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Growing Carrots in Gardens and Containers
Whether you’re just getting started with carrots or want a refresher, this guide will walk you through all you need to know about growing carrots in the garden, raised beds, and even containers!
Proper Carrot Growing Conditions
Carrots prefer cool temperatures, generally about 55 degrees at night and 75 in the day. They can tolerate a little bit of shade, especially if the days get quite hot. They should get around 6-8 hours of sun per day.
Wherever you grow your carrots, the dirt needs to be as rock-free, well-draining, and loose as possible. Loose soil encourages deep growth, and fine soil that doesn’t have dirt and sticks in it encourages them to grow large, healthy, and long.
Growing Carrots from Seed
Carrots don’t readily transplant, and they’re fast growers, so the only way you’ll probably find them sold is as seed. Luckily, planting carrots from seed is pretty easy when you know the tricks!
Your seed packet should have exact spacing and depth directions, but if it doesn’t, plan to plant them a ½ inch deep, ideally with 1-2 inches of space between each seed. Closer is fine, but you’ll need to thin them. Rows should be 9 inches or further apart. You can start them all at once or plant a section every two weeks for staggered maturing.
One thing you’ll notice about carrot seeds is that they’re extremely small. A traditional way to plant them easily is to mix grains of sand in with your seed, then rub the mix between your fingers as you go over the row or area you want them to grow in. While not perfectly accurate, this helps space out your seeds a little better. The following video shows how you can do it:
Here are specific directions based on whether you’ll be growing in a garden or container:
Growing Carrots in Raised Beds and Gardens
Carrots are traditionally grown in raised beds and gardens. Raised beds have unique benefits, in that the soil is often looser and deeper, leading to healthier carrots. Raised beds are also easier on the gardener for weeding, watering, and thinning. That said, carrots grow well in gardens as well when the soil is tilled fully.
For both raised beds and gardens, thoroughly fertilize and till the area you’ll be planting your carrots in. Try to dig down to 12 inches deep as you go, especially if you have a large carrot variety.
Plant the seeds as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. They can withstand frosts that come later on. If you’d prefer a fall crop, you can also sow faster growing varieties like Nantes about 8-10 weeks before the average frost date for your area.
Carrots require moisture to thrive. They need at least 1 inch of water every week, so make sure you water more often if it’s a dry summer. And 1 inch is the minimum – they’ll be happy with more.
Carrots need to be weeded regularly throughout their growing season, since the weeds will take away valuable nutrients they need. Just be careful, especially when they’re small – it’s easy to pull up carrots along with your weeds! If you do pull a small one up accidentally, you can usually replant it without doing too much damage.
Growing Carrots in Containers
While you might not think of them as traditionally potted plants, you can grow carrots in containers outside or indoors! This can be a great way to enjoy fresh carrots if you have limited space.
The key to growing carrots in containers successfully is to use a deep pot or grow bag. You’ll need one at least 8 inches deep for small varieties, and 12 inches for regular ones. The exception to this is a variety like Paris Market, which grows extra small and stout. The width and diameter of your container is only important based on how many you’ll be planting. Remember, you need 1-2 inches between each carrot/the side of the pot.
To start planting carrots in pots, first fill the pot to about 1 ½ inches from the top. Then scatter the seeds using the sand method mentioned above. Cover with another ½ inch of soil. Spritz the soil with plenty of water and leave them in a sunny spot!
You’ll have to water them regularly – carrots need lots of moisture. Once they start to grow, water them anytime the soil is dry at 1 inch or more below the surface.
Once the seeds start, you can thin them so there is about a ½ inch between each carrot. Later, once the greens are 3-4 inches tall, thin them to 1-2 inches apart.
Growing Carrots Indoors
Carrots actually have several advantages when planted indoors! The biggest is that it’s easier to keep them properly watered, since the sun and wind outside can dry them out quickly.
First, follow the instructions for planting them in containers, but rather than setting them outside, keep them indoors near a sunny window or grow light. They’ll need six or more hours of sunlight daily.
If you use a grow light, position it very close to the sprouts – 4 inches away or less if you use a low-heat grow light.
Just like outdoor carrots, make sure they get plenty of water. Water anytime the soil is dry at an inch or more below the surface.
When and How to Thin Carrots
Should you thin your carrots? While it’s not always necessary, thinning can help them to grow better.
I will admit I rarely do this – I’ve been growing carrots since I was young, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve thinned them. It feels like throwing food and hard work away!
That said, thinning can help them grow larger and healthier. If you time it right, the thinned carrots may be baby carrot sized and you can eat them. When the greens are 4 inches high, thin the carrots to about 2 inches apart from each other.
However you choose to grow carrots, the best day is definitely when you’re able to harvest them! Your seed packet will have the best harvesting times and directions for your variety, but there are a few tips that work for all types.
Carrots can be harvested anytime they’re large enough to peel, but the longer you leave them (typically) the larger they get.
If you’re growing them in the garden, you can wait until after the first frost to harvest. Frost doesn’t bother carrots (especially not the root) and can make them sweeter. Just don’t wait too long – you’ll need to dig them up before the ground freezes in winter!
Try to harvest when the soil is moist. To avoid damaging your carrots, first clear as much dirt from around the root as you can. I recommend wearing gloves for this, since it gets pretty messy.
Once you’ve cleared the soil enough to grab the carrot itself, reach in and gently tug it straight out of the ground. Avoid twisting it or pulling at an angle, or the carrot can snap in half.
You can sometimes pull them out by just their greens, but again, this increases the chances that the carrot will snap off. And it’s no fun having to dig with a trowel or shovel for a carrot, especially since they often snap again or get cut in the process!
Once they’re safely out of the ground, remove and discard the greens immediately, wash and peel them, and enjoy! You can also store them fresh out of the ground (with tops removed) in water or in a bag in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. For longer storage, keep them in sealed containers in a root cellar away from plants that release ethylene gas, which can cause rot in carrots.
Happy Carrot Planting!
You should now have a good understanding of how to plant and care for carrots. Enjoy them!