How to Grow Carrots in Imperfect Dirt.

How to Grow Carrots: A Guide to Planting, Growing, and Harvesting

My dad told me years ago that I’d never get carrots to grow in my hard clay dirt. I figured it was worth a try. I get some great formations…and I also get enough to feed my family, thank-you-very-much. (big smile) If I can grow carrots…so can you! 

Carrots are one of the most delicious and versatile veggies around! But they offer a lot more than just baby carrots, especially when you can enjoy homegrown carrots in your own garden. Learn everything you need to know about growing carrots, from planting to harvesting, in this guide!  

how to grow carrots

How Do You Grow Carrots Successfully?  

I’m not so certain I can call myself an expert on how to grow carrots. But I can certainly say I grow great interesting and intriguing carrots in hard packed clay soil dirt. There are a few things you can do to make your efforts more worth while.

Growing Carrots Quick Tips 

  • Suggested Soil Temp: 45 degrees F 
  • When to Sow Indoors: NA 
  • When to Sow Outdoors: 3 to 5 weeks before Last Spring Frost o 10 weeks before First Fall Frost  
  • When to Grow Carrots: Spring, Fall  
  • Seed Depth: ¼” 
  • Days to Germination: 7 to 21 Days 
  • Spacing: 1” 
  • Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade  
  • Watering Requirements: Moderate  
  • Good Companions: Beans, Cabbage, Lettuce, Onion, Peas, Peppers, Radishes, Sage, Tomatoes  
  • Bad Companions: Celery, Dill (same family) 

Varieties of carrots  

There are different colors to choose from, too! Aside from “traditional” orange carrots, you can also find seeds for purple, red, yellow, and even white carrots!

If you’ve got hard, less than perfect, clay soil, what you’ll want to do is choose a variety that grows a bit shorter and stockier. I’ve had success with 2 varieties; Danvers Half Long, and Scarlett Nantes. They are stockier carrots and do better in hard clay soil. They will grow 6″ to 8″ long. Both are orange carrots with a more blunt point. The bonus is both are great for canning and preserving as well.

Plant a whole rainbow in your garden to enjoy different colors that can be difficult to find at the grocery store. Purple carrots in particular are said to be high in anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant).  

How Do You Prepare Soil for Growing Carrots? 

Carrots are fairly finicky about their soil. It should be light, loose, and well-draining, without clods or rocks that could cause misshapen carrots. This means that before planting carrot seeds, you need to prepare your soil properly beforehand. Expecially that hard soil.

I’m a pretty strong believer of no till gardening. Your soil will improve and get better and softer each year with proper care and lots and lots of composting and mulching. The fact is though if you’r soil is still hard and you want to plant carrots you’ll need to loosen things up. A great alternative to tilling is using a broad-fork. This tool takes your dirt and basically lifts it without totally stirring things up and killing all the life in your dirt. If your soil is even too hard for the broad-fork use a shovel to turn your dirt over. Adding compost as you work is the best thing you can do.

Before sowing seeds, do what you can to loosen the soil. Rake the soil to smooth the top, removing any rocks you find in the planting space.  Carrots seeds are tiny and the less obstructions they have the better.

Just the best you can and prepare soil the best you can.  Don’t give up too soon if your soil is not picture perfect.  Prepare that soil and get ready to plant. Remember it will never grow if you don’t plant it. If your carrots are less than perfect at least you’ll have a small harvest. If you get nothing… it only cost you the cost of the seed.

Best soil for planting carrots? 

If your in-ground soil isn’t good for growing carrots, you might want to look into using a raised bed instead, since that will allow you to grow carrots in a more ideal environment.  If you have deep soil, you can grow longer varieties.

How to Plant Carrots 

Carrots are directly sown in the garden, not started indoors and transplanted like other crops. The seeds are very light and tiny, so be careful if you’re planting them on a windy day!  

Sow them evenly, so they don’t grow all on top of each other unnecessarily. You’ll end up thinning them so don’t worry if some get bunched up but keep it as even as possible. Sow them ¼” deep, about 1” apart, in rows a few feet apart or so.  

