Carrots have to be, hands down, one of the most delightful root vegetables to grow in the kitchen garden! While planting and waiting on carrots to mature does take some patience, they are oh so worth it!
There is nothing like harvesting carrot roots from the soil. It is such a delight for kids and adults to pull these beautiful veggies out of the dirt, wash them off, and enjoy. Plus, ask any home gardener and they’ll tell you the stuff that comes in a plastic bag from the grocery store just can’t compete with the taste of a homegrown carrot.
Let’s explore some carrot varieties and growing tips to help you pull up a great crop your first year growing carrots in the vegetable garden!
(Head’s up: This post contains affiliate links, which just means I earn a small profit at no extra cost to you if you click on the link and purchase the seeds. Thanks for supporting my small business!)
WHEN IS CARROT GROWING SEASON?
The best time to grow carrots is in cool weather when the temperature climbs no higher than 75°F during the day. For those of us in Central Texas, that’s spring and fall—you know, the time of year you actually love being outside.
My favorite time to grow carrots is in the fall time as we head into cooler weather. Late summer (mid to late September) is a great time to put out those carrot seeds so they can germinate in a slightly warmer soil temperature. Carrots can handle any frost we might get in late fall. In fact, cold weather, after our first hard frost, actually improves their flavor.
If planting in the early spring time, February and very early March, just before our last frost date, are the best times to sow your carrot seeds.
OUR FAVORITE CARROT VARIETIES TO GROW AT HOME
Here are some of my favorite carrot seeds:
Rainbow Carrots – This harlequin mix includes orange, yellow, white, and purple carrots. The cool thing here is that the different colors each provide you with slightly different antioxidants, so you’re getting more varied nutrition than you would from just orange carrots.
Scarlet Nantes – These are your sweet-tasting, bright orange classics. Nantes carrots don’t need to be peeled before you eat them, which means you get to benefit from all the good vitamins found in the peel.
Cosmic Purple – These purple carrots are beautiful, easy to grow, and delicious. Purple, not orange, is closer to the color of the original carrots, and purple carrots actually show more resistance to pests, which is why they’ve been making a much-needed comeback. Whoever said orange was the new purple was seriously disturbed.
Baby Carrots – At just 3 to 4 inches long, these little “Babettes” are so cute! Grow this variety or another type with a shorter taproot if you’re growing in a container.
WHAT KIND OF SOIL DO CARROTS GROW BEST IN?
Overall, root crops are easy to grow, but they can be pretty picky about their soil conditions. Carrots are no exception. They need nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. Growing carrots in raised garden beds is ideal to give them good drainage. Our tried and tested garden soil mix for a raised bed is 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 good-quality compost, and 1/3 fill sand (not playground sand). It’s important to avoid heavy soil (like the clay-heavy native soil here in many Texas backyards).
Even if you’ve already got your raised beds set up and filled with a great, slightly sandy soil, it’s still a good idea to do a little soil prep before you sow carrot seed. Mix in 1/2″ composted manure within the top 6 inches of the soil mix. Composted cow manure, chicken manure, rabbit manure, or worm castings work great. If you’re opposed to using manures, then add compost such as leaf mold.
While you’re adding compost or manure to the top of your beds, use a spade or rake to till the top of your planting space till you have a nice, loose soil surface. Remove any big pieces of rock and break up soil clumps. Stony soil can prevent those nice roots from forming. The goal is to be able to easily stick your whole finger into the soil without too much resistance.
One more thing: carrots do best with at least 9 inches of soil depth to grow in (unless you bought a seed packet for one of those crazy-long carrots, in which case you’d need more depth!). Shallow soil, just like rocky soil, will impede root growth.
See, we told you carrots were a little picky. Just remember that rich soil that drains well provides you with the right soil conditions for perfect carrots. Now you just have to space your carrot seeds correctly, and then you’re pretty much golden.
HOW TO PLANT CARROTS FROM SEED
Carrots require 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, so make sure to plant them somewhere they can receive full sun for them to grow their best. Some partial shade is ok, but may slow or stunt the growth of the root.
The best way to start carrots is to sow the seeds in the exact location you want them to grow, rather than trying to start seeds indoors and then transplant them. Carrot seedlings really don’t like being moved.
After your soil is prepared, mix in an all purpose organic fertilizer into the soil, and sow seeds 1/4″ deep in rows that are 4″ to 6″ apart. Note that a fourth of an inch is really not very deep. You can use a dibber or your little finger to poke shallow holes in the soil or draw a little trench. Carrots have tiny seeds, so do your best to space them out and then barely cover them with soil.
