How to Grow Carrots Successfully: From Seed to Table
Carrots are one of my top favorite things to grow in the garden. They are beautiful, delicious, versatile in the kitchen, hold up well in storage, and most of all – oh, those harvests! Few things beat the exciting anticipation and reward of unearthing homegrown carrots from the soil. So. Much. Fun! Plus, the flavor of homegrown carrots is simply unparalleled. Carrot greens are edible and tasty too. Some gardeners have trouble growing carrots, but I have a few troubleshooting tips in store that should help out!
Read along to learn all about growing carrots! We’ll explore our top choice varieties to grow, the best time to plant carrots, tips for preparing your soil, sowing seeds, how to thin them, when and how to harvest, plus storage tips. I’ll also share some of our favorite ways to prepare and preserve them!
Just wait. You’ll be unearthing and enjoying your own long, crunchy beauties in no time!
As with all fruits and vegetables, growing carrots at home allows you to explore and experience SO many more shapes, sizes, colors, and varieties than what you’ll see in the grocery store. Red, purple, yellow, white… Homegrown always taste far superior too! One of the many awesome things about growing carrots is that you can easily mix several varieties of carrots into one garden bed or plot. That is what we always do!
A few of our favorite carrot varieties include Dolciva, Cosmic Purple, Naval, White Satin, Scarlet Nantes, and more. If you’re new to growing carrots and don’t want to buy several varieties to start, consider something like this gorgeous rainbow Starburst blend! Folks with short growing seasons (or those getting a late start) could consider smaller, early-maturing varieties. For example, something like “Little Finger” baby carrots.
To see a full list of the places we like to buy seeds from, check out our article “12 Places to Buy Organic, Heirloom, and Non-GMO Garden Seeds”.
When to Plant Carrots
Carrots are generally a cooler-weather crop, perfect for spring and fall in most climates. Carrot seeds are best directly sown outside, and can take 3 to 4 months from planting to harvest.
Here in frost-free zone 9b/10a, we can grow them right through the winter! They do drastically slow down however, so it is best to get them sown by late fall for a winter crop. In places with mild summers, carrots can oftentimes be continuously sowed straight through the summer for a perpetual harvest! Especially if they’re provided a little afternoon shade, or shade cloth during germination. This is referred to as succession planting. On the other hand, in locations with hot summers, stick to early spring and late summer or fall planting.
Carrot seeds will germinate more slowly in the cooler weather of spring, so be patient. They love temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees to sprout. Yet the roots themselves prefer cooler temperatures to develop.
For an early summer harvest, sow carrot seeds in the spring. They can be sown directly outdoors a couple weeks prior to your last spring frost date. For a fall harvest, sow seeds in the late summer to early fall – about 10 to 12 weeks before your average first frost date if possible. However, carrots can survive temperatures down to 15°F! They get even sweeter after a kiss of frost.
Frost dates vary by location and growing zone. Check your planting calendar to see exactly when yours are. If you don’t have one already, I have you covered! The free Homestead and Chill garden planning toolkit has planting calendars for every zone.
Preparing Your Soil to Grow Carrots
The right soil consistency is arguably one of THE most important factors to successfully growing growing carrots. As long root vegetables, carrots grow best in a loose, fluffy, well-draining soil. High Mowing Seeds says carrots prefer “fertile sandy loam”. These qualities enable them to easily venture and grow downward. If your soil is too compact, chunky, or rocky, their growth will be short and stunted!
While we usually aren’t huge fans of tilling soil, it may be necessary for your carrot bed. If your soil isn’t already fairly loose, work the soil to at least one foot deep to loosen it. One easy way to till soil deeply is with the use of a broad fork. Remove any large rocks and break up clumps. Amend clay or compact soil with potting soil or something like sand, coco coir, or peat moss if needed. After loosening the soil, water the soil deeply (especially if it’s dry). This reduces the amount you’ll need to provide after the seeds are sown.
