Carrots: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Carrots at Home | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow Carrots: The Complete Guide

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Botanical Name
Daucus carota subsp. sativus
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Flower Color

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Carrots

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Carrots are a cool-season crop grown in spring. This popular vegetable has a natural sweetness, especially when homegrown. Some gardeners find carrots tricky to grow; the secret is the soil! Learn our tips and tricks on how to plant, grow, and harvest carrots.

About Carrots

The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) is a root vegetable in the umbellifer family. Today’s cultivars are all domesticated forms of the wild carrot, Daucus carota, native to Europe and Southwestern Asia. The wild carrot has a more woodsy texture and is less palatable.

The colorful roots are usually orange, but there are also heirloom cultivars that come in purple, black, red, white, and yellow hues. Eaten raw or cooked, carrots are an excellent source of vitamins A, K, and B6 and also contain large quantities of beta-carotene and nutrients. The stems and leaves are rarely eaten, though they are edible. 

Carrots grown in the garden taste more flavorful, fresher, and juicier because the sugar that makes a carrot sweet begins to be replaced by fiber as it ages in grocery stores. Another reason to grow carrots in the garden is because there are so many more varieties to try, from Belgian whites to Purple Dragon to Parisian heirlooms that are round! (Not all carrots are the grocery store shape.) 

Don’t expect to get perfectly straight “grocery store” carrots in the garden, especially if your soil isn’t loose, well-drained, and sandy or loamy. Your carrots will still taste better, whatever their shape!

Stunted carrots in a gloved hand in the garden
Misshapen carrots can be caused by heavy, compact, overly-enriched soil.

Carrots prefer sunny locations (6 to 10 hours of sun). The soil itself should be free-draining; this is one of the few crops benefiting from sandier soils. You don’t want your soil to be too rich either, or the carrots can’t reach down!

If your garden is made of rugged, clay soil, grow carrots in containers or raised beds at least 8 inches to 12 inches high. See our tips on container gardening below!

When to Plant Carrots

  • Carrot seeds can be sown about 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. Find your local frost dates here. Ideally, you want the soil to have dried out and warmed up a little after the winter.
    • Seeds germinate after the soil temperature is at least 40° and germinate best at 55-65°, not exceeding 75°F. High summer temperatures reduce growth, decrease quality, and cause bitter or off-flavors to develop.
  • For a fall harvest, sow seeds in mid-to-late summer—starting about ten weeks before your first fall frost.

How to Plant Carrots

  • Prepare the site by tilling to a depth of 10 inches. We recommend double-digging to be certain.Make sure there are no rocks, stones, or even soil clumps. Amend soil with compost and 6 inches of sandy topsoil if your soil isn’t loose and airy.
  • We recommend sowing seeds directly in the garden (or wherever you plan to grow them) rather than transplanting. Carrots do not like to have their roots disturbed. 
  • Sow 1/4 inch deep, 2 to 3 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart.
    • Tip: Try to distribute seeds in an even fashion so that seeds don’t grow together. The seeds are pretty tiny, and it’s very easy to sow them too thickly. If you’ve not got the steadiest hand, then a simple tip is to mix the seeds with fine sand to spread the seeds out. You can then sow pinches of your sand-seed mix instead. Then, just cover the seeds over.
  • Keep the soil moist with frequent, shallow watering. For small carrot seeds to germinate, the soil mustn’t form a hard crust on top; covered with a layer of fine sand, vermiculite, or compost to prevent a crust from forming. (If you put your finger in the ground, it should be moist, but not wet, to the middle knuckle.)
  •  Carrots are sometimes slow to germinate. They require 14-21 days to emerge, so don’t panic if your carrots don’t appear immediately!
  • Planting radishes with carrots helps minimize the crusting problem and helps you keep track of where the carrot seeds were planted. Sow quick-germinating radish seeds between carrot rows. The radishes will grow quickly, and by the time the carrots really start to grow, they can be harvested. 
  • For a continued harvest, plant carrots every four weeks through mid-summer.

Carrots in Containers

Growing carrots in pots is a great way to customize the perfect growing medium and avoid pests like carrot flies. Pots must be at least 10 to 12 inches deep and wide.

  • A great low-fertility mix is one part sand and one part potting mix.
  • Sow seeds very thinly over the top of a filled pot and then cover them with just a touch more of the mix.
  • Water well, label, and set into a sunny position.
  • Keep everything moist because, unlike carrots in the ground, carrots in containers will be entirely dependent on you for all their needs.
  • Once the seedlings are up, thin them to a couple of inches apart. Then harvest them once they’ve reached finger size.

Check out this video to learn how to plant carrots in the ground and in containers!

