Carrots are among the easiest garden vegetables to grow—and the most bountiful–given the right conditions.
Carrot culture is very simple. Sow the seeds rather thickly and thin the plants to 3 to 4 inches apart. If the soil is nutrient-rich and loose, there will be no trouble with root development. Remember, young, tender, quick-growing carrots are better flavored than old or slow-growing carrots.
Grow carrots in the cool time of the year—spring and autumn. To grow carrots with straight roots, plant in loose soil free of pebbles, stones, or other obstructions. For a continuous harvest, sow carrots in succession every two weeks up until mid-summer. Later sowings may not mature before frost.
Carrots Quick Growing Tips
- Sow carrots in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for harvest before the onset of summer heat.
- Sow carrots again in mid to late summer as late as 12 weeks before the first fall frost for autumn harvest.
- In cool summer regions, sow succession crops from spring to autumn every 2 to 3 weeks until about 12 weeks before the date of the average first frost.
- Where summers are hot and winters are mild, grow carrots in autumn, winter, and early spring.
- Carrots require from 50 to 80 days to reach maturity; baby carrots can be harvested in about 30 days.
Where to Plant Carrots
- Grow carrots in a sunny location; carrots will grow slowly in partial shade. Six to eight hours of sunlight is best for healthy growth.
- Plant carrots in deep, loose, well-worked, and well-drained soil. Add several inches of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix to the planting beds before planting. Turn the soil to 12 inches (30cm) or more. Soil rich in organic matter is best for growing carrots.
- Soil preparation is important for growing carrots. Remove clods, rocks, and solid objects from planting beds before sowing seed; carrots will split, fork, and become malformed if their roots grow into obstructions.
- Work rock phosphate or wood ashes into the soil before planting to ensure fertility
- Carrots prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
- If you have rocky soil or heavy clay, grow carrots in a raised bed. Planting in raised or mounded beds are ideal for growing carrots.
Carrot Crop Rotation
- Carrots do well when planted after beans and other legumes. The extra nitrogen set by legumes will give carrots a boost.
- Amend the soil when planting carrots after heavy feeders such as peppers.
- If you leave a few carrots in the ground over winter, the flowers they produce the second season will attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Carrot Planting Time
- Carrots are a cool season crop best grown in spring, early summer, and autumn.
- Carrots require a soil temperature of about 45°to 85F° (7-29C°) to germinate; germination will be slow in cold soil.
- Carrots grow best at an average temperature of 60° to 65° (15-18C°).
- Where temperatures do not get hot in summer, sow carrots in the garden every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous supply.
- It is not worth the effort to grow carrots in very warm soil or weather; success will be limited and flavor will be compromised. Carrots are most flavorful when grown in cool weather and soil.
- Where summers are hot and winters are mild grow carrots from autumn to early spring.
Planting and Spacing Carrots
- It is best to plant directly in the garden where they will grow. Carrots started in small pots or trays can be difficult to transplant; root damage at transplanting time can cause carrots to be stunted.
- Sow carrot seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep about 1 inch (2.5cm) apart; in warm, dry weather sow carrot seeds deeper than ½ inch.
- Germination will occur in 14 to 21 days; keep the seedbed just moist until germination.
- Soil crusting will slow germination. To prevent crusting cover the seed with vermiculite or peat moss instead of garden soil.
- Soak the seed in warm water overnight or for several hours before sowing; this will speed germination.
- Thin carrots to about 4 inches (10cm) apart in all directions in wide beds; space plants about 3 inches (7.6cm) apart in rows.
- If sowing tiny carrot seeds to too difficult, get carrot seed tape at the garden center. Seeds are embedded in biodegradable tape at the right distance. Carrot seedlings will not need thinning when the seed tape is used.
- Overplanting seeds will require extensive thinning.
- Space carrot rows 12 to 24 inches (30-61cm) apart in the home garden.
- Wide-row planting of carrots gives a good yield from a small area.
- Plant 30 carrots per household member.
More tips: Carrot Seed Starting Tips.
Quick sprouting carrot seeds: How to Pre-Sprout Carrot Seeds.
Carrot Companion Plants
- Plant carrots with chives, onions, leeks, tomatoes, peas, and rosemary.
- Avoid planting carrots with dill.
- Keep carrots evenly moist to ensure quick growth. When the soil surface goes dry, stick your index finger into the soil; if it comes away dry, it is time to water.
- Do not allow the soil to dry out.
- Reduce watering as roots approach maturity; too much soil moisture at the end of the growing time will cause roots to crack.