Carrots and Fertilizer
Carrots do not need particularly rich soil. They will appreciate the nutrients from a mild, well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer and/or well-aged compost. We typically top-dress our carrot beds with compost and a small sprinkle of organic kelp meal, alfalfa meal and crab meal between seasons. However, avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers when growing carrots. Too much nitrogen or strong manure can cause the carrots to branch, develop excess legs, side roots, or even split.
Growing Carrots in Containers
It is possible to grow carrots in a container! We often times grow them in half wine barrels, but something smaller than that would work too. Just make sure it is nice and deep for them. These tall fabric grow bags would work perfectly!
When growing carrots in containers, the same type of soil, planting, and other tips described in this article apply just the same. However, keep in mind that some containers will dry out more quickly than raised beds or in-ground gardens, so you may have to increase your water frequency. The container needs good drainage too!
How to Sow Carrot Seeds
Carrots grow best when directly sown in place. Like most root crops, they do not take well to transplanting. Therefore, it is not recommended to start them early indoors!
There are a couple of ways you can go about sowing your carrot seeds. You can either sow them in neat rows, or lightly scatter seed across a wider surface area of soil. We have done both methods over the years with success.! I tend to scatter seed when growing carrots in smaller beds or wine barrel planters, but plant them in rows in our larger raised beds (especially now that we have drip irrigation lines that are also in neat rows).
The key to a good carrot crop is proper thinning (discussed below) moreso than the choice of sowing method.
Lightly scatter carrots seeds over the soil surface. Try to get them fairly evenly distributed across the raised bed, container, or designated growing space. I generally pour a small pile in one hand, and use the other to collect and sprinkle a little pinch here and there – almost as how you would to salt or garnish a meal. If we are planting several types of carrots, I go light on each kind – knowing that the cumulative total will be enough to put a good amount of seed down.
What is “a good amount of seed?” Well, this is sort of hard to explain, but I will try… I pinch and sprinkle until I know that there is a light dusting of carrot seeds over the entire bed. Enough that every area I look has some seed. No huge empty spaces with several inches of exposed soil, but not dozens of seeds piled up on one another either. See the photo below.
The thing is, they may not all germinate, so I don’t want to sow too sparsely. And if they seem crowded later? I can always thin them, and probably will need to anyways. A fairly even distribution is more important than exact amounts.
Sowing in Rows
To plant carrot in more distinct rows, mark row lines or create very shallow furrows about 3 to 4 inches apart. Lightly sprinkle the carrot seeds along each row. Either leave uncovered, or just barely cover the seeds with soil – as explained below.
Lightly Cover Seeds
Instructions on carrot seed packages often say to “surface sow” or, to just barely cover the seeds with soil. We opt for the latter. I find if I leave them exposed, the seeds blow around in the wind, move around when we water, dry out too quickly, and are tempting to birds!
Therefore, after the seeds are in place, go back and use the same method to lightly sprinkle a very thin layer of potting soil or seed-starting soil over the seeds. Add handful by handful, pinch by pinch, until the entire surface area has no more than a quarter inch of soil on top. If there is too much soil piled on top of the seeds, they’ll struggle to sprout! Do not compact.
After sowing seeds, gently water the surface. I say “gently” because you don’t want to blast them, or (as much as possible) allow water to pool and run. The seeds will move around, causing them to cluster, and ruin your nice even spacing!
During germination, it is important to keep the top of the soil (and seeds) moist at all times. You don’t necessarily need to water deeply at this point, but you don’t want the soil surface to dry out. Yes, this may mean lightly watering every day or several times per week for a little while. Be patient! Carrot seeds can sometimes take weeks to sprout.
After germination, maintain a nice deep, consistent, moisture level. Carrots love water! The deeper they have access to water, the deeper (longer, larger!) they’ll grow. Unfortunately I can’t provide a steadfast rule in terms of water frequency or amount. This will vary depending on your climate, growing situation (e.g. container or in-ground) and the season.
