Growing carrots: expert advice on carrot cultivation

Theresa
Theresa
Theresa
Theresa

I am studying crop science and have always enjoyed gardening, despite the fact that my first attempts as a small child were rather unsuccessful. With the skills and knowledge gained from my studies, I am now enjoying much more success - I find topics like intercropping, raised beds and composting particularly fascinating.

Favourite fruit: cherries, plums and pears
Favourite vegetables: broccoli, chard and peas

Carrots are a must-have for every garden. Here you’ll find expert tips and comprehensive advice on planting and cultivating carrots.

Growing Carrots
Carrots can be harvested at various stages with a different taste developing at each stage [Photo: Jurga Jot/ Shutterstock.com]

By growing carrots (Daucus carota subs. sativus) in your garden, you will have a steady supply of tasty roots to munch on throughout the year. The earlier in the year you harvest, the smaller the carrot, and the more mild and sweet its taste. Leave your crop to grow, however, and you’ll be rewarded with more carrots and more aroma!

Planting carrots: location and requirements

Like other root vegetables and tubers, carrots grow best in loose, sandy soil. In loamy or rocky soil, they tend to develop strange shapes and can suffer from stunted growth. You can loosen heavy soil and support root development with green manure, such as oil radish. And if that is not enough, form a mound or raised bed. Even in tricky locations, the carrots won’t know the difference!

A carrot with two legs
If your soil is too rocky, it an cause carrots to grow multiple legs [Photo: Bk87/ Shutterstock.com]

Carrots grow best under the sun, so opt for open areas of the garden. And to protect your garden from carrot fly blight, avoid planting your carrots in soil that was recently fertilised. In fact, carrots grow best in beds previously occupied by leeks. They are also excellent companions of onion, dill and garlic. The smell of the bulbous plants deters carrot flies.

Tip: If you have already suffered from a carrot fly infestation you will need to wait at least three years before growing carrots again in the same bed.

Propagating and sowing carrots

Propagating carrots can be challenging. Carrots are biennial, producing flowers and seeds only in their second year. And because they do not survive winter, you will have to harvest them in autumn. When pulling them from the ground, be sure to leave the carrot roots and about 2 inches of their leaves intact. Store them unwashed in some sand in a cellar or similarly cool, dry location.

Sowing carrots: the right timing

To collect carrot seeds, you will need to plant two carrots from your crop in spring. Carrot plants can grow to more than a meter in height and produce beautiful umbels (those are the flowering stalks that look like an umbrella!). By the end of September, the umbels’ seeds will be ripe. Cut off the umbels before the seeds fall out and hang them up to dry. Then, remove the seeds by rubbing the umbels softly between your fingers.

Carrot seeds on a trowel
You can grow carrots in early spring [Photo: Heike Rau/ Shutterstock.com]

Sowing carrots: the right procedure

  • Make several grooves around 3 cm deep and 20 cm apart.
  • Sow the carrots seeds in the grooves, each seed about 2-4 cm from another.

Tip: Carrots take a long time to sprout; up to four weeks in some instances. You can optimise space by sowing a radish in the grooves between each carrot. Depending on the weather, the radishes could be ready to harvest within six weeks, leaving the carrots space for the remainder of the season.

Young carrot plants
It is easy to recognise carrot leaves [Photo: kviktor/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Sow a row of dill or radish around the carrots. They sprout earlier and will mark the carrots’ locations. What is more, dill and carrots stimulate each other’s growth.
  • Once you have covered the seeds with soil, press down softly and water.

Seed tape is another great option. It maintains the distance between your carrots so you do not need to thin them later.

Cultivating carrots: suitable varieties

Carrot varieties differ not only in taste and shape, but ripen at different times, prefer to grow in different locations and must be stored in different conditions. ‘Chantenay’ carrots have a conical shape. Others are rounded, cylindrical or blunt.

Carrots of orange, yellow and purple
Carrots don’t have to be orange!

