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Carrot and Parsnip Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

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Carrots fresh harvest
Harvest carrots when they develop their color and the tops are 1 inch in diameter or smaller. Carrots can be lifted as soon as they are a usable size.

Carrots and parsnips grow best in loose, sandy, humus-rich soil. Size does not make for more flavorful carrots and parsnips. For the best flavor, lift both crops before they reach maximum size.

Carrots and parsnips can be sown thickly; later thin both from 2 to 2½ inches apart or more depending upon the variety. Young thinned carrots can be used fresh in salads.

Carrots and parsnips are in the same plant family and are attacked by the same insects and diseases. Watch for the carrot rust fly, a dark-green fly that lays eggs in the soil near carrots, parsnips, and celery; the larvae dig through the soil to the tip of the carrot and eat their way upward.

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For carrot growing tips see Carrot Growing Success Tips at the bottom of this post.

Here are common carrot-growing problems with cures and controls:

Seed and seedling problems

Seedlings fail to emerge

(1) Soil crusting: keep planting beds evenly moist until seedlings emerge; protect planting beds from heavy overhead irrigation or heavy rain which will cause soil to compact and crust. (2) High temperatures can keep seeds from germinating.

Seeds rot or seedlings collapse with dark water-soaked stems as soon as they appear

Damping off is a fungus that lives in the soil, particularly where humidity is high. Do not plant in cold, moist soil. Make sure the soil is well drained. Avoid overcrowding carrots and parsnips.

Carrots emerge in clumps or not at all

The seed is sown too shallow. Warm weather or dry conditions will cause the seed to dry and not germinate. Cover the seed with 1 inch of fine-aged compost or vermiculite. Keep soil evenly moist to allow for germination.

Leaf problems

Leaves curl under, become deformed, and yellowish

Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Blast them away with water from a hose. Use insecticidal soap.

Small holes in the leaves of seedlings

Flea beetles are tiny bronze or black beetles that eat small holes in the leaves of seedlings and small transplants. The larvae feed on the roots of germinating plants. Spread diatomaceous earth around seedlings. Cultivate often to disrupt the life cycle. Keep the garden clean.

Leaves are chewed

Snails and slugs feed on leaves. Handpick at night when these pests feed or set out saucers of beer at soil level to attract and drown slugs and snails.

Leaves turn yellow and then brown from the bottom up; the plant loses vigor

Root-knot nematode is a microscopic eelworm that attacks feeder roots. Rotate crops. Remove old plant debris from the garden. If pest nematodes are persistent, solarize the planting bed.

Leaves appear scorched, yellowed, curled, and wilted

Leafhoppers are green, brown, or yellow bugs to ⅓-inch long with wedge-shaped wings. They jump sideways and suck the juices from plants. Use insecticidal soap. Cover plants with floating row covers to exclude leafhoppers.

Mottled light and dark green patterns on leaves; leaves are distorted and may become brittle and easily broken; plants are stunted

Mosaic virus has no cure; it is spread from plant to plant by aphids and leafhoppers. There is no cure for the virus. Remove diseased plants. Remove broadleaf weeds that serve as virus reservoirs. Infected plants can produce edible fruit but the size and yield are reduced.

Round white powdery spots and coating on leaves

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease. Fungal spores germinate on dry leaf surfaces when the humidity is high; spores do not germinate on wet leaves. Common in late summer or fall but does not result in the loss of the plant. Avoid water stress. Pick off infected leaves.

Leaf and root problems

Inner leaves yellowed; outer leaves reddish-purple; roots stunted and bitter

Aster yellows is a mycoplasma disease spread by leafhoppers. Remove infected plants. Control leafhoppers. Keep the garden free of weeds which can harbor disease.

Grayish-white mold growth on the soil surface and clinging to roots

Southern blight or white mold is a fungal disease that favors wet conditions. Keep planting beds well-drained; add aged compost. Avoid overhead watering. Keep the garden clean of debris and weeds which can shelter fungus spores.

Brown spots on leaves or roots

Leaf blight is a fungal disease–Cercospora leaf spot–spread by heavy rainfall and warm temperatures. Keep weeds down in the garden area; they can shelter fungal spores. Avoid overhead watering. Avoid planting in infested soil. Nitrogen fertilizer may help. Keep weeds out of the garden.


Plants bolt–flower and set seed

Exposure to below-freezing temperatures or prolonged exposure to temperatures below 65°F early in the season. Protect young plants from cold with floating row covers or hot kaps.

Root problems

Root tops are green

Roots tops exposed to sunlight develop green chlorophyll. Cover exposed root shoulders with soil or mulch. Green roots are inedible.

Roots are long, thin, and spindly, or short and stumpy

Soil temperature is too high or too low. The optimal carrot-growing soil temperature is between 60°F and 70°F. Roots that develop in warm soils, between 70°F and 80°F produce short, stumpy roots.

Roots are thin and spindly

Weed competition for water and nutrients. Keep the garden free of weeds. Keeping the garden weed free must begin at sowing time when growing carrots.

Longitudinal cracks in roots

Soil water is inconsistent, wet then dry, wet then dry. Keep the planting bed evenly moist. Mulch to retain even soil moisture. Harvest carrots before they become over-mature; carrots are best before they reach full maturity. Possible boron deficiency. Test soil and apply borax to bring the boron level up if necessary. Carrots with cracked roots can still be eaten.