Have you ever harvested hairy carrots? One cause can be excess nitrogen, but the most common cause is a lack of water! The carrot itself is a root, but if it is starving for water, it will send out little feeder roots in search of more! Hairy carrots aren’t the end of the world, but they’re a good indicator that you’ve been under-watering.
Thinning carrots is important. The process of thinning ensures that carrots aren’t overly crowded, and instead, that each carrot has adequate space to grow to it’s fullest potential. The recommended spacing for carrots is about 1 to 2 inches apart, depending on desired size. Crowded carrots will stay much smaller or even wrap themselves around one another.
Like sowing carrot seeds, thinning carrots is also something that varies by style and personal preference from gardener to gardener. You can either thin carrot seedlings very early, before any notable carrot root starts to form. Or, you can thin carrots a little later as the roots begin to develop – harvesting mini carrots in the process! I usually do a combination of both. If you sowed seeds very lightly or had low germination rates, you may not need to thin them at all.
For instance, I’ll usually go through my carrot rows and pluck out excess seedlings in especially crowded spots early on (a few weeks after they sprout). I focus on keeping the largest seedlings and gently pull out the less developed ones. Then during the following month or two, I’ll come back through and harvest small carrots from areas that still look crowded. It’s fun to pull some early and as-needed, which also helps spread out the harvest so it won’t be such an overwhelming amount at the end.
Thankfully, carrots are one of those wonderful crops that don’t seem to have too many pests! We do sometimes get some powdery mildew on the greens late in the season, which is very common for most of our plants here. It is never enough to damage the carrots themselves, but can make it impossible for us to use the carrot greens – which is a bummer.
The only other carrot pest we’ve encountered are occasional aphids. They’ll sometimes cluster on the greens towards the soil line, so if your area is prone to aphids, check there on occasion. If you find them, treat them with a soap spray mixture of 1 tbsp liquid castile soap per quart of water, or 5 tbsp per gallon. Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap is especially effective against aphids. Then blast them… erhm, their dead bodies… off with water the following the day.
Some other “pests” can mess with your carrot crop early in the process. But it isn’t the carrots themselves they’re after! Before the seeds sprout, a fresh open bed of soil is very tempting to wild birds, or digging animals like opossums, skunks, or even cats. They want to kick and root around in there. Talk about messing up your nice even seed distribution…
Therefore, we usually cover any of our open, freshly-sown garden beds with hoops and row covers. Avoid laying it on the soil surface directly or smothering seeds and sprouts.
Now, for the best part! Carrots can take 2 to 4 months to be ready to harvest, but they’re well worth the wait! The timing will depend on the variety, weather, soil conditions, and your watering practices.
Sometimes, they make it quite obvious that they’re ready, and will be poking up out of the soil! Other times, you may need to lightly explore around the soil at the base of the stem to expose the top of the root. If you see some nice round carrot tops down there, give a few test carrots a pull and see how they’re looking! If they’re all still fairly small, give them some more time. Thin as needed to make space for more growth.
As long as the soil is fairly loose, you should be able to simply pull up on the greens with a little wiggle. No digging required. If you have been thinning-harvesting over time (discussed above), you will already have a good idea of how developed they are.
After harvesting your carrots, you’ll have a little work to do to prepare them for storage. They can be stored with some dirt still on them, or you can clean them first. We prefer to give ours a little shower first. The easiest way we’ve found to clean a large harvest of carrots at once is lay them out and blast them off with the hose. When we used to have lawn, we did it there. Now, we have a makeshift washing station – a wood frame with wire fencing attached to it.
Remove the greens prior to storage. The greens will rot quickly and yuck up your carrots. However, the greens are edible and need not go to waste! See below for some ideas on how to make use of carrot greens. If you don’t want to eat them, at least try to compost them.
To store our carrots, we have found the most effective way is to keep the washed carrots in sealed (reused!) ziplock bags in the refrigerator. With just a little splash of water in the bag, our carrots stay crisp and crunchy this way for MONTHS. It is important to get them into the fridge soon after harvest. Harvesting carrots during cooler weather also helps them stay firm, such as first thing in the morning.
