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Celery Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Celery requires plenty of moisture, fertile soil, and a long, cool growing season.
celery growing problems
Celery requires plenty of moisture, fertile soil, and a long, cool growing season.

Celery requires plenty of moisture, fertile soil, and a long, cool growing season.

You can start celery from seed, but germination is slow, about four weeks.

Sow seeds indoors at least 10 weeks before seedlings are to be set out.

A better plan might be to purchase celery starts when you are ready to plant.

Even with moisture, fertile soil, and the right climate for growing, celery is seldom trouble-free. Celery is susceptible to many pests and diseases. Here is a list of possible celery growing problems matched with cures and controls:

(For celery growing tips see Celery Growing Success Tips at the bottom of this post.)

Common celery growing problems with cures and controls:

• 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 soil is well drained.

• Seedlings stunted, plants appear stunted; roots appear to have knots or beads. Root-knot nematodes are microscopic worm-like animals that live in the film of water that coat soil particles; some are pests, 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.

• Plants produce lots of leaves but not stalks; growth is slow. Sudden temperature fluctuations during early growth. Protect young plants from cold; use horticultural cloth or cloches when temperatures are low. Don’t plant too early.

• Bolting; plants flower and go to seed. Celery will bolt prematurely if plants are exposed to too many days with temperatures below 55°F. Protect young plants from cold; use horticultural cloth or cloches when temperatures are low. Don’t plant too early.

• Leaves turn yellow and then brown from the bottom up; plant loses vigor; plants appear stunted; worms bore into roots. Wireworms are the soil-dwelling larvae of click beetles; they look like wiry-jointed worms. Check soil before planting; flood the soil if wireworms are present. Remove infested plants and surrounding soil.

• Young stems chewed. Young earwigs feed on plant shoots and eat holes in foliage. Most often the damage is tolerable and the infestation is light. Heavy infestation use traps of rolled wet paper or old flowerpots stuffed with paper to catch earwigs at night. Dump them in soapy water. Keep garden free of plant debris. Spray with hot pepper and garlic repellent.

• Leaves curl under and become deformed and yellowish. Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Remove with a blast of water. Use insecticidal soap. Aluminum foil mulch will leave aphids disoriented.

• Tunnels or blotches in leaves. Leafminer larvae tunnel inside leaves. Destroy infected leaves and caterpillars. Cultivate the garden to destroy larvae and keep adult flies from laying eggs. Cover crops with floating row covers to exclude flies.

• Leaves folded under and webbed; holes chewed in leaves and stalks. Celery leaftier is a pale green caterpillar with a white stripe down its back that grows to ¾-inches long; the adult moth is small brown with dark wavy lines in its wings. Hand pick and destroy. Remove leaves which shelter caterpillar. Use Bacillus thuringiensis.

• Irregular small holes eaten in leaves. Cabbage looper is a light green caterpillar with yellow stripes running down the back; loops as it walks. Keep garden clean of debris where adult brownish night-flying moth can lay eggs. Cover plants with spun polyester to exclude moths. Pick loppers off by hand. Use Bacillus thuringiensis. Dust with Sevin or rotenone.

• Irregular holes in foliage and stems. Celeryworm is the grown and white larva of the black swallow-tail butterfly. Usually few are found. Pick off by hand. Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (Dipel). Spray or dust with Sevin, pyrethrum, rotenone.

• Leaves are eaten and plants are partially defoliated. Blister beetles and tomato hornworms eat leaves. Handpick insects and destroy. Keep the garden weeds and debris. Cultivate in spring to kill larvae and interrupt the life cycle. Pick off beetles by hand. Spray or dust with Sevin or use a pyrethrum or rotenone spray.

• Large holes eaten in leave; trails of sliver slime. Snails and slugs prefer cool temperatures. Hand pick and destroy; place protective borders of sand, lime or wood ashes around plants. Mulch with wood shavings or oak leaves.

• Tips and leaf margins become streaked and look scorched. Magnesium deficiency. Have the soil tested. Use magnesium chelates. Plant resistant varieties: Emerson Pascal, Utah 52-75.

