How to Grow Carrots from Seed to Harvest

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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 are known and loved for their sweet flavor and the crunch that make them so satisfying to bite into. Although they are typically known as the orange root vegetable the Bug’s Bunny eats, they actually come in all sorts of colors.

Compared to other vegetables, they require little attention and need little space in the vegetable garden because of their small footprint.

Overall, they are relatively straightforward to raise. 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 planting them, but you are unsure where to start, you’re in the right place. The following gardening tips will help you produce a plentiful harvest 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 they can easily grow down through the soil.

Well-drained sandy or loamy soil is ideal. 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, 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 (heavy clay or rocky), build a raised garden and fill it with a well-draining potting mix. They grow well in raised gardens because of the loose soil.

Regardless of where you plant them, 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 Seeds

Since the edible portion of carrots is the roots themselves, we do not recommend that you start the seeds inside. Instead sow directly into the soil once conditions are suitable outside. Trying to transplant seedlings from containers into the ground results in damage.

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 sow your seeds 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 the plants after germination.

After sowing the 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 the 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 tops.

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

Care Tips

The following care tips are essential to creating in a plentiful harvest.

  • 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 flavor. Water at least one inch (about ½ gallon per square foot) per week when the they 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 them 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 near your carrots, especially when they 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 varieties have little pest or disease problems but periodically scout for pests such as rust flies, flea beetles, and wireworms and diseases such as leaf blight and black root rot. If discovered, treat quickly to prevent significant damage to any 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 They be Harvested?

The guidelines for when to harvest are pretty loose. Once they 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?

There are two different ways to harvest:

  • 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, you can also use a garden fork to dig around the taproots to remove 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?

Immediately after harvesting them, cut the tops down to about one-half inch and under running water scrub off any remaining dirt. Allow them to air-dry. Then, seal them 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 them in the ground over winter?

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 them in containers?

Yes, you can, 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?

Making your own seed tape is an inexpensive, effective way to properly space seeds when sowing them into the ground soil and allows you to customize the 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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