Gardening

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Carrots

Who doesn’t love the fresh, delicious crunch of a bright orange carrot?

To me, planting carrots signals the arrival of spring and later, harvesting carrots tells me it’s time for fall. These seasonal vegetables are packed with nutrients and are incredibly versatile in the kitchen.

A few of my favorite recipes?

Besides carrot cake – a personal favorite – I also enjoy making carrot risotto, roasted carrots, root cellar pasta primavera, and so many more. 

They store well, and with so many varieties to choose from (carrots don’t just have to be orange, folks! They can so be yellow, red, purple, etc), carrots are one of the best plants to grow. 

Here’s how to grow carrots easily – even if you’ve never seen a single seed in your life. 

growing carrots

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Popular Varieties of Carrots 

growing carrots

Some of the most popular carrot varieties include:

  • Nantes: fast, easy growers that can adapt to all kinds of conditions
  • Chantenay: develop stocky roots 
  • Miniatures: don’t grow large but are incredibly sweet
  • Imperator: long carrots that need loose, sandy soil
  • Danvers: best for juicing 
  • Bolero: resistant to many diseases
  • Little Finger: heirloom variety of carrot
  • Thumberline: best for clay soil 

Best Place to Grow Carrots

growing carrots

Light

Full sunlight is preferred, although partial shade can also be tolerated and is helpful if you live in a very warm or dry climate.

Soil

The soil should be loose and sandy so that the carrot roots can easily penetrate. The best kind of soil is a sandy, well-drained loam, as heavy soils cause carrots to mature slowly and develop rough, craggy roots. Avoid highly acidic soil. 

Water

Keep the soil moist with regular deep waterings. Don’t let the soil form a hard crust on top or dry out, especially during germination. 

Temperature

Carrots can be sown outdoors about two to three weeks before the last spring frost date. You can find your estimated date here.

Fertilizer 

Carrots need minimal fertilizer. 

How Many Carrots Should I Plant?

growing carrots

Estimate five to ten feet of row per person to have enough carrots for the family. You’ll yield roughly one pound of carrots in a one-foot row. 

When to Sow Carrot Seeds

The humble carrot is not a crop that holds up well to transplanting – this is not going to be a plant that you start indoors five weeks before the last expected frost. 

That’s good, because it will save you some labor but you’ll also want to time things perfectly to make sure you’re getting them in the ground at the best possible time. 

You can sow carrot seeds about two weeks before the last frost date. If you live in an area with mild summers, you can plant every three weeks until late July or August. This will provide for an additional winter harvest. 

Planting Carrots

growing carrots

Begin by preparing your planting bed. Ideally, you should have amended it with plenty of compost or another organic fertilizer first. I usually put down my fertilizer in the fall so it has plenty of time to work into the soil and break down (we use mostly old chicken bedding, which is high in nitrogen).

If you add too many nutrient-rich fertilizers prior to planting, you may find that your carrots develop forks and side roots, which some people don’t like. 

Carrots can be planted in a container, raised bed, or directly in the ground. I’ll give you more instructions on how to plant carrots in a container below. 

Otherwise, loosen the soil to about twelve inches deep. Make sure there are no stones or other obstructions in the way that will prevent your carrots from developing good roots. If the soil consists of heavy clay and rocks (which ours is) you may want to plant in a raised bed instead of directly in the ground. 

Begin by  mixing in some additional aged compost (or worm compost!) and then sow your seeds roughly ¼” deep and 2” apart. Rows should be placed 10 inches apart but you can also plant in a double- or triple-row. 

Unless you are planting with a seed tape (more on this later) you will need to thin the carrots later. 

How to Care for Carrots 

growing carrots

After planting, keep the soil moist for at least ten insensitive days. Carrots take a bit longer to germinate than other types of vegetables, so they need the extra humidity. You can cover the freshly seeded soil with boards for six days, but be sure to check daily and remove the boards as soon as the seeds appear. 

Seeds will germinate best when temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees. 

Once the seeds have germinated, water on a regular basis, keeping the carrots consistently moist but never soaking wet. It’s best to water infrequently but deeply, making sure you soak to several inches below the soil. You may want to use soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines to help keep the soil moist without creating conditions that are prime for fungal infections. 

Weed regularly, making sure you don’t pull up the fragile seedlings as you do so. You can reduce weed competition by following one of these tips or by sowing in shallow furrows filled with potting soil. Between the rows, add a layer of mulch.  

Another option is to sow your carrots with radishes. Radishes develop more quickly than carrots, so they will shelter the seedlings while also suppressing weeds. 