• Brown spots on leaves and stems; plants become stunted and die. Late blight of celery is caused by Septoria fungus a soil and seedborne disease triggered by heat and humidity following a rainy period. Keep the garden clean and free of weeds. Remove infected plants. Improve soil drainage.

• Yellow spots on outer leaves enlarge to become gray-brown streaks. Celery early blight or Cercospora leaf spot is a fungal disease spread by heavy rainfall and warm temperatures. Keep weeds down in the garden area; they harbor fungal spores. Avoid overhead watering.

• Plant turns pale green, yellows beginning on one side, yellowing spreads; stems rot; plant wilts. Fusarium wilt or stem rot is soilborne fungus that infects plant vascular tissue, usually where the soil is warm. Plant in well-drained soil. Rotate crops. Remove and destroy infected plants. Grow resistant varieties: Cornell No. 19.

• Mottled green and yellow leaves; zigzag bands may develop, distorted leaves. Mosaic virus has no cure; it is spread from plant to plant by aphids and leafhoppers. Plant resistant varieties. Remove diseased plants. Remove broadleaf weeds that serve as virus reservoir.

• Zigzag paths into crown and heart of celery. White with brown, legless grubs are the larvae of the carrot weevil, a dark crown to coppery, hard-shelled weevil to 1/5 inch long. Stunted plants Carrot weevil larvae are white grubs with dark heads that feed at the crown of celery.

• Twisted, brittle stalks; plants yellowed and stunted. Aster yellows is a mycoplasma disease spread by leafhoppers. Remove infected plants. Control leafhopper. Keep the garden free of weeds which can harbor disease.

• Inner stalks and leaves die at tips and turn brown or black. Blackheart associated with soil calcium deficiency. Calcium deficiency can inhibit uptake of water into plant. Increase watering and mulch to conserve soil moisture. Test soil; add gypsum or limestone if soil is calcium deficient. Maintain soil pH between 6.5 and 8.0. Plant resistant celery varieties: Cornell 19, Emerald, Emerson, Golden Pascal.

• Celery stems crack crosswise; stems are stiff and brittle; leaf edges may be streaked and brown. Boron deficiency, often found in alkaline soils. Test soil. If deficient, add 2 ounces of borax per 30 square yards. Plant resistant varieties of celery: Golden Self-Blanching, Dwarf Golden Self-Blanching, Giant Pascal, Utah 52-70.

• Central leaves turn dark. Similar to blackheart, but this is the work of the tarnished plant bug a greenish yellow to brown bug to ¼-inch long wit yellow triangle marks at the end of each wing. The tarnished plant bug sucks sap from plant causing tissue to break down; leaves at the center of the plant turn gray and black while outer stalks appear healthy.

• Water-soaked spots on stalks with cottony pink mold at base. Pink rot fungus grows at soil surface level in cool, wet conditions. Remove and destroy infected plants. Keep garden free of weeds where fungal spores can rest.

• Stalks tough, bitter. Possibly: stalks over-mature; high temperatures; dry soil; poor fertility. Harvest when tender. Plant so that celery comes to maturity in cool weather. Keep plants evenly moist throughout growing season. Side dress feed plants with aged compost.

Celery Growing Success Tips:

Planting. Grow celery in full sun. Celery grows best in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter. Celery can be grown from seed but it is very small and slow to germinate, at least 4 weeks. Plant celery in well-dug beds prepared with aged compost

Celery Planting Time. Sow seed indoors 10 to 12 weeks before transplanting starts to the garden. Set out celery just after the average last frost date in spring. Celery requires about 120 days of daytime temperatures in the 60s and nighttime temperatures in the 50°Fs. To grow a fall crop, set out transplants in late summer.

Celery Care. Celery requires soil rich in organic matter; prepare planting beds with 2 to 4 inches of aged compost and work the compost in to the soil to 12 inches deep or dig a trench about 12 inches deep and fill it with aged compost before planting along the backfilled trench. Celery require even, consistent watering; use drip irrigation or a soaker hose; do not allow celery to dry out during the growing season. Protect celery with row covers if temperature dips below 50°F.