The first thing to do after you’ve covered your seeds is to water them in very gently. (Note: Avoid sowing carrot seeds just before a heavy rain, since those teeny little seeds can easily be disrupted or washed away.)
Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout. Covering the area with a strip of burlap cloth can help lock in the soil moisture. Simply water over the burlap to keep your bed moist and remove the cover once the carrots have sprouted (which can take up to 20 days, so be patient!).
Plant a succession of more carrot seeds after a couple of weeks to have continuous harvests.
Some gardeners swear by interplanting radish seeds with their carrots. Radishes germinate quickly and will send up little green shoots to remind you where you planted your root vegetables. The radishes should finish up and be ready for harvest just as the carrot roots need more space to grow large.
It’s a good idea to use row covers or garden mesh to protect young plants from pests like carrot weevils, carrot fly, and aster leafhoppers.
HOW TO THIN CARROT SEEDLINGS
For best results, you’ll most likely need to thin your carrots about three weeks after they’ve sprouted or when the greens above the ground are about 3 to 4 inches tall. Thin carrots so that they’re 2 to 3 inches apart from each other. You can use your fingers to measure. Just thin so that carrots are about two finger widths apart (your pointer and your middle finger together).
The best way to do this is by using a pair of sharp scissors to cut the green tops of those carrots too close to a neighbor at soil level. Thinning your carrots can be a pain, but it allows for the remaining roots to grow properly under the soil.
Pro Tip: If you struggle spacing out tiny seeds and hate to have to thin carrots later, consider looking for seed tape with pre-spaced carrot seeds. You can find many varieties of carrots on biodegradable seed tape these days.
HOW TO WATER CARROTS
Carrots like moist soil as they are growing. It is especially important to keep the soil moist as the carrots are germinating to provide even and consistent germination.
As the carrots are growing you will want to water slowly and deeply to allow water to reach the bottom of the carrot roots. Drip irrigation is best, but you can also water slowly by hand. Your carrot bed needs at least 1 inch of water per week.
Once your little carrot rows are sprouted and thinned out, there’s not much you have to do except keep the soil moist during spells of dry weather and fertilize. It’s mostly just a waiting game now.
HOW TO FERTILIZE CARROTS
A basic all purpose organic fertilizer is great to use before planting your carrot seeds. Once the carrots are growing and the leafy green tops are 4″ in height, you can begin to fertilize carrots with an organic phosphorus-rich and potassium-rich fertilizer.
Fertilizers come with three numbers to represent their N-P-K ratio (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium). The second number (P) is what we are looking for here. This number needs to be a higher ratio than N, the first number, as too much nitrogen will promote lots of leaves on the carrot tops instead of strong root growth. Carrot greens may be edible, but it’s that juicy root we’re after.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN TO HARVEST CARROTS
Depending on the variety, carrots are generally ready to harvest anywhere from 60 to 90 days after sowing the seeds. Most carrot plants are ready to harvest when the shoulder of the carrot (the part that meets the soil line) is 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter. A really good sign your carrots are ready to harvest is when the shoulders push themselves above ground.
Note: Small carrots are typically more flavorful, so don’t wait to harvest until your carrots are as large as the ones you’re used to buying at the store.
To pull a carrot up, first moisten the growing space and gently loosen the soil around the base of the carrot. Then grab the carrot top near the neck and gently pull up. This is the best time to include the kids, but if you want to harvest all those carrots yourself and not share, I won’t tell!
If you really love a certain carrot variety, consider leaving a plant or two in your garden to continue growing. These plants will eventually produce carrot flowers, which the pollinators will absolutely love, and then seeds. I always think it’s fun and enlightening to grow a plant from seed to seed.
HOW TO STORE CARROTS AFTER HARVEST
Wash off your carrots and cut off their leafy tops, leaving about 1 inch of green stem. Let the carrots air dry in a cool place and then put them in a perforated bag in the refrigerator drawer. A Ziploc bag with a few holes poked through the sides works great to store fresh carrots.
If you have a consistently cool, dry place, you could also store carrots there packed inside a tub of damp sand or dry sawdust.
Need a little help with your growing space?
If you’re feeling nervous or impatient while your first batch of carrots are growing, just remind yourself how incredible it will be to pull them from the ground and enjoy your own homegrown carrots!
We’d love to help with a virtual consultation to get you ready to grow your own carrots and other favorite plants. See our services here and book a consultation today!