Another storage option is to keep them inside a root storage bin, covered in lightly damp sand, and tucked away in a cool dark place. A cool basement or root cellar is perfect! They should also hold up well this way for months.
For even longer term storage, there are a few different ways you can preserve carrots! We’ll talk more about those options below.
5 Ways to Use Carrot Greens
Yes, carrot greens are totally okay to eat. More than okay! Carrot greens are full of vitamin A and C, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, chlorophyll, antioxidants, and other nutrients with health-promoting benefits. While their flavor is a bit strong and may not be tempting enough to whip up a big batch of sautéed carrot greens on their own as you might with kale, there are plenty of ways to utilize them:
- Juice them! We don’t have a juicer, but I know a ton of people who love adding carrot tops to their green juices.
- Make carrot green pesto! I don’t have a recipe for carrot green pesto on the blog (yet), but check out our to-die-for lemony walnut parmesan pesto recipe. You can easily swap out the called-for fava bean greens for carrot greens and get stellar results! It can also easily be modified to omit the cheese.
- Similarly, there are quite a few recipes for carrot green chimichurri out there.
- Use them along with other veggie scraps to create a pot of homemade vegetable broth! Learn how to make homemade broth from saved veggie scraps here.
- Chop them up fresh and use them sparingly as a garnish or seasoning, as you would with other fresh herbs. For example, a little carrot greens sprinkled over a bowl of soup or salad, incorporated into a chickpea or egg salad, or our favorite- sprinkled on top of homemade madras curry lentils. Check out our recipe!
Unfortunately, we don’t always get to make use of our carrot greens. They often get a decent case of powdery mildew by harvest time!
Ways to Eat Carrots
One of the best ways to enjoy carrots is fresh. Is that stating the obvious? Maybe, maybe not… If you have never experienced the outstanding flavor, crunch, and juiciness of a just-picked homegrown carrot, you’re in for a real treat! We gobble them up plain, dipped in hummus, chopped on top of salad, sliced thin on sandwiches, or my personal favorite – with organic chunky nut butter.
Like their greens, carrots are great juiced as well! We like to make a carrot “juice” by blending them with a little finished kombucha, maybe fresh squeezed orange juice, and a little chunk of turmeric – to add to bottled kombucha as a tasty second ferment flavor!
Cooked carrots are also fantastic. We enjoy them cut into rounds or sticks, sautéed in a little olive oil (also coconut oil or butter) with salt, pepper, and seasonings of your choice – either alone or prepared in the same manner with other seasonal vegetables mixed in. Nearly every night, we cook up a huge batch of sautéed mixed veggies from the garden in our cast iron wok. Carrots are always a welcome addition to the party! The smallest ones can be left whole.
Let’s not forget baked goods! Use your homegrown grated carrots for carrot cake, carrot bread, muffins, and more! We aren’t huge on sweet treats or baked goods on this homestead. However, we do make some pretty killer (and crazy looking!) homemade sourdough – dyed purple from adding grated Black Nebula carrots.
Carrots are also wonderful in soups, like our killer creamy roasted carrot and sweet potato soup recipe. Carrots are also excellent roasted or baked, either left whole or cut into smaller portions.
Ways to Preserve Carrots
If you grow more carrots than you can consume fresh in a timely manner, there are numerous ways to preserve them. One of our personal favorite preservation methods is fermentation, and we ferment carrots in several styles!
The first is a simple dilly fermented carrot “pickle”. See that recipe here! Many people love making vinegar pickled carrots too, though they aren’t quite as good for you as the probiotic-packed fermented version. They can also be combined with hot peppers, onions, and garlic, pureed, and fermented into a killer sweet-and-spicy hot sauce. Finally, shredded or grated carrots are excellent when mixed with other vegetables and fermented, such as when making cabbage sauerkraut.