- An inch of water (6.5 gallons per square foot) weekly is best in hot weather. Growing carrots in light soil–sandy soil–will require additional water. Sandier soil is best amended with organic matter that will hold soil moisture near the roots.
- If you grow carrots where heavy rain is common, it is best to plant carrots in a raised or mounded bed. Even good soil can be too wet for carrots in rainy regions.
- Add aged compost to planting before sowing and again as a side dressing at midseason.
- Before planting, spread wood ash over planting beds to provide extra potassium for root growth.
- Carrots will benefit from applications of compost tea from emergence until the green tops are 5 to 8 inches tall. Apply 1 cup per foot of row every 10 to 14 days.
- Feeding carrots too much nitrogen will result in hairy roots.
Caring for Carrots
- Thinning carrots is very important. Thin carrots in two stages: (1) when seedlings are about 2 inches tall and true leaves have appeared, thin plants to stand 2 inches apart in rows; snip off weak plants at the crown; do not disturb the roots of plants that remain; (2) at midseason, thin again; pull up some baby carrots leaving equal space between carrots that will remain to grow on to full size.
- Weed control is important for growing carrots. Keep planting beds well-weeded. Shallow cultivation is necessary to avoid damaging carrot roots. Carrots cannot compete with weeds.
- Mulch carrot beds to keep soil temperature and moisture even. Even moisture throughout the growing season is important for quick root growth.
- Mulch with aged compost across the tops of carrots to prevent green shoulders—that is chlorophyll discoloration of root shoulders–which will leave a bitter taste.
Growing tips: Growing Carrots for Flavor.
Container Growing Carrots
- Standard and large carrot varieties are not a good choice for containers, but short or finger varieties will grow easily in containers.
- Half-long varieties can be grown in deep containers.
- Use a potting mix recommended for vegetables or a soil mix rich in organic matter.
- Plant carrots in wide rows in square or rectangular containers, or in concentric circles in a round container.
- Carrots usually have no serious insect pest problems. Occasionally aphids, carrot rust flies, leaf hoppers, carrot weevils, wire worms, and cutworms can pose a problem to carrots and other root crops.
- Aphids, carrot rust flies, and carrot weevils can be excluded by using a floating row cover as a barrier.
- Many pests can be avoided by early planting of the carrot crop.
- Beneficial insects such as lady bugs and lacewings can keep pest insects at bay in the veggie garden.
- Leaf blight and root-knot nematodes may occasionally attack carrots.
- Leaf blight and leaf spot are fungal diseases that may cause serious damage to bunching carrots by disfiguring foliage.
- Root rots can cause serious damage in storage. Low temperatures and layers of carrots alternated with layers of straw to absorb excess moisture will slow or hinder decay in storage.
- A crop rotation plan will help protect carrots from soil-borne plant diseases. Check seed packets for disease resistance.
When problems occur: Carrot Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.
- Carrots can be harvested any time after they are large enough to use.
- Mature carrots will be ready for harvest 50 to 80 days after sowing depending upon the variety.
- Baby carrots can be harvested in 30 to 40 days.
- Use a trowel or garden fork to lift one or two carrots to check the size and flavor when you are ready to harvest.
- Regular main crop carrots are usually ready for lifting when they are ¾ to 1-inch (2.5cm) thick.
- Lift carrots gently by hand where the soil is loose. Where the soil is heavy, loosen the soil with a trowel or garden fork and then lift the roots gently so that they don’t break. Pull carrots when the soil is moist. Do not disturb the roots of carrots that remain in the soil.
- The last of your carrot crop should be harvested from early fall until the first frost; complete the harvest before the ground freezes.
- Where temperatures reach freezing but the ground does not freeze, cover unharvested carrots with a thick mulch to prolong the harvest for a month or more.
- Where temperatures do not drop below 20°F (-6.7°C), carrots can be left in the ground through the winter as long as they are under heavy mulch.
More harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Carrots.
- Carrots can be left in the ground until ready to use as long as the ground does not freeze.
- Carrots will keep in the refrigerator or root cellar for 1 to 3 months at about 40°F (4.4°C). It is best to remove carrot tops so that roots do not suffer moisture loss.
- Avoid storing carrots near apples which emit ethylene gas that can give carrots a bitter taste.
- Blanched carrots will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Carrots Kitchen Use
- Serve carrots raw or cooked.
- The best carrots are young and slender. Young carrots will be crunchy carrots.
- Baby carrots are very tender but, because of their lack of maturity, not as flavorful as mature carrots.