Tiny baby carrots just emerging with two tiny leaves.
Baby carrots just sprouting with two tiny leaves.

How to Sow Carrot Seeds Evenly

So how in the world are you to get these tiny little seeds to be evenly sown through your garden row?

Very carefully! haha, actually they are known for being a bit had to sow carrots evenly. So just do the best you can and you can thin them out to be more even later. ( I seem to say ‘just do the best you can‘ a lot don’t I?)

I’ve read some options sowing carrots seeds.

  • Add your carrot seeds to a cup of sand. Sprinkle the sand carrot mixture and it spreads out the carrot seeds a bit more.
  • Purchase seed strips. These are pre-made strips that include seeds spread out more precisely.
  • Purchase pelleted seed. These seeds are coated with a layer of clay that makes them larger and easier to handle. The clay will dissolve once it is in the damp dirt.
  • Sow radishes with your carrot seeds. The radishes come up first and will break up the soil for your carrots. Radishes will be harvested before they crowd out the carrots.
  • Create your own seed strips. Take some toilet paper, spread out your carrot seeds to the thickness you want. Add another strip of toilet paper on top and spritz the whole thing with water. The water keeps the seeds in place as you place it in your row. Cover lightly. The TP will be gone by the time the seeds start sprouting. I haven’t tried this but it sounds like a lot of work to me. I can’t imagine the TP holding up to the water very well. If you’ve had luck with this method I’d love to hear about it below in the comments. I may just have to try this method and see if it works.

Personally, I like the simple method. I scatter the seeds on wet soil as best I can then sprinkle dirt over the top of the seed. Or run my hand over them kind of gently scratching them down into the dirt.

After it is all covered lightly, I again wet the soil down. Be easy with watering the seeds. You don’t want to just gush a lot of water out of your hose, it will move the seeds around and wash them out. Use the mister setting on a hose wand, or use a watering can. This seems to work well.  

Carrot seedlings about 2 inches tall.
Carrot Seedlings

Keep the Carrot Seeds Wet Until Germination

The soil must be kept wet until the carrots have germinated. The seedlings are delicate and will not break any crust that may form. Uhm…like hard clay soil does. :0)  

You can also cover the row with something to shade them which will maintain moisture better.  I’ve done a strip of burlap and that works well.  It lets any water and air circulate but shades the seedling row a bit.  I’ve read of people who simply place a board along the row.   

When the seeds germinate remove the covering. If you leave the covering it will shade your seedlings. Seedlings love the light and the warmth of the sunshine.

Believe it or not, carrots aren’t always quick to germinate, sometimes taking up to 21 days to sprout. Be patient! 

When to Plant Carrots 

Carrots may be grown as a spring or fall crop. They prefer cooler weather over hot weather so avoid planting in the heat of mid summer.   

  • In the spring, plant carrots 3 to 5 weeks before your Last Spring Frost.  
  • In the fall, plant carrots 10 weeks before your First Fall Frost. They prefer cooler weather over hot weather.  

Growing Carrots 

Carrots do require some tending to produce well. Here’s what you need to know about growing carrots.  

Thinning Out Carrots 

I hate thinning! I always feel like I’m killing little plants that I worked so hard to get started. But it really does need to be done with carrots. If they are growing too close it will stunt their growth or cause mutations. Carrots will crowd one another if they grow too closely together. Once the tops are about 4” in height, you’ll need to thin them to 2” to 4” apart. Cut away the extras with scissors. (Eat the thinnings! Even carrot tops are edible.) 

Succesion Thinning.

When I thin my carrot seedlings I like to leave them just a little closer than they need to be as fully grown carrots. Then I’ll come in when they are still small but have tiny carrots in the ground. I will thin more and have baby carrots for dinner. :). I do the same with beets. I did a video here on how I thin beets. (opens in youtube) It is the same concept with my carrots. (btw, subscribe to my channel while you are there!)

Controlling Weeds While Growing Carrots 

Mulching Carrots 

Carrots are especially vulnerable to competition with weeds in the garden, so make sure and keep them under control.  