In addition to fermenting, a common way we preserve carrots is by making a large batch of carrot-based soup and freezing it. Check out our creamy roasted carrot & sweet potato soup recipe! This makes for super easy, quick, homegrown meals in the future. These quart-size BPA-free containers are perfect for freezing soup in. You could also chop them up and freeze them in chunks, to pull out later for use in soup, stew, or similar.
If you’re feeling crafty and want to move beyond “garden to table” – how about garden to body care? Tanya from Lovely Greens makes an amazing, nourishing homemade carrot soap! Yep, soap… not soup! Check out her carrot soap recipe here.
There are more ways ways to enjoy homegrown carrots than you probably imagined, huh?
To sum it all up, if you aren’t already, I highly suggest growing carrots! While they may not be the fastest crop of the bunch, they’re relatively pest free – and can provide a lot of food, for a fairly low effort! Our garden will never be without them. If you have been struggling with growing carrots, I hope this article helped!
Remember: loose fluffy soil, not too much fertilizer, lots of water, and lots of patience!
Stay tuned for more carrot-based recipes to go along with your future harvests. Please comment with any questions, and spread the love by sharing this article.
What about sunlight? I have few full-sun spots in my yard so I’m wondering just how much sun carrots need?
Also, can you please recommend a store-bought soil for carrots? I think what I have in my raised beds is too chunky. I usually mix raised bed soil and organic compost (bagged from Lowes) together.
Also, where can I get untreated straw for mulch… I don’t want to call around to farms, I just want to drive to a store and buy it 😉
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Bre, we have grown carrots in areas that receive part sun and they do just fine so you can reserve the full sun garden spaces for the more sun loving crops. Our raised bed soil is usually fairly chunky as well and we have had carrot seeds sprout fairly successfully in it, we now typically make furrows for the seeds in the raised bed soil, after sowing the seeds, we lightly sprinkle fluffy potting soil or even seedling soil over the top of them for germination. As far as untreated straw for mulch, I would check out your local feed stores to see what type of straw they have available and if they know if it has been treated or not. There are options to purchase untreated straw online but they can be a bit expensive and cumbersome to receive via shipping. Hope that helps and have fun growing!
I planted my carrots almost two months ago (mid-March) It took forever for them to even germinate, and even now, the tops are still only about an inch high. They’re just now starting to get their secondary leaves. I’ve never grown them before so I have no idea if such slow growth is normal, or if I’m doing something wrong…
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Cindy, what hardiness zone are you growing in? The temperatures may have been too cold for the carrots to germinate and grow well until now. Carrots can be tricky to germinate and we have had some seasons of uneven germination depending on the variety of carrot. We’ve had varied success rates depending on the variety of carrot we grow, Nantes and Cosmic Purple being our two favorites that usually do the best for us. Just keep your carrots fairly well watered and hopefully they start to take off as the temperature warms. We will usually thin out our carrot seedlings as well in hopes of having larger carrots. Hope that helps and have fun growing.
I would cut a few leafs every morning and give them to my bunnies. The orange part of the carrot is only good for them as a treat and only a small price but the tops are great for them
I’ve grown carrots year round in a felt patio planter pot. Found out the hard way that thinning is a must. They totally grow around each othering you don’t. (Still edible!) I live on the CA central coast which is pretty consistent weather.
Thank you! My carot cnsumption has jumped this past year and I wil find this article very useful!
I did not see a section on seed saving, and I wonder if you have tried this with your carot crops?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hello Sandy, glad you found the article helpful! We have not tried to seed save from carrots yet, as we typically don’t even see our carrots start flowering before we harvest them (even after them being in the ground for some time). Good luck!
Carrots do not produce seed until the second year…
A horrible pest that I have is wireworms…yuck
I also lay a board over the seeds until they start to germinate and that helps with the moisture and keeping the birds out of the seeds.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Thank you for the clarification, guess that’s why our carrots never flower!
I badly wanted to grow carrots in my vegetable garden, I had no idea how. Thanks to this blog post it really helps a lot.