Celery Harvest. Begin the celery harvest when stalks are 6 to 8 inches tall. Cut outer stalks first so that plants will continue to produce new stalks. When plants form flower stalks harvest the whole plant at once.

More tips: How to Grow Celery.

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64 Comments

    • The information is helpful, however, I have a raised bed and my celery is growing beautifully, however, with these hot days, the celery plant gets limp and lies down. It’s sitting in very wet soil so I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Any ideas or tips would be great.

  1. I’ve tried to regrow celery by using toothpicks to suspend the root in a few inches of water about a hundred times over the last 5 years, and the celery always starts off really well, grows about 3 inches and then the whole thing gets moldy and dies. I don’t know what to do. I change the water almost every day and keep it in the sun. Any ideas? I just started another one a few days ago. So far its doing well again

    • I suspect there is a lack of nutrients. You might want to consult a local hydroponic grow store. If roots are forming, you might want to transplant to a potting mix early.

    • Once it hits 2-3” transfer to a pot with dirt. It will grow. That’s how I have all my celery. And they’re huge now. Need a good size pot so roots spread.

    • I would try adding nano-silver. It’s great and when you soak stuff in it the mold and fungi are stopped dead in their tracks.
      i have a generator and use it all through my garden to stop mold, mildew and lots of pests that hate it as well.

    • It is likely that the variety of celery you planted is not self-blanching. (Check the seed packet to see if the variety is self-blanching or not.) Green-stemmed varieties are intended to be harvested with green stems–they will have a stronger flavor and higher vitamin content. The stems of self-blanching varieties will turn white on their own. To blanch celery that is not self-blanching wrap the stems of the plants with a brown paper bag brushed with vegetable oil (to keep the bag from disintegrating) or a milk carton. Make sure the stems are dry when you wrap them to avoid rot. Allow the leaves to extend above the wrapping so that the plant can continue or photosynthesize. You can mound up soil around the outside of the wrapper at soil level to keep the wrapper in place. Do this two weeks before you plan to harvest. Continue to water and feed the plant until harvest.

  2. Thank you for such a thorough article. My celery bolted and must have spread seeds last year since I have all these celeries growing in my garden. However, they don’t have any stalks. They’re all leaves. I live in Southern California and the temperature hardly goes below 50. Thank you in advance!

    • Thin out the celery seedlings that are volunteering in your garden. See if the remaining celery plants will form stalks. If the celery you planted last year was a hybrid, the celery growing in the garden this year will likely not grow true to the hybrid but will revert to a parent.

    • Yes, you want to keep the soil in celery planting beds moist–all through the growing season. The dry leaves or stalks will not re-hydrate so you can remove them.

  3. I don’t presently grow celery but have been getting a lot of bunches or stalks that have a thick stalk surrounded by by regular looking stems. What causes the thick center stalk?

    • The center thick stalk you are describing is likely the crown of the plant. The crown is the above ground base of a plant from which stalks and stems growth. The underside, below ground portion of the crown is where roots grow. Celery stalks (stems) develop from the crown. What you is likely the crown from which new stalks will grow.

    • Blight is a bacterial disease. The best control is prevention. Do not water the stalks or leaves; water at the base of the plant. Space plants so there is good air circulation. Avoid splashing soil onto the plant. Remove the infected leaves and stalks. Be sure to plant disease-free seeds and seedlings.

  4. I am growing celery for the first time in my Southern California raised bed. It grows well, looks healthy, but the stalks are not solid inside. The have a hollow center and thus do not yield much liquid for juicing. Also, cut stems continue to grow, without leaves up top. I am wondering if I need to water my celery more.

    • Celery with hollow centers is likely suffering from lack of water. Celery roots only grow 2 to 3 inches deep so in warm to hot weather, it is easy for soil moisture to evaporate and celery roots to go dry. Irregular water uptake can result in poor cell formation–and so hollow stalks. Commonly celery is grown where the growing season is cool to mild, not warm or hot. In Southern California, the best-growing strategy is to plant celery in the cool time of the year. Fall into winter or late winter into spring.