Putting mulch around carrots has many benefits, including trapping moisture in the soil, cutting down on weeds, shading the roots from sunlight, and even protecting carrots from cold temperatures later!  

I also read that planting a companion in with the carrots that will shade the roots will help the carrots stay sweeter. Try Swiss chard. 

Mulching will also help your soil improve year after year.

The Best Fertilizer for Carrots 

Carrots are heavy potassium users but also need nitrogen and phosphorus. Your best bet is to have your soil tested to see what the soil needs. If you are already heavy on potassium there is no point in adding it. Check with your local county extension agency on how to get your garden soil tested. It is as easy as taking a soil sample and mailing it in. In my area it cost 15.00 to get a full report back with suggestions on what to add and when.

You could add a general fertilizer before you plant to add fertility to the soil. Just remember too much nitrogen will cause forking and less desirable shapes in your carrot roots, so keep that in mind and don’t overdue the nitrogen. Many organic natural fertilizers are just nitrogen. Carrots need all three. Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P), Potassium (K). (NPK). Choose a fertilizer with equal amounts of all three or maybe just slightly less nitrogen.

Carrot Tops Turning Green 

It is important to shade the roots from the sunlight because if the tops are exposed they can turn green.  This is simply chlorophyl being created from the sunlight. It is cosmetic and is perfectly edible. Sometimes people are worried about eating green carrots because the same thing can happen in potatoes. But when growing potatoes the green can be toxic and should not be eaten.

If your carrots turn green towards the top and you don’t like the looks of it just cut it off.  It is not dangerous.   

Harvesting Carrots 

After 70 to 80 days, your carrots are ready for harvest! 

Carrots covered in dirt.
I think these are Danvers Half Long. (I don’t remember what I planted!) These were overwintered in my garden and I pulled them up in spring.

When to Pick Carrots 

You will know a carrot is ready to pick when you can see the size of the crown. Most times it will be just at the surface of the soil. But you might want to feel down around the crown that will be just above the soil line. Occasionally it is misleading. The carrot top seems small but when you pull it up… you’ve got a full size carrot. A lot of the size will depend on the carrot variety you are growing. Some get nice and fat, some are long and skinny.

You can also keep them in the ground into cooler temperatures, which is a great technique for root crops in general, actually. (More on that in a moment.)  

How to Harvest Carrots  

To harvest carrots, pull or dig them from the soil, being careful not to cut or break the roots apart. They can be stuck deeply in the soil sometimes!  

If you’re like me, you have hard dirt, you’ll need to be sure and water them well before you try to pull. The tops may just break off if you pull too hard and the dirt has a good hold. You may also need to use a pitchfork or other gardening tool to gently loosen the dirt around the carrots. Do your best not to damage the root.  

Other times you are better off not watering first. (It can make it muddy.) If your soil is loose enough just grasp the tops and pull up and wiggle just a bit. You basically have to just try a few to. see what works for you.

What could possibly go wrong? Nothing that is the end of the world. Just try it.

  • If you break off the tops, (it happens) dig down around the carrot to expose the carrot itself enough that you can grab ahold. Pull.
  • If you end up breaking the carrot in half way down in the dirt,(it happens) you could spend the time to dig the other half out. I don’t. I just leave it in the soil. It will rot and add to the nutrients and benefit the soil anyway.
  • If you pull out a carrot that isn’t really ready yet (it happens) You can check a few more. Or just stop. My carrots are never perfectly sized equal and beautiful. I will often go out harvest the ones I can tell are ready and leave some for another day.

Common Carrot Pests & Diseases  

Unfortunately, carrots aren’t without their pest problems, including carrot rust flies, flea beetles, slugs, cutworms, and leaf hoppers. Using crop rotation and properly removing old plants from the garden should help cut down on some of these problems, though there are other methods of control too, including using row covers.  

