How to Grow Carrots from Seed to Harvest

Carrots are a reader’s favorite because of how easy they are to grow. We make the process easy with our How to Grow Carrots Guide

They may not be as popular as tomatoes or peppers, but carrots (Daucus carota) are a staple in many gardens as they are easy to grow.

They require little attention compared to some plants and need little space in the vegetable garden because of their small footprint.

Overall, growing carrots is relatively straightforward. Carrots are content as long as they receive full sun, are planted in loose, well-draining soil, and aren’t overfertilized.

If you are interested in how to grow carrots but unsure where to start, you’re in the right place. The following gardening tips will have you growing plenty of carrots in no time!

Soil Prep

Like other root crops, prepping the garden soil before planting carrots is one of the most critical steps in the whole season. The ground needs to be free of rocks and other large debris and well-tilled to ensure the carrots easily grow down through the soil.

Well-drained sandy or loamy soil is best for growing carrots. Heavy soils will slow their maturation or cause fully-grown carrots to be short and stubby instead of longer and thinner. Heavy soils also increase the chance of physical deformities that occur during the growing season.

To loosen the soil adequately before planting carrots, dig down to at least 12 inches deep, working it well by hand or with a tiller to break up any clods or hardpans. After you have worked it well once, you should go over it again a second time.

If your soils aren’t conducive to growing carrots (heavy clay or rocky), build a raised garden and fill it with a well-draining potting mix. Carrot plants grow well in raised gardens because of the loose soil.

Regardless of where you plant carrots, do not amend the soil with anything high in nitrogen, such as manure or nitrogen-heavy fertilizers.High nitrogen causes the carrots to fork when growing and develop an overabundance of little side hairs.

Planting the Carrot Seeds

As the edible portion of carrots is the carrot roots themselves, it is recommended not to start carrots inside but to sow seeds directly into the soil once conditions are suitable outside. Trying to transplant seedlings from containers into the ground results in damage.

Carrot plants are classified as cool-season vegetables. They need cooler temperatures to germinate and grow and often mature before the heat of the summer. Hot summer days can make the carrots tough or fibrous.

Timing

Seeds can be planted in early spring for a summer harvest or planted later in the growing season for a fall harvest.

If you’d like a continuous crop, sow new seeds every two weeks all the way through late spring or early summer in hot climates or the end of summer in temperature regions.

Spring: Plan to plant your carrots in the early spring, ahead of other warm-season vegetables. Seeds can be sown after the threat of frost has passed or 2-3 weeks before the last frost if using row covers. The minimum soil temperature should be 50℉, but seeds germinate best at soil temperatures above 70℉.

Fall: Wait until mid to late summer, so the carrot plants germinate and are actively growing as the summer temperatures are falling. Aim to plant seeds approximately ten weeks before the first typical frost fall in your area.

Spacing

Plant seeds in rows spaced one to two feet apart, with about 1 inch of distance between the seeds within the row. Sow seeds in troughs approximately one-half inch deep and cover lightly with soil.

Sowing

Sow seeds by hand, or use a seed sower or seed tape to help space them out evenly. The seeds are small and tricky to work with; if need be, you can plant them closer together than the recommended spacing distance and then thin carrot plants after germination.

After sowing carrot seeds, germination may take two to three weeks. This is slightly longer than many other garden vegetables that sprout within ten to fourteen days and will be slower in colder soil temperatures.

Carrots have a hard seed coat, making it essential to water the soil often, keeping the soil moist to soften the seed coat and encourage germination.

Regular watering also prevents a crust from forming on the surface, impeding the seedlings from breaking through the soil. Some gardeners cover the soil with a thin layer of vermiculite to help prevent crusting.

Thinning

When the carrot tops have 3 to 4 true leaves (typically when they reach 2 inches high) gently thin carrot seedlings to 2 inches apart. Instead of pulling them out and potentially damaging nearby carrots, you can use clean, sterilized scissors or gardening shears to cut off the carrot tops.

After thinning to the recommended spacing, go ahead and eat the thinned baby carrots if they are big enough!

Carrot Plant Care Tips

The following primary care is vital to growing carrots, resulting in a successful bounty.

  • Sunlight: Carrots grow best in full sun locations in the garden, where they receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily. They will tolerate partial shade (especially when daytime temperatures are at the hottest), but you may see a reduction in growth and yield.
  • Watering: Keep the soil moist, especially when the temperature rises, without waterlogging the roots. Consistent moisture helps produce the best-tasting carrots. Water at least one inch (about ½ gallon per square foot) per week when the carrots are young, then two inches as the roots grow and mature.
  • Fertilizing: Carrots are light feeders, needing only a single dose of high phosphorus and high potassium fertilizer (such as 0-10-10 or 5-15-15) about a month after germination. Apply at about half the recommended rate on the label, watering the fertilizer into the soil well. Avoid overfertilizing as it causes the carrots to split, and do not use high nitrogen fertilizer since nitrogen promotes foliage growth. Root vegetable plants need more potassium and phosphorus compared to nitrogen.
  • Weeding: Constantly remove weeds when they pop up around your carrots, especially when carrots are young and establishing. Weeds compete with neighboring plants for water, sunlight, and soil nutrients. Their roots can also damage developing carrots, depending on the type of weed and their root system.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Most carrot varieties have little pest or disease problems but periodically scout for pests such as carrot rust fly, flea beetles, and wireworms and diseases such as leaf blight and black root rot. If discovered, treat quickly to prevent significant damage to any carrot plant that is affected.

Harvesting

Carrots mature relatively quickly, taking about 2 to 4 months, depending upon the variety grown and local growing conditions.

When Should Carrots be Harvested?

The guidelines for when to harvest are pretty loose. Once carrots reach the size of your little finger, you can harvest them. Or you can allow them to stay in the ground and grow to a larger, mature size.

How Do You Harvest Carrots?

There are two different ways to harvest carrots from your garden:

  • Using your hand, grab at the base of the carrot top, just above the flesh. Gently pull them straight up out of the ground. You may need to wiggle them back and forth slightly as you pull.
  • Instead of pulling plants by hand, use a garden fork to dig around the carrots and avoid spreading them, removing them from the ground.

After harvesting, brush off as much loose dirt as possible to keep the soil outside instead of bringing it into your house.

FAQ

Q. How do you store freshly harvested carrots?

  1. Immediately after harvesting carrots, cut the tops down to about one-half inch and under running water scrub off any remaining dirt. Allow the clean carrots to air-dry. Then seal in zip-top plastic bags and store them in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. For long-term storage, place them in tubs of moist sand or dry sawdust and keep them in a cool, dry area.

Q. Can you leave carrots in the ground over winter?

  1. Yes, you can leave mature carrots in the soil for temporary storage if pests aren’t a concern and the ground will not freeze. You can also cover the garden bed with straw or leaves for insulation.

Q. Can you grow carrots in containers?

  1. Yes, you can grow carrots in containers, but they need a little more attention and care than when grown in the ground. Make sure containers are deep enough to accommodate the variety chosen and have drainage holes in the bottom. During the hot summer months, keep the potting soil evenly moist without overwatering, which causes the carrots to rot.

Q. How do you make seed tapes for planting?

  1. Making your own seed tape is an inexpensive, effective way to properly space carrot seeds when sowing them into the ground soil and allows you to customize the carrot varieties based upon your preference. Mix a paste of flour and water until it is the consistency of syrup. Take a length of toilet paper or white streamer and place dots of the paste every inch from end to end slightly off-center. Then stick one or two seeds to each dot and fold the paper over cover the seeds.

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Happy Planting!

About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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