How to Grow Carrots
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Carrots are a crunchy, tasty, and nutritious root vegetable! Although mostly known for their bright orange color, carrots can also come in white, yellow, red, and purple. Here's what you'll need to know to help your carrots thrive! In this video and below transcript, we'll be walking you through how to grow carrots.
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GLOSSARY OF CARROT TERMS
Before we get started, let’s learn the terms you'll care about when thinking about how to grow carrots
TRUE LEAVES: The first leaves of a plant that look more like its mature leaves – not the very first leaves to emerge. True leaves are typically larger and have a different shape than the seedling leaves.
PELLETED SEEDS: Seeds that have an inactive clay coating that enlarges them, making them easier to handle and sow. The clay coating also improves germination by attracting moisture.
SHOULDER: The top of the carrot that typically becomes visible as the root grows and the plant matures.
TAPROOT: This is the actual ‘carrot’ that you eat. It’s the main, tapering root of the carrot plant that grows downward, and secondary roots are attached to it.
CROWN: The part of the carrot where the leaves meet the taproot. When the leaves are clipped, the short remaining stems look like a crown on top of the carrot.
Ready for a growing horticulture adventure in carrot crop growing? Great, let's dive in!
VARIETIES OF CARROTS
No matter how you grow carrots, there are 5 general varieties of carrots for you to choose from!
These varieties are easy for home-growers and produce sweet carrots that are typically 6-7 inches (15-17.5 cm) long with blunt tips. Nantes carrots tend to keep their shape a lot better in heavy, rocky soils than would other varieties. Nantes carrots include varieties like Bolero, Nelson, and Scarlet Nantes.
These carrots need carefully prepared soils to a minimum depth of 12 inches (30 cm). Typically, they’re the ones you most often see in grocery stores, with long tapered roots. Imperator carrots include varieties like Autumn King and Atomic Red.
These carrots are short and plump with broad crowns, and are good varieties to grow in heavy, rocky soil. Varieties include Hercules, Red-Cored Chantenay, and Mini.
PLANTING YOUR CARROTS
Carrots will grow best in full sun.
Their minimum air temperature tolerance is 41°F (5°C), while their maximum is 95°F (35°C).
Hot temperatures can actually cause bitterness in your carrots, so keep that in mind!
As a result, they prefer consistent weather conditions, and will thrive in loose sandy loam soils with good water retention.
If your soil doesn’t hold moisture well, you can add some organic matter to improve it!
Also, carrots like soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and their ideal soil temperature (when directly sowing) is between 65-85°F (18-20°C)
Did You Know: A salt and pepper shaker can be used to spread non-pelleted carrot seed
CARING FOR YOUR CARROTS
How to grow carrots bit by bit
Carrots are root vegetables, so they grow best when their soil is light and worked deeply.
For full-sized long carrots, your soil should be cultivated at a depth of 18 inches.
For shorter or round varieties, this depth can be a bit lower, to about 12-16 inches.
Make sure to remove all rocks and debris from your soil that could interfere with the growing path of your carrot’s taproots.
SOWING & SPACING
Rows should be spaced 12-18 inches apart (30-45 cm), and seeds should be sown a quarter to a half- inch deep.
This is an important step because it reduces competition for nutrients and space, allowing for better and bigger carrots.
When your plants reach 4 inches in height, thin your carrots so that there’s about 2 inches between each carrot.
Simply use a pair of scissors to cut the green tops off the carrots you’re thinning – because pulling the young plants out can cause damage to their neighboring plant roots.
Thin again once the carrots are larger, so that each plant stands 4 inches apart.
At this stage, it’s safe to thin by pulling out the unwanted plants since roots are established and developed enough to prevent any damage to their neighbors.
Keep your soil moist during germination. From the time of sowing to the time of emergence, you’ll want to water your carrot crop frequently, in low quantities.
After your carrots have emerged and have developed a few true leaves, continue to give them enough moisture – but by now, watering should be less frequent and in smaller volumes.
By lowering the amount of water at the soil’s surface, the roots of your carrot plants will focus on growing downwards, and deeper.
In the later stages of a carrot’s growth cycle, when the taproot is growing out more than down, water your carrot plants less often in higher volumes.
On average, carrots need about 1 inch of water per week, and keep in mind that excess moisture can lead to root rot.
Make sure you keep your carrot beds well-weeded! This can be done by hand or by careful cultivation, but either way be extremely careful not to cause any damage to the taproot.
FERTILIZING AND MULCHING
How to grow carrots with the right plant food and protection
When your carrots have 4 inch (10 cm) greens, fertilize them using an N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) solution with a ratio of 8-12-6.
Or, you can use an alternative organic fertilizer with a ratio of 4-4-4. For best results, make sure you follow the manufacturer instructions for the specific amounts and restrictions.
Organic mulch like straw or pine needles can be used to help suppress weeds in your carrot patch.
Mulching carrot crops can be a little tedious since they’re typically tightly spaced, and mulch shouldn’t come in contact with plant stems.
To avoid this, simply leave a 2-inch gap in between your plants.
Mulch will also suppress seeds and prevent emergence, so it should only be applied once your seedlings have emerged and are established.
For this reason, it might be a good idea to only mulch in between your rows of carrots in their early growth stages.
The cool thing is that as carrots grow, their leaves shade the soil, helping to suppress weeds on their own.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Carrots are root vegetables, so they grow best when directly seeded as opposed to being transplanted.
Transplanting can be quite tricky because carrot roots can easily become stunted.
If you do need to transplant, do so only about 1-2 weeks after sowing your seeds indoors. Even this is risky due to the immaturity of the plant, and the stress caused by transplanting.