    • Two common celery diseases are Aster Yellows and Early Blight. Aster yellows will cause stalks to be pale, twisted and stunted; the stalks will likely turn brown in the center. Early blight will begin with round yellow spots on the leaves; later the stalks will develop long brownish-gray or rusty colored lesions. Aster yellows is a bacterial disease. Early blight is a fungal disease. Over-watering and lack of air circulation between plants are among the causes for both of these diseases; high humidity may also be a factor. Pull and destroy diseased plants. Add aged compost the planting beds to increase drainage and space plants further apart.

    • There are no particular weeds that attack celery. Weeds are indigenous to the region where you grow. Weed seeds are scattered on the wind, by animals, and often by humans on their trousers or shoes. The weeds you see in your garden likely came from the seed of weeds growing nearby. If you are an organic gardener, your best course of action is to remove weeds that grow near your garden as soon as they sprout. Never allow weeds to flower–a flowering weed will scatter seed for quite a distance.

  5. I live in northern California, just a few miles from Oregon, I started Chinese white celery seeds in my greenhouse mid February and they all germinated. They don’t seem to be growing much since germination though. They are about an inch tall and other than being small, seem to be healthy. Is it normal for celery to grow slowly?

    • Celery is not a fast grower. Your seedlings may be lingering due to temperatures that are chilly. Celery grows best in temperatures between 60 and 70F. If temperatures are cooler, especially at night, cover the seedlings with a row cover–even if they are in the greenhouse. Be sure they are getting 6 to 8 hours of bright light every day. As temperatures warm, the seedlings should gain strength and grow on.

      • They are in a greenhouse and get about 10 hours of natural sun a day, I have warming lights that keep it from falling below 40f at night and fans that jeep it below 70 in the day. I have a suspicion that I may be keeping them too moist but I’m concerned about drying them out also! How often should they be watered and how much water do they need?

        • The seed starting mix or potting soil should be just moist–not wet. Water lightly and allow the top of the mix or soil to dry before watering again. Set the containers up on blocks or pegs so that moisture can easily drain from the containers.

  6. I moved in some where and I suspect I have celery plants. Whilst gardening about 6 weeks ago, I realised they were celery from the smell when I put my fork in one. Since clearing the weeds around them the plants have grown huge. It is quite dark green and has a lot of leaves. I’m concerned they are blocking on the sunlight for the other stuff near them. Should I be cutting the plant back?

    • If you are convinced the plant is celery, you can let the stalks grow to harvest size and harvest. If the plants are interfering with other crops or plants that have greater value for you, then remove the offending plants or transplant them to a new location. Old-time garden wisdom says a weed is any plant growing where you do not want it to grow.

  7. My plant become wilted and flimsy when placed outside. Its from store bought stock. I removed some of the base to allow root growth. And cut 3 inches to base. I put it in a small bowl with water until roots grew. I might have let the roots grow in that too long before transplanting in 5L pot. I put in small hole in pot and covered with organic potting soil till base was covered but stalks growth about 2-3 inches was above the soil.
    The temp outside is direct sunlight and mid 70s to low 80s.

    Did i do something wrong? What should I do to make these plants grow. Should I keep them inside the home to grow with indirect sunlight?

  8. Hi there! I’m hopeful I’m not too late on this post. My celery plant has been grown from seed, and was doing exceptionally well in a wooden planter until a day ago. I water regularly and it was green and fluffy and beautiful. It is almost full grown I believe. I was just about to start harvesting when I noticed the first of 6 plants start to soften and wilt. Today I noticed 3 of the 6 are. I am so upset and am hopeful this can be reversed. I do not see any forms of pests and no yellow or brown leaves. Thanks so much in advance!

    • Two possible causes for the sudden wilting of celery: (1) day time temperatures averaging greater than 75F or one day of hot, direct sun; (2) erratic watering; the soil might have gone dry; insufficient moisture dehydrated plant cells causing wilt.

  9. My celery. Plants are beautiful , but the stalks are solid, not open like what you get at the store. They are a bit tough as well. I’m in Washington.

