How to Grow Carrots: Planting, Growing, Harvesting
Carrots are a must-have vegetable for any gardener that aims to be self-sustainable. This cold-season crop needs plenty of sun and well-draining, loose soil. But once the seeds have sprouted, they require little maintenance. And, if you plan your planting calendar right, you can even get two carrot crops in a single year.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how to grow carrots from seeds, how to water and care for them so that you can enjoy the most delicious crunchy carrots, and how to harvest and store them. We’ll also share our gardening tips for growing carrots in containers, and reveal the secret to how to plant carrots without seeds.
Common Carrot Varieties
Carrots were domesticated almost 7000 years ago in Central Asia. Today, the two main carrot types are Asian and Western carrots. Western varieties are the most common, and they are divided into four main cultivars:
- Imperator carrots are the best-known type, and also the one most likely to be found in grocery stores. They have long, slender roots, smooth skin, and a noticeably sweet taste.
- Chantenay carrots have shorter, stout-looking roots, with a slightly sweet, earthy flavor. They store very well and are commonly used in processing.
- Danvers carrots have a slightly conical shape and are longer than Chantenay, but shorter than Imperator carrots. They’re a good pick for heavy soils, and pack a sweet aroma and satisfying crunch.
- Nantes carrots have straight, cylindrical roots, with a mild, sweet taste, and juicy crunch. They’re not as popular in commercial cultivation because they bruise easier than other carrot varieties, but they’re easy to grow and popular among home gardeners.
Not all carrots are orange. In fact, the original color of early domesticated carrots was purple or yellow. According to one theory, orange carrots were bred by the Dutch in the 16th century to honor William of Orange, the man who led the Dutch in their fight for independence. Whether that’s true or not is up to historians to decide. One thing is certain: The new, orange carrots, tasted much better than their purple cousins, and as a result, they became the new favorite.
Carrots can range in color from white and yellow, to purple and black. They also come in numerous shapes and sizes. So if you want to give your vegetable garden a colorful spin, here are some interesting carrot varieties you can grow.
When Is the Best Time to Plant Carrots?
Carrots are a cold-season crop. The ideal soil temperature for carrot seed germination is at least 45°F (7°C), but no higher than 70°F (21°C). For best results when growing carrots from seed, start sowing in early spring, after the last frost has passed. You can then get a second harvest by planting carrots in early to mid summer, which should be ready for harvesting by late fall.
If your growing zone allows it, you can also grow carrots as a winter crop. As long as night temperatures don’t drop below 55°F (13°C), your carrots should be perfectly fine. In warmer climates or areas with very hot summers, growing carrots in winter is a great alternative. Daytime temperatures above 84°F (29°C) are too hot for this cool-weather vegetable, causing the roots to lose their sweetness and turn bitter and woody.
Where Should You Plant Carrots?
Carrots prefer growing in full sun, so plant them in a part of your garden where they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. You can also grow them in partial shade, but keep in mind that the seeds will take longer to germinate, and the plants will grow much slower.
How to Plant and Grow Carrots
Carrots are a low-maintenance crop suitable for garden soil as well as raised beds. Here is our guide to how to grow carrots step by step, starting with the basics.
Preparing the Soil
Carrot plants grow best in a loose, well-draining, loamy, and sandy soil mix. If they’re growing them in clay-heavy soils, you’ll end up with forked, deformed, or thin carrots. Similarly, stones or rocks will also lead to split and deformed carrot roots which, although safe to eat, are not exactly what you want on your dinner table.
In gardens with compacted soil, you will need to use plenty of amendments to improve the soil structure. Start by using a shovel to dig up the soil to a depth of at least one foot (30 cm) and removing any debris such as stones, rocks, twigs, old roots, etc. Make a mixture of compost, leaf mold or manure, sand, and a bit of wood ash, and thoroughly incorporate it into the soil.
For a healthy harvest, prepare the soil for your carrots at least 6 weeks before sowing carrot seeds. Ideally, you’ll want to add your compost and leaf mold in autumn and let it break down over winter. Avoid adding compost or manure to the soil right before sowing your carrot seeds. Doing so will increase the nitrogen levels in the soil, and your carrots will end up with very lush leaves and small, thin roots.
Sowing Carrot Seeds
When growing carrots from seed, always sow them directly in the garden beds. Carrots don’t respond well to transplanting, which can damage their roots and attract the carrot rust fly. Wait until the last frost has passed, then plant the seeds about half an inch deep (1 cm). Keep your carrot rows around 12 inches apart (30 cm).
Sow seeds by sprinkling them on the soil surface, then cover them with a thin layer of soil. Seeds may take up to 3 weeks to germinate, so don’t worry if the process takes longer than with other vegetables. You can use a floating row cover to keep the soil warm if you want to make carrot seeds germinate faster. After the seeds sprout, it’s time to start thinning the seedlings.
How to Thin Carrots
You can thin carrot seedlings when they are an inch or two tall (2.5 to 5 cm). The tricky part is making sure that you don’t disturb their roots. To minimize damage to carrot seedlings, do your thinning by hand, by pinching the leaves at soil level, or using a small pair of scissors to snip them off. Leave about 3 inches (7.5 cm) between each plant. This will give the carrot roots plenty of room to develop, ensure that the plants are not competing for nutrients, and leave less space for weeds to creep up.
Water your carrots regularly and thoroughly, keeping the soil moist but not drenched. They don’t respond well to drastic changes in the watering schedule. Both too much and too little water can cause the carrots to split, or become woody and bitter. You can use a drip-feed irrigation system to keep the soil damp. Also, add a thin layer of mulch to help the soil retain moisture once the carrots are at least 4 inches (10 cm) tall.