  • Gently mulch carrots to retain moisture, speed germination, and block the sun from hitting the roots directly.
  • When seedlings are an inch tall with 3 to 4 true leaves, thin so that they stand 3 to 4 inches apart. Snip tops with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the fragile roots of the remaining plants. 
  • Ensure carrots receive 1 inch of water per week, either through rain or watering; do not overwater carrots. 
  • Weed diligently as carrots do not like struggling against weeks, but be careful not to disturb the young carrots’ roots while doing so. 
  • Fertilize 5 to 6 weeks after sowing (We recommend a low-nitrogen fertilizer as excess nitrogen in the soil promotes top, or foliage, growth—not roots.). Learn more about how and when to fertilize your vegetables.

How and When to Harvest Carrots

How do you know when your carrots are ready? Have a little root around and check the approximate width of the roots by looking at the neck of the root. The first roots should be ready as soon as two months from sowing.

  • Generally, the smaller the carrot, the better the taste. Carrots should be about as wide as your thumb or at least ½ of an inch in diameter.
  • Younger and shallower roots should come away easily enough simply by gripping them firmly at the base of the foliage. It often helps to push down on the root first and then twist it as you gently pull upwards.
  • Larger, longer roots—particularly those of maincrop carrots that are sown for winter eating—may need to be eased up with the help of a fork.
  • Harvest in stages—or as roots reach full size. In this way, you’ll stagger your harvest over many weeks.
  • If you’re growing carrots in the spring and early summer, harvest before daily temperatures get too hot, as the heat can cause carrot roots to grow fibrous.
  • If you are harvesting in the fall, carrots taste much better after one or more frosts. (A frost encourages the plant to start storing energy—sugars—in its root for later use.) Following the first hard frost in the fall, cover carrot tops with an 18-inch layer of shredded leaves to preserve them for harvesting later.
  • Note: Carrots are biennials. If you fail to harvest and leave the carrots in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds next year.
dirty Carrots straight from the garden harvest
Scrub off the dirt and remove the tops before storing carrots!

How Do You Store Fresh Carrots?

  • To store freshly harvested carrots, twist or cut off all but 1/2 inch of the tops, scrub off any dirt under cold running water, and air-dry. Seal in airtight plastic bags and refrigerate. If you simply put fresh carrots in the refrigerator, they’ll go limp in a few hours.
  • You may leave mature carrots in the soil for temporary storage if the ground will not freeze and pests aren’t a problem.
  • Carrots can also be stored in tubs of moist sand or dry sawdust in a cool, dry area.
Gardening Products
Wit and Wisdom
  • Not all carrots are orange; varieties vary in color from purple to white, and some are resistant to diseases and pests.
  • Long-lasting carrots are rich in sugar, and a great source of vitamins and carotene. 
  • The Irish called carrots “underground honey” due to the sweetness of these root vegetables.
  • Carrots were the first vegetable to be canned commercially. Learn how to can carrots yourself!
Carrot Pests and Diseases
Aster Yellow DiseaseBacteriaShortened and discolored carrot tops and thin, hairy roots; bitter tasteSpread by pests as they feed from plant to plant. Keep weeds down and invest in a control plan for pests such as leafhoppers. This disease has the ability to overwinter.
Black (Itersonilia) cankerFungusShallow, reddish brown/purple/black cankers form on crown and/or shoulder of carrots; small, orange-brown spots on leaves may have green halos; flowers rotChoose resistant varieties; cover shoulders of carrots with soil; rotate crops
Carrot rust fliesInsectWilted/stunted plants; tunnels with rust-color excrement in roots of carrot-family crops; root rotMonitor adults with yellow sticky traps; use row covers; add native plants to invite beneficial insects; destroy crop residue; rotate crops
Flea beetlesInsectNumerous tiny holes in leavesUse row covers; mulch heavily; add native plants to invite beneficial insects
LeafhoppersInsectWhite shed skins on leaf undersides (from nymph molting); stippling (many tiny spots) on leaves; “hopperburn” (leaves yellow/brown, curled, or stunted); reduced yieldKnock nymphs off leaf undersides with strong spray of water; use row covers; monitor adults with yellow sticky traps; weed; destroy crop residue
Root-knot nematodesInsectTypically, roots “knotty” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/wilted; roots forked/pimpledDestroy crop residue, including roots; choose resistant varieties; solarize soil; add aged manure/compost; disinfect tools; till in autumn; rotate crops
WirewormsInsectSeeds hollowed; seedlings severed; stunting/wilting; roots eaten; tubers/ bulbs boredTrap by digging 2- to 4-inch-deep holes every 3 to 10 feet, fill with mix of germinating beans/corn/peas or potato sections as bait, cover with soil or a board, in 1 week uncover and kill collected wireworms; sow seeds in warm soil for quick germination; provide good drainage; remove plant debris; rotate crops
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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