Cultivating, watering and fertilising carrots

Generally, carrots are low-maintenance. They only need watering in dry weather, and as long as your garden beds are well maintained, they should not need fertilising. And if you sow your carrots far enough apart from one another, you won’t even need to thin them. The only thing you may need to do is look for carrots growing too close to the surface. Should the top of a root begin to show, form a small heap of soil around the root to prevent the carrot from turning green.

Strong, healthy carrot leaves
Healthy carrots will grow tall, bright green leaves [Photo: Viktollio/ Shutterstock.com]

How often to water carrots

Consistent moisture is important for carrot growth. The bigger the roots become, the less moisture they need. Generally, carrots should only be watered if they are dry. Too much water causes the plants to invest in leaf growth instead of root growth.

Fertilising carrots the right way

Carrots do not need a lot of nitrogen. As with watering, if you fertilise carrots too much, they tend to grow leaves instead of roots. For optimal growth, add some compost or green manure, such as oil radish, to your carrot bed in autumn. And if your bed is particularly deficient in nutrients, a small amount of compost immediately after sowing can support early development. Alternatively, use natural fertilisers that release their nutrients slowly. Plantura Tomato Food is a great choice: it is slow-release and supports an active soil life.

Plantura Tomato Food
Plantura Tomato Food

With a long-lasting effect, for healthy soil, child & pet friendly

You can prepare your soil further by sowing clover or lupin in advance. These plants fix nitrogen in the soil and act as green manure.

Thinning and weeding carrots

If your carrots are too close to one another, they will not have enough space to grow. No matter how long you wait, you will continue to harvest miniature carrots. To solve this, the carrots must be thinned.

It can be difficult to work out how many plants you have and how many you should pull up. Ideally, wait until the plants are about 5cm tall before thinning them. Be sure to pull up the carrots in damp, rainy weather. The rain will prevent the carrot smell from spreading and attracting carrot flies.

Carrot plants surrounded by weeds
Weeding is important as carrots do not fight weeds [Photo: iva/ Shutterstock.com]

If you have already pulled a carrot from the ground, no matter what its state, there is no use replanting it – carrots do not take well to replanting. If the seedling is too small, toss it into the compost. However, if the root is showing: eat up! Close the gaps between the remaining carrots with soil and press down firmly. Each carrot should have at least 2cm space. For thick, autumn varieties, pull out the thinner carrots about a month before your main harvest.

Two carrots wrapped around one another
Without enough space, carrots tend to deform [Photo: NeydtStock/ Shutterstock.com]

Carrots are unlikely to compete with other plants. They require regular weeding, especially early on. But be careful using a hoe – the little roots are very delicate. Weeding by hand is safest.

Harvesting carrots: identifying the appropriate harvest time

There is no perfect time to harvest carrots. Harvest early, and your carrots will have a mild, sweet taste, best enjoyed with the skin. Wait longer, and the roots will grow larger and have more intense flavour.

Ripe carrot in the ground
You can choose when to pull up your carrots!

Generally, carrots are ready to harvest after three months. However, this does depend on the climate, and carrots sown in March will take a few more days or weeks to sprout than those sown in April or May. The earlier you sow your carrots, the longer you can leave them in the ground to grow longer and thicker.

If you are unsure, we have written an article all about how to harvest carrots!

Storing carrots

Normally, you can harvest carrots as and when you need them.

However, if you do wish to store carrots, it is best to leave them in the fridge so that they do not lose moisture too quickly. And to prevent mould from forming, wrap the carrots in newspaper or place them in an airtight bag; they should last about a week. After a week, they will begin to shrivel.

Another option is to freeze them. Carrots are ready to cook straight from the freezer, although their consistency may be a little different. For dishes like stew and soup, this won’t matter.

Carrots diced and shredded in containers
Carrots keep well in the freezer [Photo: Ahanov Michael/ Shutterstock.com]

Alternatively, store your carrots in sandboxes in dark, cold cellars, known as earth cellars.

If you cannot get enough of carrots, have a read of our article which outlines the origin and history of carrots!

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