If you enjoy crisp, crunchy carrots, you'll adore the fresh flavor of homegrown. Not only do they taste especially delicious when you grow carrots in your own garden, but they're also extra sweet when kissed by frost. What's more, they'll last for several weeks after harvest when stored in a refrigerator or cool root cellar. Rich in vitamins, they're low in calories and an excellent source of fiber. Carrots make the perfect home-grown snack, plus they're a wonderful addition to juices and even baked goods—they make cakes and muffins super moist. Bonus: Each time you harvest a carrot is like a pulling a treasure from the soil.
Quick Guide to Growing Carrots
- Plant carrots a few weeks prior to your last frost for a late spring/early summer harvest. You can also grow them again in the fall—just harvest carrots before the ground freezes.
- Space carrots 3 to 4 inches apart in full sun. Carrots tolerate partial shade, which can be beneficial in hot climates.
- Mix compost or other organic matter into the soil when planting. Carrots need loamy, loose soil for best root development.
- Water immediately after planting, then give plants 1 inch of water per week. When roots start to mature, increase the amount of water to 2 inches per week.
- Mix a continuous-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time and replenish as directed during the growing season.
- Spread mulch (such as chopped leaves or straw) around the plants to keep the soil moist.
- Harvest carrots when you begin seeing the shoulders emerge from the soil. Carrots can be harvested at any stage, but be sure to harvest spring-planted carrots before soil gets too warm and fall carrots before the ground freezes.
- Enjoy carrots as a fresh snack, cook or purée them, shred them to add to baked goods, or preserve them by canning, pickling, freezing, or drying.
- Store carrots in the refrigerator or cool root cellar for up to 2 months.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Carrots belong to the Apiaceae family, which include plants like celery, parsley, and dill. As biennials, carrots left in the garden will form pretty umbels (clusters of tiny flowers) during the second year, which attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and predatory flies that prey upon pest insects, such as aphids and tomato hornworms. So, you might want to sacrifice harvesting a couple carrots so they can produce flowers to benefit your veggie garden next year.
Carrots grow best in full sun and cool weather, so plant them in early spring (as soon as you can work the ground) or late summer/early fall to harvest before the ground freezes. For a super sweet, early carrot harvest, choose Bonnie Plants® Crispy Crunch Baby Carrots (available exclusively at Lowe's). Bonnie grows in more than 70 greenhouses across the country, which means plants don't have to travel far to get to you, so they experience less transport stress.
As with all veggie gardens, good soil is key to a great carrot harvest. Make sure to remove all rocks and roots where you plan to plant carrots—otherwise, you'll probably end up with some funky-shaped veggies! Carrots prefer loamy soil with a neutral pH that's not too high in nitrogen, but they do appreciate plenty of potassium and phosphate to develop healthy roots. If you plan to plant carrots in-ground, give them a great start by adding aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose In-Ground Soil to your garden bed. Organic matter helps retain moisture in the soil while also improving drainage, which is especially important in clay soil.
Carrots grow beautifully in raised beds and containers, too. Check the expected root size of your carrots so you'll know how deep your container or raised bed needs to be for good root development. A variety like Crispy Crunch Baby Carrots will form roots 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 inches long, for example, so you'll want to make sure to choose a container or use a raised bed deep enough to support their growth. When planting in pots, fill them with a light, premium potting mix like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix, which contains nutrient-rich compost. For raised beds, use Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Raised Bed Mix, which provides excellent drainage and important nutrients to promote strong root development.
Once you've chosen where to grow and readied your soil, it's time to plant! Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the plant's roots. Remove the plant carefully from the pot and place it in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Fill in the rest of the hole with more soil, pressingly firmly but gently around the base of the plant. Space carrots 3 to 4 inches apart. Water thoroughly to settle the plants and remove air pockets in the soil. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help prevent weeds and retain soil moisture.
Carrots need about an inch of water per week when young, but as the roots mature, increase water to 2 inches per week. The best way to know if you need to water is to stick your finger in the soil about an inch deep near the plants (but don't disturb the developing roots). If it's moist, there's no need to water. If it's dry, though, it's time to give your plants a drink. As the roots develop, stick your finger in the soil about 2 inches deep to see if it's time to water.
To create healthy roots, make sure to feed your plants regularly. In garden beds, use a continuous release fertilizer designed for vegetables, like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules, starting about a month after planting (see label directions). Pull back the mulch, scatter the fertilizer around the base of the plant, and replace the mulch before watering well. For container-grown carrots, use a convenient, water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition every week throughout the growing season.
Keep an eye on your carrots, because there are a few pests that also think they taste pretty great. Aster leafhoppers looks like 1/8-inch green slivers, but they'll hop when foliage is disturbed, making them more easily visible. While they cause light damage, they can spread a disease known as "aster yellows" that can harm carrots. Carrot rust flies, flea beetles, and carrot weevils also enjoy carrots. Use a light-weight row cover over your plants to prevent pests and protect the crop.
Too much nitrogen in your soil may create hairy or misshapen carrots. Use Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics soils when preparing your beds to help alleviate that worry. Also, remember to remove any rocks or roots in your garden bed before planting carrots to avoid ugly veggies.
Spring-planted carrots left in warm summer soil can become fibrous, so harvest carrots before the soil temperature gets too warm. Likewise, harvest fall-planted carrots before the ground freezes, or place a thick layer of straw mulch on top of carrots to keep the ground warm enough for winter harvests.
Harvest and Storage
It may seem tricky to know when to harvest carrots, but as the veggies mature, you'll begin to see the shoulders emerge from the soil. Many carrot varieties take 60 to 80 days to mature when planted from seed, but Crispy Crunch Baby Carrots should be ready for harvest about 30 to 40 days after planting. Don't leave spring-planted carrots in warm soil, though—it's better to harvest them a little early than too late. Fall-grown carrots that mature in cool soil can be left longer before harvest, but dig them before the ground freezes to preserve their quality.
To harvest carrots, loosen the soil around the root with a trowel, then gently pull the carrot from the ground. Remove the green tops to prevent moisture loss, rinse the roots, pat them dry, then store them in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator or cold root cellar for up to 2 months. Carrots can also be pickled, canned, dried, or frozen.
How to Use Carrots
Carrots taste great eaten fresh, but they're also delicious cooked. When braised with a bit of oil, carrots caramelize with their own sugars, making a sweet, simple side dish. They're delicious grilled, roasted, and used in salads, stir-fries, and soups, too. Carrots can also be used to add moisture and vitamin A to baking recipes.
Whether or not to peel carrots is a personal preference. As long as you wash carrots well and remove all debris, they're perfectly fine to use with the skin on.
Don't forget other members of your family when preparing carrots. Cooked carrots make a great addition to homemade dog food, while other pets (like rabbits and horses) prefer them raw. Dogs can also eat raw carrots, but be sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces. And, the youngest members of the family can enjoy homegrown carrots, too—puréed fresh carrots make fabulous baby food!