You can start fertilizing your carrots about 4 weeks after the seeds have sprouted. Like all root vegetables, carrots need a fertilizer that’s rich in potassium and phosphorus, but low on nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will result in large, bushy leaves, and small or deformed roots. Aim for a liquid fertilizer with an N-P-K nutrient ratio of 0-10-10 or 5-15-15.
Keep in mind that using fertilizers won’t necessarily mean bigger carrots. Often, if your carrots have very small roots, it means that they didn’t have enough space to grow. It might also be that your garden has heavy, clay soil. Take your time when preparing the soil for carrots before you start sowing. This will ensure an abundant harvest.
Weed your carrot beds often, before the weeds get a chance to take over. To avoid damaging the roots, always do your weeding when the soil is moist, and preferably by hand. Also, avoid using a hoe or trowel near your carrots. These tools can easily bruise the roots, which makes them susceptible to the rust fly.
You can start to harvest carrots between 50 and 75 days after sowing. Baby carrots are usually ready in about 7 weeks, while larger carrots can take up to 10 weeks. The rules aren’t set in stone, but the sooner you harvest them, the better. Once the carrot flowers, it is still edible but has a noticeable bitterness and a tough, woody texture. To make the most of them, harvest carrots before they flower, when they are sweet, crunchy, and packed full of nutrients.
Carrots can be eaten raw or served cooked. Don’t worry about peeling them — unless it’s damaged or bruised, carrot skin is edible, and is rich in vitamins A and C. You can also use carrot greens in your cooking, either in salads, or to make a pesto. They taste remarkably like parsley. Or, if you’re not a fan, you can just add them to your compost pile.
How to Store Carrots After Harvesting
The best way to store carrots from your garden is to fill a container with dry sand and keep them in a dark, cool, and dry place. If you use this method, don’t wash your carrots before storage. Instead, simply rub off the soil and trim the leaves before covering with sand. If storing carrots in the fridge, you can give them a wash, then dry them off with a paper towel and store them in an airtight bag in the crisper drawer. Finally, you can also store your freshly harvested carrots in a root cellar.
Common Carrots Pests and Problems
The most common pest when growing carrots is the carrot rust fly. Similar to the common housefly in appearance, it lays eggs on top of the soil. Then its larvae burrow inside the soil, where they feed on the roots. You can protect your carrots from the rust fly by taking great care to not damage the roots when thinning or weeding. Row covers also help, same as companion planting, which will also protect your carrots from pests such as leafhoppers, carrot weevils, whiteflies, and flea beetles.
Carrots can be susceptible to several fungal and bacterial diseases, the most severe being Alternaria leaf blight. You can use a copper fungicide sprayed directly on the leaves as a form of treatment. In an organic garden, though, your best choice is to grow disease resistant varieties and practice crop rotation.
Companion Planting With Carrots
The best companion plants for carrots are onions, leeks, and garlic. Together, these vegetables form a power team that helps ward pests off each other. The smell of carrots keeps the onion fly away, while the smell of onions protects carrots from rust flies. You can also plant carrots and beets together, even radishes, as they have similar growing requirements.
Don’t forget about plants that keep pests at bay by attracting beneficial insects. Dill and marigolds help attract lacewings and ladybugs, which will feast on aphids, caterpillars, larvae, and spider mites. Growing nasturtiums is also a great way to keep aphids and whiteflies off your carrot crop.
How to Grow Carrots Indoors
Growing carrots indoors is a wonderful alternative for home gardeners who lack outdoor growing space, but still wish to enjoy fresh carrots at home. Here are a few methods you can try.
How to Plant Carrots in a Pot
If you’re wondering whether you can plant carrots in pots, the short answer is yes. In fact, container gardening is a great way to reduce the risks of forked or deformed carrots, or worse, carrot rust flies and weevils. The best type of container is a long, plastic trough with drainage holes. Look for a pot that’s at least 8 inches (20 cm) deep, and at least 2 feet (60 cm) long.
Fill your container with a loose, well-draining soil mix, and plant your carrot seeds in two rows, at least 3 inches apart (7.5 cm) . Keep the pot in a sunny location, and make sure the soil does not dry out. The seeds should germinate after 2 to 3 weeks. Thin the carrot seedlings when they’re about an inch tall (2.5 cm). Once the top of the carrot is at least an inch wide, you can start harvesting.
How to Grow Carrots From Scraps
You can also grow carrots at home without seeds by planting your leftover carrot tops — even the ones bought from a supermarket or grocery store. For this method to work, pick a carrot that still has a few leaves and stems attached, and use a sharp knife to cut it about half an inch below the top. Place the carrot top in a shallow bowl with water, and keep it on a sunny windowsill. After 7 to 10 days, the carrot top will start growing new leaf shoots and thin roots, and you can transplant it into the soil.
Can You Grow Carrots in Water?
Yes, growing carrots in water without any soil is possible. This method involves using a hydroponic system that provides carrots with a mix of nutrients and minerals, as well as a growing medium such as perlite, rockwool, or vermiculite.
The downside to growing carrots in a hydroponic garden is that it’s quite labor-intensive, and requires a perfect balance between light, nutrients, using the right growing medium, providing oxygen to the roots, and more. If you’re keen to experiment with soilless growing techniques, it’s definitely worth giving it a try. Otherwise, growing carrots in a pot is much easier, and just as rewarding.
Carrots are such a common vegetable that you’re probably wondering whether they’re worth growing in your garden. And, to be fair, getting started takes a bit of work, especially if your garden has very heavy soils. But once you’ve had the taste of a fresh, homegrown carrot, you’ll see why all the hard work is worth it. So why not plant your own carrots this year?
Find more great vegetables to grow in your garden on our 28 Easy Vegetables page.