Be Careful about overfertilizing your carrots. Carrots prefer compost rather than nitrogen-only fertilizers, as nitrogen will cause the leafy green tops to develop at the expense of the roots. Carrots do best when the pH is between 5.8 and 7.0, so you may want to test your soil before planting.

If the shoulders of your carrots begin to appear above the top of the soil before they are ready to be harvested, cover them with mulch. This will prevent them from turning green. 

Thinning Carrots

growing carrots

Carrot seeds are incredibly small, which makes it challenging to plant them evenly. Therefore, when you plant, you should seed heavily, but plant just a ¼” deep. When the seedlings emerge, thin any plants that are within an inch and a half of each other.

Wait until the seedlings are an inch or two tall to do this, and simply pinch them off at the soil to prevent damaging the roots. You can always use the seedlings as microgreens or use the tops later on in salads, if you have to thin when the carrots are larger. 

Want to skip the thinning process? You won’t be able to space carrots effectively since the seeds are so small. However, you can use seed tape – which has pre-spaced seeds embedded into a strip of biodegradable paper – or pelleted seed. 

How to Grow Carrots in Containers

growing carrots

Carrots require loose, well-drained soil and will grow well in containers. You will want to use a container that is at least 12 inches deep, but the width doesn’t much matter.

Place your container in a warm, sunny location, and follow all other planting steps mentioned above for a healthy crop.

Common Carrot Pests and Diseases

growing carrots

If you’re vigilant about providing the proper conditions for your carrots, you shouldn’t have to worry about too many pests or diseases. Aster leafhoppers can cause some damage as they spread diseases, but you can usually prevent them by using row covers. Row covers also protect against carrot weevils and carrot rust flies. 

Practicing crop rotation and good weeding practices can also keep most pests and disease at bay. Common diseases and pests include: 

Preventing Carrot Fly 

Another pest to watch out for is the carrot fly. The adult version isn’t a problem you need to watch out for so much as the maggots. These maggots can damage the roots of your carrots. You can prevent them by using row covers or garden fleeces immediately after you sow. Make sure the edges are secure. You will want to keep the covers in place at all times. 

Carrot Companion Plants 

growing carrots

One popular companion plant for the carrot is the leek. Leeks confuse pests like carrot flies, so they won’t bother them. 

Other good companion plants to grow alongside your carrots include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Chives
  • Onions
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley 
  • Sage 

Harvesting Carrots 

growing carrots

You can pull carrots when their roots reach a mature size and begin to develop a rich color. You obviously don’t know if your carrots are ready without digging a few up, but I generally use the tops as an indicator of when they might be ready. In late September or early October, I look to see if the top of the carrot root is emerging above the soil line. The green tops usually start to die back at this point, too. 

Carrots can be harvested at any size – generally, the smaller the carrot, the sweeter it will be. Usually, you will want to wait until the carrot is at least the size of your finger. 

You can leave carrots in the ground longer, if you like. Carrots that remain in cool soil develop a sweeter taste – they can even get sweeter after a frost has hit. However, keep in mind that many pests like carrots, too. We usually end up digging ours sooner rather than later for two reasons: they are easier to get out of the ground before a hard freeze and the mice typically find the roots if we wait too long. 

When you pull the carrots, first loosen the soil around them. This will prevent you from tearing the tops off and leaving the tubers in the ground. I usually loosen the soil with a spade or pitchfork. Then, remove the carrots and cut off the tops. This will prevent moisture loss. Rinse them clean, then store (unless you plan on storing them in a root cellar, in which case you should leave the dirt intact). 

Saving Carrot Seeds 

growing carrots

Carrots are biennial plants. They will not flower and go to seed until the second year. If you live in a cold climate, you can keep open=pollinated carrots in cold storage during the winter and then replant them in the early spring to produce seed. Just wait until the seed clusters turn brown and then gather them in a paper bag. 

Let the seeds dry for a week and then crush the clusters. Gather the seeds, discarding the smallest ones, and store them in a cool, dry place. They should last up to three years. 

How to Preserve and Store Carrots 

growing carrots

You can store carrots in the refrigerator by swashing dirt or then cutting off all but half an inch of the tops. Seal them in airtight containers to prevent them from going limp. 

Carrots can also be processed in a pressure canner or frozen for long term storage. Some people even dehydrate their carrots. They can also be stored whole (as long as you put them in tubs of moist sand) in a root cellar or basement -they’ll last for several months this way.

What other tips do you have for growing carrots? Do you plan on growing some in your garden this year? Let me know in the comments!

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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