shallow furrow three to four inches from the plant and cover it with soil).
- Keep celery weeded but be careful when weeding as celery has shallow roots and could easily get distrubed.
- Tie growing celery stalks together to keep them from sprawling.
Image: Garden celery. Photo credit: Yuris/Shutterstock.
- The parts of celery that are harvested are mainly the stalks, which will be above ground.
- Pick the stalks whenever you want. Young celery is as good as the mature product.
- Harvest stalks from the outside in. You may begin harvesting when stalks are about 8 inches tall.
- Celery can be kept in the garden for up to a month if soil is built up around it to maintain an ideal temperature. Celery will tolerate a light frost, but not consecutive frosts.
- Tip: The darker the stalks become, the more nutrients they will contain. Texture changes with color; dark green stalks will be tougher.
- Keep celery in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Celery stores really well; you can keep it for many weeks with no trouble.
- ‘Utah 52-70R Improved’ is good for gardeners with limited space. Will only reach 18 inches tall.
- ‘Alfina’ has slender stalks and is a dark green, quick-growing variety (60 days to maturity).
- ‘Conquistador’ is tolerant of higher temps and watering shortage.
Wit & Wisdom
- Keep in mind the grocery store celery is lighter in color and bigger than homegrown celery because the commercial varieties are grown in greenhouses and/or protected from the sun; they often carries a lot of pesticides, too.
- Celery stalks can be frozen. Cut the stalks into half-inch pieces and store in freezer-grade bags.
- The ancient Romans believed that celery had healing powers, especially when it came to headaches.
- Bland or boring? You may be delighted to discover that celery has many benefits. See why celery is heathy and happening.