- Remove carrot greenery as soon as possible because it draws moisture and vitamins from the root.
- Young carrots should be lightly rinsed before using; older carrots should be peeled.
- If carrots have become limp, re-crisp them in a bowl of ice water.
- Garden-fresh carrots cook more quickly than grocery store-bought ones, and smaller ones more quickly than larger ones.
- Carrots are cooked tender when a shark fork pierces the root with just a little pressure. Don’t cook carrots until they become mushy.
Carrots Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When can I begin planting carrots?
A: Begin direct sowing carrots in the garden two weeks before the last spring frost. Succession plant carrots every two weeks throughout the season until sixty days before the first killing frost. In mild-winter regions, you can sow carrot seeds all year long, as long as raise don’t wash seeds away before they sprout.
Q: Why do some gardeners plant carrot and radish seeds together?
A: Radish seeds take only a few days to germinate, so they will come up and mark carrot rows for you while gently loosening the soil around the carrots to give them a good start. Harvest radishes as soon as they are mature; this will allow carrots to mature in loose soil. Sow radish seeds at a ratio of about one radish seed to nine carrot seeds.
Q: I have tried growing carrots, but my soil is heavy and carrots are always crooked. Any suggestions?
A: Try growing short, stubby, or even round varieties. These don’t grow deep into the soil so they are less likely to twist or fork and they are easy to harvest. You can also dig a trench and fill it with lighter soil, or build up a raised bed of lighter soil. This will allow you to grow carrots with a straight, long root.
Q: Do carrots need watering and fertilizing?
A: Keep the soil moist until carrots sprout, then water infrequently but deeply. The roots will follow the moisture down. Carrots are not heavy feeders and should not be over-fertilized. Too much nitrogen will produce lots of foliage but not very good roots. Fresh, uncomposted manure will cause the root to be hairy and to fork.
Q: When is the time to start harvesting carrots?
A: Baby carrots and thinning are usually ready in about 40 days. Carrots that are about finger thickness will be sweet and have the best flavor. Thin carrots to about 2 inches apart to let them reach mature size.
Types of Carrots
There are dozens and dozens of carrot varieties and cultivars. Varieties and cultivars are commonly grouped by growth habit and appearance. Here are root descriptors and their common group name:
- Long and slender–Gold Pak
- Long, slender, broad shoulders — Imperator
- Medium slender, tapering — Danvers
- Medium plump, blunt end — Spartan
- Medium plump, tapering — Chantenay
- Medium cylindrical, blunt tip — Nantes
- Unusual colors (white, purple, yellow, red — not orange carrots)
Variety of Carrots and Cultivars to Grow
- Short (2 to 4 inches): ‘Bolero’ (73 days); ‘Minipak’ (60-65 days); ‘Tiny Sweet’ (60-65 days).
- Half-long (5 to 6 inches): ‘Danvers Half-long’ (75 days); ‘Gold King’ (70 days); ‘Royal Chantenay’ (70 days).
- Cylindrical (6 to 7 inches): ‘Nantes Coreless’ (68 days); ‘Royal Cross Hybrid’ (70 days); ‘Tuchon Pioneer’ (75 days).
- Standard (7 to 9 inches): ‘Gold Pak’ (75 days); ‘Imperator carrots’ (75 days); ‘Spartan Bonus’ (77 days); ‘Tendersweet’ (75 days).
- Multicolored carrots: not all carrots are orange. Carrot color can vary: wild carrots and hybrid varieties can have white, purple, yellow, and red–as well as bright orange root. Seed growers offer multicolor blends.
- Carrots are hardy biennials grown as annuals.
- The carrot plant has a rosette of finely divided fernlike leaves that grows from a swollen fleshy taproot which can vary in size, shape, and color. Carrot foliage is rather bristly, much-divided, or compound leaves. Carrot flowers are very small, in a flat-topped cluster (umbel), below which is a whorl of leaf-like bracts.
- Depending upon variety, carrots can be tapered and cylindrical, short and fat, round, or finger-sized.
- Some carrots grow to 10 inches (25cm) long; others are much shorter.
- Carrots are usually orange, but colors can vary from red to yellow to purple.
- Shorter varieties are a good choice for heavy soil; long types require loose, loamy soil.
- Botanical name: Daucus carota
- Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae); this family includes celery, parsley, parsnip, dill, caraway, and anise
- Origin: Europe, Central Asia
More tips: How to Grow Carrots Any Time of the Year in 5 Steps.
Grow 80 vegetables: KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE