A grocery store carrot can never compare to the taste of a fresh-picked carrot from the garden, but growing carrots can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid the obstacles and have a successful carrot crop. If you want to grow carrots in your garden, here’s everything you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Carrots? one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
Carrots are enjoyed for the sweet and earthy tap roots, which are such a delight to bite into when served fresh, either by themselves or dipped into ranch dressing. They are also wonderful when roasted or when added to soup. Carrots can also be steamed and served with butter or baked into a casserole. Carrot greens are edible too and can be served sauteed or used for making pesto or another sauce.
I love seeing the bright-green ferny foliage of the carrot tops every time I walk into the garden. No matter what the weather is like, or what else is growing in the garden, those frilly, upright carrot tops always lift my spirits — even in winter. That alone could be reason enough to try carrots in your own garden.
Generally, you’ll find orange carrots at the grocery store, but when you grow carrots yourself, you can raise varieties that are white, yellow, red and deep purple.
Where, When & How to Plant Carrots
Carrots may be planted in spring for an early summer harvest, before the heat causes the plants to bolt, at which point the taproots become woody and unpalatable. Sow seeds two to three weeks before the last frost date of spring, and follow up with a succession planting three weeks later. Alternatively or additionally, carrots may be planted 10 weeks before the first frost date for a fall harvest. I prefer carrots that mature in fall because they become sweeter when they experience a frost.
Carrots seeds’ optimal soil temperature for germination is between 45 and 85° Fahrenheit, though the soil should be 70° or cooler as the carrots grow. Seeds will remain viable for up to 3 years if stored properly.
Because they have taproots, carrots abhor being transplanted. For that reason, carrot seeds should be direct sown in the garden. In full sun to light shade, sow the seeds in loose, fertile, evenly moist soil. Carrots do best in soil with a pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.8.
To avoid stunted and deformed carrots, prepare the soil well in advance of planting. This is the most important step to setting up carrots for success. I start weeks ahead of time, working the soil deep with well-rotted shredded leaves and plenty of compost. Screen out stones, pebbles and any other objects that will obstruct a clear path for straight roots. Raised beds and deep grow bags are superb options for growing carrots as the soil can be more easily managed.
Sow seeds a quarter-inch deep and an inch apart, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. However, this is easier said than done because the seeds are so small — the size of a poppy seed. I’ve found that using pelletized seed makes the job much easier.
The biggest challenge to starting carrots seeds is making sure they stay moist enough to germinate. This can be tricky because they take quite a while to sprout — from five to 21 days — and can be difficult to monitor. One trick I like is to cover the seeds with burlap fabric. I use old coffee bean sacks. These are great because the fabric is permeable, allowing you to water from above and keeping the baking sun from drying out the soil surface, which must remain moist in order for the seeds to germinate. It’s easy to pull back the fabric to check on the seeds’ germination, and once that happens, the fabric can easily be removed completely.
Once carrot greens are growing, take proactive steps to protect your crop from pests and the diseases that they spread. Floating row covers can be installed from the moment of germination to prevent pest access to plants.
You’ll have to pull back the row cover occasionally to remove weeds that will compete with the carrots for water and nutrients and to thin out excess, overcrowded carrot seedlings. It is difficult and tedious, but do your best to leave only one carrot plant every 2 to 4 inches.
When we talk about carrots in the garden, we’re talking about domesticated varieties of wild carrots. Also known as Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrots belong to the species Daucus carota. Garden carrots are of the subspecies Daucus carota sativus.
Atlas is a small, rounded variety that matures more quickly than the average carrot variety and is better suited for subpar soil than longer varieties. The orange roots are 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter and just as long. This variety is ready to harvest in 70 days.
Bolero is a sweet variety with improved resistance to common diseases and leaf pests. The slightly tapered orange roots are 7 to 8 inches long and take 75 days to mature.
Danvers is an orange heirloom variety that tolerates heavier soil. The roots grow 6 to 8 inches long. They take between 65 and 75 days to mature, or longer when grown in fall.
Dragon is a purple-skinned carrot with orange flesh that contains as much lycopene as a tomato. The seven-inch roots perform well in heavy soil and have a sweet but spicy flavor. This variety matures in 70 to 90 days.
Imperator is an heirloom carrot variety that is an All-America Selections winner. The orange roots grow 7 to 8 inches long with a broad shoulder, gradually tapering to a fine taproot. They are ready to harvest in 70 days.