    • The stalks will not gain their concave form until they begin to reach maturity; if they don’t you should still harvest at or near the full days to maturity as listed on the seed packet. Several environmental factors may have affected the stalks.

  10. Hi, I’ve been regrowing a celery base from shop bought produce indoors and there’s stems and leaves growing but have noticed tiny white dust falling from a few new leaves. Should I be worried and what can I do to care and protect this plant if there’s a sign of disease or fungus?

  11. We are growing celery on our kitchen countertop. The last two mornings, leaves on lower stalks are completely stripped and there are little black things left behind. There are other vegetables and plant material right next to this plant, yet nothing else is disturbed.
    We can not imagine what this is. Any help would be greatly appreciated..
    I wish I could post a picture.
    Thank you

    • The black specks could be excrement; is it possible a mouse got to the celery. There are outdoor insect pests that can strip leaves from plants but they are soil-dwelling and would likely not be in the kitchen. You can set out rodent traps. If the plant was outdoors a barrier of diatomaceous earth would keep insect pests away.

  12. Steve,
    We have determined the black debris are the leaves. They appear to be curling up tightly into balls and turning black. We are still at a loss as to why the leaves are dropping off the plant. It only seems to be the lowest stalks progressing higher.
    Jim

    • Two possible diseases: (1) late blight: small, round yellow spots on leaves turn almost black in 2 weeks; spray with a copper-based fungicide every 7 to 10 days; (2) black heart: water-soaked areas on leaves turn brown and then black; add calcium to the soil; check the soil pH for imbalance; spray with kelp or seaweed extract.

    • If the bumps look like blisters then that could be a sign of bacterial blight. Celery diseases are difficult to control. Remove the infected stalks to avoid the spread of disease. The cause is commonly plants growing too close together. Allow for ample air circulation and water at the base of plants.

  13. I bought some celery at the store and most of the stalks are smooth inside (concaved side) but some of them look bumped. Like very tiny bumps all over inside of the concave. The tiny bumps are the same color as the rest of the stalk. I didn’t know if it was the type of celery or if there was something wrong with it. Wish I could attach a picture.

    • The bumps are likely the result of cold injury. If you are concerned about whether they are safe to eat or not, return them to the grocery and speak with the produce manager.

  14. My celery is nearly mature, and although it’s probably a little hotter than they prefer here they had been growing healthily until now. This morning when I went to check on them they were severely wilting and the bases, particularly inside, were covered in hundreds of tiny white suckers. I wiped off as many as I could but there were just so many. I’m not sure what the infestation could be but is there a spray or something that could get rid of them?

  15. I have my celkery growing but inside I see like bugs like lice or kind of
    How do I get rid of it natural
    I thought about spraying vinegar but thought it might ruin the plant.
    Please help.
    Thank you.

    • Be sure to change the water daily; refill with warm water. If the celery is looking dull, rot may have begun to set in. You can also root celery in light, just moist potting soil.

    • Lack of water is commonly the reason celery is bitter; keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing period. Lack of water can also cause stalks to grow distorted.

  16. Hi, my celery grew back from last year’s planting but is hollow, bitter and flowering and shading out my other veggies. I understand it is bolted and gone to seed but wondering if it will ever grow edible stalks again if I cut it all way down or should I just completely dig it up? Thanks for your help.

  17. I have planted Celery a couple of months ago and I think I over watered it the soil is green and mossy please help what do I do there is still some sprouting but should I leave them to dry out completely and water lightly what did I do wrong please help me

    • Celery wants moist but not wet soil. Help the soil surface to dry between waterings by lightly cultivating the soil with a hand cultivator–just enough to allow the surface soil to dry between waterings. You can also sprinkle horticultural sand around the plants to help the soil become well-drained. When the season is over, add lots of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix to the soil to help it become well drained.

    • Celery curly leaf disease is caused by a fungus known as anthracnose. Oval, light brown, lesions are often seen on the stalks; the lesions open the plant to secondary invasions of bacteria which in turn cause rot. Avoid eating diseased celery or celery with yellow or brown patches.

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