Roots rot or have enlarged white “eyes’

Overwatering; water less often. Plant in well-drained soil. Avoid planting in heavy soil.

Roots are pale orange

Air temperatures too cool, below 65°F. Avoid planting carrots too early in spring.

Roots are hairy

Plants are over-fertilized–too much nitrogen–or roots are in contact with fresh manure. Add aged compost to planting beds. Add manure to planting beds in the fall before spring planting so that it has time to work into the soil. Rotate crops. Thin carrots early.

Roots twist around each, forked, or deformed

The plants are too close. Thin carrots from 1 to 2 inches apart depending upon the variety when they are young. Make sure the planting bed is free of clods and rock. Growing roots will split or grow sideways if they encounter obstacles in the soil. Rough branching can also be caused by too much manure in the soil. Use only well-rotted manure.

Root forked or twisted

Root-knot nematodes are microscopic worm-like animals that live in the film of water that coat soil particles; some are pests, and some are not. Root-knot nematodes feed in the roots and stunt plant growth; they are most common in sandy soils. Rotate crops. Solarize the soil with clear plastic in mid-summer.

Roots have small black holes

Wireworms are the soil-dwelling larvae of click beetles; they look like wirey-jointed worms. Check the soil before planting; flood the soil if wireworms are present. Remove infested plants and surrounding soil.

Roots and stems are chewed

Carrot weevils are dark brown to coppery, hard-shelled weevils to 1/5-inch long. The larvae are white legless grubs with brown heads. The grubs mine into carrot tops and roots. Handpick and destroy. Cultivate the soil to interrupt the weevil’s life cycle. Add parasitic nematodes to the planting bed.

Roots are tunneled; rusty mush oozes from tunnels

Carrot rust fly maggot is yellow to white, about ⅓-inch long. The carrot rust fly is black and green, about 1/5-inch long. Fly lays eggs in the crown of carrot plants. Sprinkle rock phosphate around the base of plants. Peel off the damaged area before using. Harvest carrots as soon as possible. Do not store carrots in the ground through winter. Keep the garden clean of weeds. Delay planting until late spring or summer to avoid carrot rust fly life cycle.

Roots are discolored and decayed

Root rot or cavity spot is a fungal disease that favors warm soil. Remove infected plants. Don’t let carrots sit in the garden; older roots are susceptible to root rot. Keep the garden clean of weeds and plant debris that harbor fungus. Be sure transplants are not diseased. Rotate crops regularly. Solarize the soil in late spring or summer.

Carrots are bitter flavored

Exposure to hot, dry weather. Mulch planting beds with aged compost to retain soil moisture and keep the soil cool. Carrots burn sugars in warm weather; the result is a loss of sweetness. Avoid growing carrots with nighttime temperatures greater than 60°F.

Roots are difficult to lift

Side roots will sometimes make carrots difficult to live in. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil around carrots before harvest. Use a gentle twisting motion to lift carrots. Soaking the soil with water before harvest can cause roots to rot in place.

Parsnips have poor flavor

Insufficient exposure to below-freezing temperatures; parsnips develop sweetness with exposure to cold. Do not lift parsnips until the second or third frost has passed.

Carrot growing success tips


Carrots grow best in full sun but will grow in partial shade. Plant carrots in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter; remove all plant debris, clods, and stones from the planting bed. Carrots will grow twisted or split in heavy clay soil or soil where obstacles impede root growth. Check the soil before planting. Carrots will not germinate and grow in crusted soil; at sowing time cover the seed with light compost or sawdust or sow carrot seed with radish seed which will germinate and break the soil before carrots emerge (later remove the radishes so that they do not compete with the carrots).

Planting time

Sow carrots from early spring to midsummer. Where summers are very warm, sow carrots in late summer. Carrots grow best when the roots mature in temperatures between 60° and 70°F.


Keep carrots evenly moist from the time of sowing throughout the growing season; do not let carrots dry out. Thin carrots when seedlings are 2 inches tall; thin carrots to about 1 inch apart. Two weeks later thin carrots again from 2 to 4 inches apart. Use small scissors to thin carrots by cutting the seedlings at the soil level; pulling up thinned seedlings will disturb the roots of the seedlings you intend to grow on.


Begin the carrot harvest when the carrots are most sweet. As the variety you are growing is close to its number of days to maturity, begin tasting a carrot each day. When the flavor is sweet, begin the harvest. Continue to check your crop each day and aim to complete the harvest while the roots are most sweet. (Lift carrots late in the day for optimal sweetness.) If the crop is attacked by root maggots or other pests, lift the crop right away.

Carrot articles at Harvest to Table:

How to Plant and Grow Carrots

Carrot Seed Starting Tips

Grow Carrots Any Time of the Year in Five Steps

How to Harvest and Store Carrots

Carrot and Parsnip Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Seven Ways to Cook and Serve Carrots

Glazed Carrots Simply Made

Baby Beets, Baby Carrots, and Snap Peas Salad

Parsnip articles at Harvest to Table:

How to Plant and Grow Parsnip

Parsnips Seed Starting Tips

How to Harvest and Store Parsnips

Five Quick Ways to Cook and Serve Parsnips

Carrot and Parsnip Growing Problems Troubleshooting

Related articles:

Common Vegetable Garden Pests

Vegetable Garden Diseases Problem Solver

Vegetable Garden Organic Weed Control

Garden Planning Books at Amazon:

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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