GROWING STRUCTURE CONSIDERATIONS
How to grow carrots in the type of space you have
If your soil is high in clay content, grow your carrots in raised beds for improved drainage.
Carrots do very well in raised beds because of the improved soil drainage around their roots, but make sure to give your carrots enough soil depth to grow without resistance.
Typically, carrots need at least 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) of soil depth to develop their roots properly.
Carrots can be grown in containers as long as they have enough soil depth — 18-24 inches (45- 60 cm) will do the trick.
Containers also need to have holes in their bottom for good drainage, and carrots grown in this option will need to be watered more frequently since the shallow soil will dry out faster.
COMPANION PLANTS FOR CARROTS
How to grow carrots with the plant friends that help them grow
Carrot companion plants
Anything from the Brassica family
Don't grow carrots with:
Potatoes and parsnips (as root vegetables will compete with carrots for phosphorous in the soil.)
COMMON PROBLEMS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS
There are a few issues, pests and diseases that could potentially harm your crops. Not to worry – we’ve listed them below, plus how to either avoid or fix the problem!
CRUST FORMATION: You want to avoid having a crust form on the surface of your soil, especially during germination, since this makes it difficult for seedlings to emerge. If you do see a crust starting to form on your soil, you can fix the issue by adding moisture to your soil.
MISSHAPEN CARROTS: If carrots are grown in dense, heavy soil, the taproot can meet a lot of resistance and grow in weird shapes as a result. For this reason, it’s safer to deep-till the soil ahead of planting and also plant in loose, well-drained soils.
PESTS TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
How to grow carrots without the following common pests
ROOT-KNOT NEMATODES: They cause excessive knotting and forking in the main and secondary roots of carrots.
APHIDS: These small yellow pests feed on carrot leaves, but are most problematic for their ability to spread diseases.
LEAFHOPPERS: These pests cause damage to your plant’s leaves and can also cause Aster Yellows (a bacterial infection).
WIREWORMS: They feed on carrot roots, burrowing holes into them. Wireworms mature after 2-6 years, and will then appear brown in color and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long.
CARROT RUST FLY: Maggots of this fly will feed on the secondary roots of carrots and will sometimes burrow into the main taproot.
HOW TO PREVENT THESE PESTS
Crop rotation, weed control, cover crop planting and companion planting are all important ways to help lower the risk of damage done by pests. Then use of row cover/insect netting can also help to control them
How to grow carrots without diseases
A bacterial infection that causes leaves to redden as well as massive pale shoots that come from the crown.
Carrots infected with aster yellows also tend to be really hairy and have poor flavor.
BACTERIAL SOFT ROT & WATERY SOFT ROT:
A bacterial infection that typically sets in after harvest, once your carrots are in storage.
Carrots need to be damaged in some way for this bacterium to infect them, which is why it’s important to handle carrots with care during and after their harvest.
Also, you’ll want to avoid close cutting of the crown.
A fungal disease that causes cotton-like white mold around the crown of the carrot.
The infection can then spread to the rest of the carrot after harvest.
A fungal disease that causes horizontal cuts on mature carrot roots.
It favors cool, damp conditions, so you’ll want to avoid overwatering, and use raised beds to help
with soil drainage.
The varieties “Capropride”, “Navajo”, “Orlando Gold”, and “Six Pak” are all resistant to cavity spot.
HOW TO AVOID DISEASE
Practice a crop rotation of at least 3 years, rotating between crops from other families to avoid carrying the same diseases and pests over from year to year.
Don’t water your carrots in the evening, since the wet and cool conditions promote bacterial and fungal growth.
Keep weeds under control throughout the growing cycle too, and space your plants properly for good airflow to help reduce humidity.
Also, do not over fertilize your carrot as this promotes a growth surplus in carrot greens and reduces air flow among carrot crops.
It’s also helpful to harvest your carrots in cool weather, and to quickly get them into storage.
Finally, make sure to keep pests, especially leafhoppers, under control.
HARVESTING YOUR CARROTS
How to grow carrots for your dinner plate and pantry
Check to see if your carrots are ready for harvest by brushing the soil off its shoulder to observe its width.
Harvest your carrots as baby carrots before the root reaches maturity. “Baby” carrots will be sweeter and more tender, but mature carrots will have more nutrients and sugar.
If you’re growing carrots for storage, harvested once they’re fully matured, since baby carrots don’t store as well.
You can do so after a few light frosts, but make sure you harvest before a hard frost when the ground starts to harden.
Light frosts can happen at 34°F (1°C) and hard frosts typically happen when temperatures get as low as 28°F (-2°C).
To harvest, gently pull the carrot, or use a garden fork to loosen and lift the surrounding soil. Then, cut the tops off your crop, leaving about a half-inch of green stem attached to each carrot.
You’ll want to clean off any remaining dirt, but do not remove any of the taproot or the root hairs, since this can promote decay in storage.
Finally, allow your carrots to air dry first before you store them.
Since Ethylene gives carrots a bitter taste – so store them away from apples, bananas and other fruits that give off ethylene.
Store your carrots in temperatures between 32-38°F (0-3°C) that have 98% humidity. As long as your carrots aren’t damaged, they’re mature, and storage conditions are met, they should store well for several months.
Check on your stored carrots from time to time just to make sure they aren’t decaying. If you spot any decayed carrots, make sure to remove them.
Carrots can also be stored in the refrigerator in air tight freezer bags – all you have to do is lay similar sized carrots in a single layer in a bag, remove the air, then seal it.
Did you know?! You can eat carrot top greens! They are great as a basil substitute in pesto, or also as a parsley substitute!