Yellow Moon is a lighter-toned yellow carrot with 6-to-7-inch-long roots. They are ready to harvest in 80 days.
YaYa is a fast-maturing orange variety that produces 6-inch blunt barrel-shaped roots. It has the looks and shape of a classic carrot and is great for warmer regions where the crop must mature quickly before heat sets in. YaYa takes just 60 days to mature.
As mentioned above, it is important to ensure carrots seeds and newly germinated seedlings are kept consistently moist. Once the seedlings are established, continue to apply an inch of water a week, if Mother Nature hasn’t done the job for you. As the taproots grow longer and reach deeper, they will require even more moisture to prevent stress and bolting. When carrots are halfway to maturity, up the water schedule to 2 inches per week.
Avoid applying too much nitrogen fertilizer, which can cause excessive top growth at the expense of root growth. At the same time, also avoid excess phosphorus, which can cause roots to form side shoots or split roots.
Once the carrot greens are 4 inches tall, side dress by applying fertilizer between the rows. Use an organic fertilizer that will supply a moderate dose of nitrogen and little to no phosphorus.
Carrot Pests & Diseases
Many carrot pest and disease issues can be overcome by installing floating row cover over plants to stop disease-carrying insect pests from ever chewing on or laying their eggs on the plants. Because insect pollination is not required to grow carrots, the row cover can stay on all season.
Controlling weeds that host pests and diseases and practicing crop rotation will also cut down on problems.
Carrot rust fly larvae are cream-colored maggots that feed on carrot taproots. The boring activity creates tunnels and causes the carrots to become mushy. If carrot rust flies are an issue in your garden, try planting and harvesting earlier to avoid the fly’s most active egg-laying period.
Carrot weevil is a beetle that affects carrots, parsley and celery. Clearing debris in fall can stop weevils from overwintering in your garden. Beneficial nematodes can be applied to soil to reduce weevil populations.
Flea beetles cause small shotholes in foliage. Excessive damage can kill that plant, with the youngest foliage being the most susceptible. Floating row cover can keep flea beetles at bay. Another strategy is to plant a trap crop of radishes, which flea beetles prefer over carrots.
Leafhoppers are piercing and sucking insects that spread pathogens as they feed on carrot foliage. Use row cover to keep them off plants.
Root-knot nematodes are microscopic worms in the soil that form galls or thickened roots, split roots, stunted roots, or clusters of hairlike roots. It’s said that interplanting French marigolds in the garden will repel nematodes. However, if you know nematodes are present, practice crop rotation by refraining from planting nightshades in that garden bed for three or four years, so the nematode population subsides.
Armyworms are moth larvae that have a taste for carrot greens. Handpick eggs before they can hatch and remove the caterpillars, which may be green or black and gray. Bt is an organic control for moth and butterfly larvae that is safe around humans and pets and will not harm other wildlife.
Wireworms are click beetle larvae that can spend between one and six years in soil before they emerge as adults. They are between a half-inch and 3 inches long and can kill carrot seedlings and damage plants that are further along in their development. If you suspect your garden has a wireworm issue, put a potato piece 4 inches deep in the soil and mark it. After a week, dig up the potato and inspect it for wireworms. You can’t do anything about wireworms as carrots are growing, but in the weeks prior to planting time, you can turn the soil several times to expose the wireworms to birds.
Black canker symptoms include root markings that appear as black, purple or brown lesions mainly on the carrot shoulders and crown. On carrot foliage, symptoms will appear as small rust-colored lesions.
Carrots become sweeter once they’re exposed to a few periods of frost, as colder temperatures cause them to store energy in the form of sugars.
Harvest carrots within three weeks of maturity. Pull carrots by their tops if the soil is loose. If carrots break, loosen the soil with a garden fork before continuing the harvest. Once harvested, cut top growth one inch from the root. Carrots may be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but enjoy them as soon as possible for crisp, fresh taste.
Carrots can also be kept in the ground through winter in cold frames.
What are your secrets to growing carrots successfully? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
Episode 99: Understanding Crop Rotation: The Basics and Beyond, with Jack Algiere
Episode 195: Identifying and Controlling Garden Pests Organically
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joegardener blog: How Do I Grow Swiss Chard?
joegardener blog: How Do I Grow Tomatoes?
joegardener blog: How Do I Grow Winter Squash?
How Do I Grow Carrots? one-sheet
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