Carrots can also be susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases, which is part of the reason why you should be careful to control weeds around the plants.  The only one I’ve dealt with is crown rot. I thought it was just that we had a lot of rain and that was causing the crowns of my carrots to rot. But apparently it is actually a fungus. This is a good resource for identifying some issues that might occur with your carrots and how to handle them.

How to Store Carrots 

Cut off the tops before storage (the tops are edible too), wash, and dry carrots before storing in the fridge. Keep them in a plastic bag. 

Freshly picked carrots in a yellow strainer being rinsed with a stream of water.

How to Keep Carrots Fresh After Harvest  

Under ideal conditions, carrots can be kept fresh after harvest for quite a good while, for several months at minimum. The optimal storage temperature is 35 degrees F, with an optimal humidity of 95 to 100%. 

If they aren’t keeping well, you can also preserve carrots for storage, using many different methods: 

Canning Carrots 

Canning carrots is a great way to stock your pantry shelves with ready-to-use carrot pieces. After processing, they’re quite soft, but they still make good additions to soups or side dishes. Learn how to can carrots here.

Dehydrating Carrots 

Dehydrating carrots is another colorful way to preserve your bounty! Through the years, I’ve actually discovered that I use dehydrated carrots more frequently than canned carrots. Learn how to dehydrate carrots here.

Pickling Carrots 

If you don’t have a pressure canner, try making pickled carrots in a water bath canner! They’re colorful and have a delightfully spiced flavor from the brine. Learn how to pickle carrots here.

Storing Carrots in Ground  

Because they’re a root crop, carrots also store well in the ground, even into the winter if given the proper protection with something like mulch! Cold weather makes them taste better anyway, like most root crops. 

Root cellaring is another option, where you pack the carrots in boxes between layers of sawdust or damp sand, removing spoiled carrots as they appear. You can read more about root cellaring here.

You could even build your own “mini” root cellar using a buried container.  

  • Link – Topped carrots can be stored for up to 4 to 5 months at 32°F and 90% – 95% RH without noticeable loss of quality.

Comparison & Tips for Growing in Different Climates 

I recently moved across the country from Western Colorado to Tennessee, so now I have a completely different growing season and soil conditions! I was curious what might be the differences between growing in these different locations, and here is what I found.

Growing Carrots FAQ 

How Long Do Carrots Take to Grow? 

Carrots are a slower growing crop than, say radishes, taking around 70-80 days to reach maturity (though it depends somewhat on the variety).  

Carrots or Parsnips? 

Have you ever seen fat, somewhat ugly white roots at the grocery store? Those are actually parsnips, not carrots! They’re in the same family as carrots, but they remind me almost of a cross between a carrot and a rutabaga or turnip. I didn’t eat parsnips until my husband introduced me, and I grow both of them now! You treat them similar to the way you’d treat a carrot. You can find pictures of parsnips on this page:  

Can I Grow Carrots in Containers? 

If your soil is very heavy, you might wonder if you can grow carrots in containers. And yes! You can! Just make sure to provide the ideal soil in a tall enough pot to accommodate the roots, choosing a shorter carrot variety. 

Types of Carrots  

There are many different types of carrots, coming in different shapes, sizes, and colors. You have imperator carrots with their long roots all the way to the chantenay carrots with their short roots, with danver and nantes in between.  
Originally, believe it or not, carrots weren’t necessarily orange! They could have been white or purple. Read more here: and  

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How to grow carrots

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  1. 4 stars
    I’m not sure why but this blog is loading extremely
    slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  2. HI Twicsy, I checked the page and the site and I’m not seeing a slow loading time. Please let me know if you continue to have issues.

  3. Hi Sharon!

    I love your info on how to grow carrots! I appreciate your experience and your wonderful photos.

    Over thirty-five years ago, my parents taught us to lay a board over our carrot seed row for at least a week. Guess what? It gave the carrots a much better head start in germinating ahead of the weeds. It worked beautifully!!! I think you could go a full two weeks.

    Thank you for all of this friendly gardening info!

  4. I have heard of doing that. I wondered if it would work as it does block the warmth from the ground that the seeds are in. But maybe I should give it a try. :). Thanks Mary.

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