Growing perfect carrots can be easy, if you know how. Learn how to grow your best crop of carrots ever, with these simple, easy-to-follow growing tips.
I tend to think of carrots as one of my easiest crops, but I'm well aware that they can have a reputation for being tricky to grow. Many gardening friends have told me they've tried again and again to grow carrots, but always end up with tiny, misshapen roots, and can't figure out what went wrong. Most gave up growing carrots at all, thinking they "just can't grow carrots here."
The truth is, by following just these few careful steps, truly ANYONE can grow gorgeous, market-worthy carrots. No green thumb needed.
1. Choose a good location
Carrots really aren't one of the more picky vegetables when it comes to sunlight, and while they do well in full sun, I've found that I can get a good crop even in partial shade. You'll want to make sure your selected site does get at least 4-6 hours of daylight each day.
Drainage is more important to this root vegetable. Carrots love loose, well-drained soil. They do not want to sit wet.
If you have a low area that tends to stay a bit soggy after wet weather, that's not the place for your carrots. Instead, go for land that consistently drains well.
2. Select your seeds
When it comes to carrot varieties, there are so many to choose from! Some have very different strengths and characteristics, so you'll want to read the descriptions and choose carefully. Some are capable of thriving in heavier soils, while others are more finicky.
One of the most important things to notice, is how many days they take to grow. Some carrots reach their full size in just 48 days, while others can take 78.
Since I usually try to grow two crops of carrots every summer, I primarily opt for carrot varieties that grow in 60 days or less. These are some of my favorites:
- Yaya (58 days. Easy, beautiful, and flavorful!)
- Coral (55 days. My all-time favorite)
- Little Finger (60 days, easy and reliable)
- Red-Cored Chantenay (70 days, good for heavier soils)
3. Prepare the soil well
Carrots love deeply-worked, loose soil. Try to ensure that your soil has been thoroughly worked at least as deeply as the longest variety of carrot you're planting. Raised beds are great for growing carrots, and make this step a little easier!
If you're having a hard time finding a suitable plot of soil, consider growing carrots in a container. Large plastic tubs can work wonderfully for growing carrots. Just drill several holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with loose garden soil, and you're ready to go!
Keep in mind that while carrots do love good organic matter, they don't do well with extra nitrogen. This causes them to form hairy, unshapely roots. So DO consider adding an inch or two of good compost to your garden bed, but skip the manure!
4. Plant your seeds, spacing carefully
Once your garden bed or container is prepared, you're ready to plant. In my opinion, this is the ONE step where most people make the error that costs them a perfect crop of big carrots.
Since carrot seeds are little, and there are usually hundreds of them in a seed packet, it's really tempting to just liberally sprinkle the seeds along each row. Unless you're faithful about coming back and pulling out every extra seedling, this results in carrots that are far too crowded. They will never grow into big, gorgeous carrots if they don't have correct spacing.
Properly spacing carrots during planting does make for a much more time-consuming planting process. However, it's much easier to space the seeds optimally as you're planting, than to come back and tediously thin the seedlings later, which can also result in damaging the carrots you intend to leave. I have always found the best results by spacing carrots in rows 6" apart, with seeds 2" apart within the rows.
One fun way to get perfect spacing is to use seed tape. You can buy seed tape, but generally your choice of varieties are limited. Try making your own seed tape, using any type of carrot seed you choose. It's easy, and you can do this during the quiet winter months, so you're ready to go at planting time!
5. Carrots need to stay well-weeded
Carrots don't compete well with vigorous weeds, so it's important to keep the weeds pulled, especially as the young seedlings are just getting started. Jean-Martin Fortier, who wrote The Market Gardener (a gardening must-have in my opinion) shares a good trick for reducing weeds in carrot beds.
He uses a flame weeder on his beds of carrots a few days before the carrot seedlings emerge. Since most weed seeds germinate more quickly that carrots, this drastically reduces the weed load that a gardener must contend with.
Another trick for eliminating weeds even before planting, is to water your intended carrot bed and tend it well about ten days before you want to plant your carrots. The intention here is to help any weed seeds in the soil to germinate and grow. If the weather is still cool, you may want to cover it with row cover to speed up the weed-seed germination process. Once the weed seedlings are mostly about an inch high, go ahead and hoe them all down to destroy them. The more weeds you can eliminate before starting your carrots, the fewer you'll have to deal with once your delicate carrots are growing.
