How to Plant Carrots From Seed
Carrots are a popular crop for the backyard garden, but they can be a little tricky to grow. This guide will help you learn how to plant carrots from seeds and grow them into tasty mature roots!
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The Carrot Family
An important part of learning how to plant carrots from seed is learning about this vegetable family. Carrots are related to other popular vegetables like fennel, celery, and parsnips. They are also related to many culinary herbs like anise, cilantro, dill, parsley, cumin, coriander, chervil, lovage, and angelica. Keep these plants in mind when you are planning your crop rotation.
Carrots are biennial
Carrots are a biennial crop. This means their reproductive cycle stretches over 2 growing seasons. In the first season carrots will grow the traditional roots we all love to eat.
After a “chilling period” (think winter), carrots will then grow a nice flower head that will produce seeds. When a carrot produces a flower the root itself will become wooding and bad tasting.
All About Carrots
- Carrots have been cultivated for over 3000 years.
- The Chinese first grew them as medicine
- Carrots were first grown as a food vegetable about 900 years ago in the area that is now Afghanistan
- Carrots found their way to Europe around 1300 A.D. and later moved to the American continent
- The first carrots weren’t orange
- Orange carrots were developed in Holland and became the popular choice because they are sweeter
- Carrots are a very low-calorie food
- A 7-inch carrot has only 35 calories.
- Carrots are loaded with fiber
- A 7-inch carrot will have 270% of your daily Vitamin A and 10% of your Vitamin C.
Carrots are a Cool-Season Vegetable
Carrots are considered a cool-season vegetable and are normally grown in the spring and fall of the year. They prefer to grow in temperatures below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 C) and will taste best if harvested before the temperatures reach that mark.
Carrots will continue to grow during the summertime, you will just sacrifice flavor as they will become more bitter when grown in the heat.
As a cool-season crop, carrots will hold up well to frost and you will find cold weather actually improves the taste of carrots as the plant converts starches into sugars in response to the cold. They are so sweet when this happens.
Where to plant Carrots? Ideal Sun and Soil Conditions
The best gardening tip I can give for how to plant carrots from seed is, carrots like full sun! You should choose a location for planting that gets between 6 to 10 hours of sunlight each day. The more the better! Remember you are planting carrots in the spring and fall when the days are already shorter, make sure the spot you choose gets as much sun as possible.
Carrots prefer light, fertile, well-drained soil that is slightly on the sandy side. Carrots are one of the few vegetables that like a little sand in the soil. Light fluffy soil makes for long and straight carrots! Carrots don’t like heavy soil with high clay content. This impedes root development and will cause forking and bending of the roots.
Carrots can still be grown in moderately clay soil, but you should be sure to amend the soil before planting with a few inches of compost. Tilling heavy soil or “double digging” your beds can also help.
Ultimately if your soil is too heavy and solid or if you have a lot of rocks in your soil you may be better off planting your carrots in a raised bed garden that is at least 10-12 inches deep.
If a soil test shows you need it you can also add some nitrogen fertilizer to your soil before planting. Be sure to mix it in well with the top 6 inches of the soil.
When to Plant your Carrots?
As cool-season crops, carrots are traditionally planted in the spring and fall of the year. Spring planting usually begins about 2 or 3 weeks before your last frost. Putting in a second or even third planting of carrots spaced about 3 weeks apart can help give you a continuous supply of carrots.
Carrots will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees (5 C) but will do much better if you wait until soil temperatures reach 55 to 65 degrees (12-18 C).
There are a few things you can do to warm the soil quicker, this includes using a cold frame or warming the soil with clear plastic.
For a fall harvest of carrots, you will need to get your carrot seeds started in midsummer. Your target date to sow carrots in the fall is 8 weeks before your first frost.
How to Plant Carrots from Seed?
The first thing you should know on how to plant carrots from seed is that it is always best to plant carrots directly in the garden. Carrot seedlings do not like to have their roots disturbed so we normally plant the seeds directly in the spot where you want them to grow.
Carrots are easy to grow in the garden from seed, especially in the spring and there just really isn’t a need to plant them using transplants.
Ignore the advice on your seed packet, most give too much space. Instead plan on planting your seeds 1/4 inch deep spacing the seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart in rows around 6 inches apart. This will give your plants all the space they need.
Carrot seeds are small and can be hard to handle and space properly. There are a few tools out there that can help you with planting. One is this simple seed dispenser that works pretty well to help you get the spacing right.
Other ideas include mixing the seeds with some sand and then just taking a pinch of the sand for each spot. Also, seed tapes work well or you can buy pelletized seeds that are easier to handle.
Planting carrots with a few radish seeds in the row will help you know where your rows are. The radish seeds will spring up quickly and will be ready to harvest long before the slower-germinating carrots have made much progress.
4 Tips to help Carrot seed Germinate
The toughest part of growing carrots is getting the seeds to germinate. Germination of carrot seeds is a slow process and carrots are very picky about coming up! Normally carrot seeds take an agonizing 14 to 21 days to germinate. And often even after that time, germination can be spotty.
Here are a few tips to help you get your carrot seeds to germinate.
1. Cover seeds lightly with soil
As you are planting your carrot seeds cover them with just a light dusting of soil, no more than 1/4 inch thick. Then gently press the soil over the seeds to be sure you get good contact between the seed and the soil.