6. Water well
Carrots take quite a while to germinate, so it's important not to let your seeds dry out before they have a chance to grow. You may find that you initially need to water your carrot bed each day, to prevent it from drying out.
Once the carrots have all sprouted, you can water less frequently. Water the soil well and thoroughly. A good soaking every few days is better than a moderate sprinkle every day. While carrots don't like to sit wet, a good soak that seeps deeply into the garden bed will help your carrots to grow to their full potential. Wait until the garden bed feels dry if you run a fingertip along the surface. Then water again thoroughly.
7. Know when they're ready
Carrots are ready to pick when their color fully develops. Unripe carrots are very pale white or yellowish in color, and won't taste very pleasing if they're picked too soon. Once a carrot is fully orange, purple, yellow, or whatever color it's meant to be, it's ready to pick!
Many carrots ripen nicely at a small size and can be either picked as "baby carrots", or allowed to grow longer, until they're large. Allowing carrots to sit too long after they're ripe can cause cracking, so it's a great idea to check on your carrots regularly to make sure they're not getting past their prime.
I hope these simple tips help you to have as much fun growing carrots as I do. Below, you'll find a printable instruction sheet you can tuck in with your carrot seeds for reference!
Have a question about growing carrots? Ask away in the comments and I'll do my best to help. Happy growing!
How to Grow Perfect Carrots
- shovel and rake, or rototiller, if gardening in the ground
- Large container with holes drilled in the bottom, if container gardening
- Carrot seeds
1. Select a growing site
- Choose a garden location that receives at least 4-6 hours of daylight each day. (Full sun is usually better if possible, but not necessary.)
- Ensure that your site has good drainage. Carrots love loose, well-drained soil.
2. Select your carrot seeds
- Play close attention to how long each variety takes to mature, as well as what type of soil they do best in. If your soil is heavy, consider a chunky type of carrot, like Red-Cored Chantenay, or Uzbek Golden.
3. Prepare the soil as well as you can
- Carrots love deeply-worked, loose soil. Till or dig your soil at least as deeply as the longest variety of carrot you’re planting. If possible, work in some good compost to improve the soil while you are at it.
- If you’re having a hard time finding a suitable plot of soil, consider growing carrots in a container. Large plastic tubs can work wonderfully for growing carrots. Just drill several holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with loose garden soil, and you’re ready to go!
- Don't be tempted to add manure, or other nitrogen-rich soil amendments. This causes carrots to form hairy, unshapely roots. Compost: yes. Manure: no.
4. Plant seeds, paying careful attention to spacing
- Plant carrot seeds about ⅛" deep, spacing them in rows 6″ apart, with seeds 2″ apart within the rows.
- Carefully spacing carrot seeds is tedious. However, it’s much easier to space the seeds optimally as you’re planting, than to come back and thin the seedlings later, which can also result in damaging the carrots you intend to leave.
5. Keep carrots well-weeded
- Carrots don’t compete well with vigorous weeds, so it’s important to keep the weeds pulled, especially as the young seedlings are just getting started.
- Carrots often take at least 7-10 to germinate, so it’s important not to let your seeds dry out before they have a chance to grow. You may find that you initially need to water your carrot bed each day, to prevent it from drying out.
- Once the carrots have all sprouted, you can water less frequently. Water the soil well and thoroughly. Wait until the garden bed feels dry if you run a fingertip along the surface. Then water again thoroughly.
7. Harvest when full flavor and color develop
- Carrots are ready to pick when their color fully develops. Once a carrot is fully orange, purple, yellow, or whatever color it’s meant to be, it’s ready to pick!
- Allowing carrots to sit too long after they’re ripe can cause cracking, so it’s a great idea to check on your carrots regularly to make sure they’re not getting past their prime.
Anna Chesley is a freelance writer living a homestead lifestyle, with a special love for family travel, old books, vintage skills, and seaside living. In addition to founding Salt In My Coffee, she runs the website, New England Family Life, as well as The 1800's Housewife, a website devoted to re-creating authentic 1800's recipes.