2. Consistent shallow moisture is the key!
Plan on lightly watering your carrot seeds every day. This doesn’t need to be a deep watering just a light sprinkle once or twice a day to make sure your seeds stay moist.
3. Make sure the surface of your soil doesn’t get crusty.
This is especially a danger if your soil has a high clay content. That crustiness will keep the seeds from germinating. Adding compost before planting and keeping the moisture up will help this. You could also consider using sand or seedling mix to cover your seeds when you plant them instead of garden soil.
4. Use burlap to cover the seed bed.
Burlap is a lightly woven material made from a jute plant. Covering your seed bed with a good-sized piece of burlap offers shade to the seeds and helps keep the moisture evenly in the soil. Once you put the burlap down you can simply water the burlap from above and the water will soak through to the seed bed below.
I’ve found burlap to be the most reliable method for getting carrots to germinate, and it cuts germination time down to 8 to 10 days. Below you can watch a video I did that better explains the process.
Taking Care of Carrot Plants as They Grow
Usually, despite our best efforts, we end up with some seeds that are planted too close. In this case, your carrot plants will benefit from thinning. You want the final spacing of each new plant to be about 2 inches. So any carrot plants that are crowding this space can be thinned out.
Thinning is usually done when the carrot plants are 1 inch tall and have 3 or 4 true leaves. If the plant to be thinned is 1/2 inch away from other plants you can simply pull it out. But if it is closer then you should cut the carrot tops off with a pair of scissors to be sure that you don’t disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
I know it feels wasteful, but thinning carrots serves an important purpose. Carrots need space to grow! If you want healthy, plump, and long carrots then you need to thin them to give the remaining plants space If you don’t thin you will end up with smaller stunted carrots, or even worse carrots like the photo below that have grown into each other limiting the growth of both plants.
Carrots don’t like competition from other plants so be sure to keep weeds under control. Weed weekly being careful to not disturb the roots of your carrot plants.
Carrots need deep even watering as they are growing. Be sure to keep the soil moist but do not overwater. Overwatering can be a big problem as your carrots reach harvestable size. If you water too much your mature roots can split. Mulches can help keep the soil cool and retain moisture between waterings.
Carrots don’t need a lot of fertilizer, in fact, if you have good healthy soil and you have consistently added compost then you don’t need to fertilize at all.
If your soil is lacking in nutrients then you can add some nitrogen fertilizer about 5 – 6 weeks after your seeds germinate. This will be the only fertilizing your plants need.
Companion Plants for Carrots
Pests and Other Problems with Carrots
There are a few insects that can cause issues with carrots. The biggest pest is the carrot fly. The adult carrot fly lays eggs in the soil around your carrot bed. These eggs then hatch maggot like larvae that burrow into the roots making them unusable.
There are some chemical treatments that will help prevent carrot fly damage, but the best way to solve this problem is to cover your beds with a layer of light fabric row cover or fine bug netting. This keeps the adult carrot fly away from your patch.
Fabric row covers will also help prevent other pests like carrot rust flies, leafhoppers, and grasshoppers from bothering your crops. Carrots can also suffer from other pests like nematodes and wireworms.
Planting early in the season while the soil is still cool will help with these pests as will a consistent crop rotation plan.
When to Harvest Carrots
Most carrot varieties are ready for harvest between 70 to 100 days after germination. Most carrots are sweeter and milder when they are harvested young.
You know carrots are reaching harvestable size when the “sholders” of the root start to stick out of the ground and reach their mature color. Root around in the soil and feel the carrot. Carrots are best when they are about 1/2 inch round or roughly the size of your thumb.
Younger carrots are sweeter and better for eating fresh. As carrots get older and larger they are better cooked or grated into salads.
Carrots are easier to harvest if you water the soil first, this makes it soft and the soil will more easily release it’s hold on the roots.
Spring planted carrots are best if harvested before the heat of summer arrives. For fall havest wait until after several frosts as the cold weather sweetens the roots.
You can leave fall planted carrots in the ground by covering them with a heavy layer of straw or even better by planting them in a cold frame. Most years we harvest the carrots in our cold frame all winter until early March!
How do you Store Carrots?
Carrots can be blanched and frozen, dried, or canned to preserve them. Remember as a low acid vegetable carrots must be pressure canned.
For fresh winter storage cut the tops off to one inch of the top. Carrots can also be stored in a cool root cellar for several months by placing them in moist soil or saw dust.
Garden fresh carrots can be stored in a refrigerator but often don’t hold up well. We have found keeping them in water in the fridge keeps them crisp and fresh.
Our Favorite Varieties
- Imperator- Traditional “grocery store” type carrots
- Danvers- grows 6 to 7 inches long in heavy soil
- Nantes- grows 6 to 7 inches long in heavy soil
- Little Finger -Our favorite sweet and tasty variety, grows 4 to 5 inches long and does well in heavy or loose soil
Carrots are a fun-to-grow garden vegetable and can be quite easy to manage once they have germinated. I hope this step-by-step guide on how to plant carrots from seed will help you have success in growing carrots this year. Be sure to be adventurous and try several different sizes and colors and you will be satisfied with a great crop.