Carrot Growth Stages: How Fast do Carrots Grow?
Thinking of planting carrots but aren't too sure how long it takes them to grow? Carrots can be planted later in the season, but how long does it take for them to fully mature? In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen takes you through all you need to know about the growth cycle of carrots in your garden.
Carrots are a popular vegetable that’s easily grown in the home garden. You can plant carrots in rows or beds or tuck them in among other garden plants. You can even grow carrots in containers. No matter how you grow carrots, they can be a treat, from a tiny seed to a thick orange root vegetable!
Carrots may have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but as long as you understand their basic needs and stages of growth, you can reliably grow your own. Carrots simply need a location with full sun, very loose well-drained soil, and moderately cool temperatures.
You will also need a bit of patience while you wait, keep the plot weed-free, and keep your seeds and seedlings moist as they start their journey from seed to crunchy carrot snack. Let’s dig into the seven carrot growth stages, and how long the plant stays in each one!
Growth Stages of Carrots
The entire process from seed to harvest can vary greatly, anywhere from 50 to 100 days. The differences depend on the carrot variety and the growing conditions.
Carrots grown in ideal conditions will sprout sooner and grow faster to maturity than those grown in less-than-ideal conditions. You can still grow carrots in imperfect conditions, it just takes longer for them to reach maturity.
Let’s now dig in and take a closer look at each of these seven stages of carrot gardening.
Carrots can be a lot of fun to grow. Anyone can enjoy growing carrots, but kids think carrots are especially cool. There’s nothing quite like starting with a tiny brown seed, waiting patiently while watching carrot greens grow, and then pulling a big colorful carrot from the earth.
If you start looking around at carrot seeds, you may be surprised by how many varieties there are. Carrots can be large or small, pointed or rounded, and they are definitely not all orange! Carrots come in many colors including various shades of orange, red, yellow, white, and even pink and purple.
Buy your seeds from a reputable seed company. If you have stored seeds from previous years, it’s good to note that carrot seeds typically last about 3 years. After 3 years, carrot seeds quickly lose viability and if the seeds still sprout, the germination rates will be quite low.
You can plant many carrots in a small space, and you can grow carrots for both a spring and fall harvest. Of course, once you harvest a carrot, it won’t keep growing. So you might want to buy a couple of packs of seeds if you want to grow some in the spring and more in the fall.
The two most important things to consider when choosing a location to plant your carrots are sun and soil. Carrots need full sun, anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of bright sunlight each day is ideal.
Soil needs to be very well-draining; sandy soil is ideal. Carrots also need soil that is high in organic matter. They will need a depth of at least 8 to 12 inches of loose, well-drained soil so you can get nice thick straight carrot roots. The pH should be between 5.5 and 7.5, but the ideal soil pH to grow carrots is between 6.0 and 6.8.
Many people like to get a head start on the growing season by starting seeds indoors and then transplanting them outside.
This doesn’t work too well with carrots and it is best to directly sow them outside where you want them to grow. Before you start sprinkling seeds on the ground, make sure you have a location with the ideal sun and soil conditions.
When to Sow
Timing is important. Carrots are considered a cool-season crop and many people find that carrots taste sweeter when grown in cool temperatures rather than those that mature during the warmest months. The good news here is that you can potentially have two crops of carrots each year, the first crop harvested in the spring and the second in the fall.
Carrot seeds germinate best in moderately cool soil temperatures. Ideally, you will want the soil temperature to be between 55° and 65°F, but carrot seeds will germinate in soil temperatures anywhere from 40° to 85°F. Soils that are too warm or too cold will have a negative impact on seed germination and plant growth.
For a spring harvest, sow carrot seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. For a fall harvest, sow your carrot seeds approximately 10 weeks before the first fall frost date for your area.
How to Sow
Many people like to grow carrots in rows. If you prefer the look and ease of neat rows, sow the seeds ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart. Create as many rows as you want that are 12 to 24 inches apart. After germination, you will thin the seedlings to one plant every 2 to 4 inches.
If you prefer a more intensive use of space, grow carrots in a raised bed or even in a large container. Sow the seeds ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart. You can fill a small space with intensively planted seeds.
After the seeds germinate and start to develop leaves, you will thin them to one seedling every 3 to 4 inches. You can arrange them into a grid like pattern, or slightly more staggered. The measurements don’t need to be exact, as long as there are a few inches between each plant.
After sowing seeds, keep the area moist, but not wet. Carrot seeds are very small and will dry out quickly. Water your seeds frequently to ensure that they are consistently moist. And then wait – patiently – for your seeds to germinate.
Carrots are slow to get started so you will need a lot of patience. It can take anywhere from 14 to 21 days for carrot seeds to germinate. Keep the seeds moist while you are waiting. It is unlikely all your carrots will germinate at once, but they may sprout over the course of a week or so.
When a seed germinates, the tough outer layer softens, cracks open, and a tiny rootlet appears. You probably won’t see this first root because it will be headed down directly into the soil.
It’s really important to continue to keep the seeds moist as they are germinating. If the newly germinating seeds dry out at this point, you might lose your carrot plant.
The very first green leaf you see is not a true leaf but a cotyledon. The first leaves that emerge from any seed are called cotyledons and they have their own unique look.
When you plant a carrot seed, the first green you see will be a pair of long, thin cotyledons. If you are familiar with the typical frilly carrot leaves, don’t be alarmed that the cotyledons look different.
Cotyledons will appear shortly after germination and will be the first visible above-ground sign that your seeds have sprouted. Cotyledons are quickly followed by true leaves.
After the first couple of true leaves emerge, the cotyledons will turn yellow and drop off and the true leaves become the star attraction. Carrot cotyledons may last for a couple of weeks in total, from emergence to dropping off and full replacement by true leaves.
Anywhere from 1.5 to 3 weeks after sowing your carrot seeds, you will see the first true leaves. The first one will be very small and will appear from a short stem between the pair of cotyledons. It will be quite tiny but distinctly frilly and carrot-like.
Soon, more small carrot leaves will emerge, each from a long stem with a bit of frilly greenery at the end.
Over the next couple of weeks, the leaves will start getting larger and your plants will begin to look like miniature carrot plants.
The leaves will each develop on a long green stem, all of which will emerge from a central point (which will eventually become the top of the carrot). When the plants have each developed a few true leaves, it’s time to do some thinning.
Thinning is important because carrots need a little space between plants in order to develop a healthy root. If they are too crowded together, they will compete for light and nutrients and the roots will compete for growing space.
To thin out the extra carrots, gently pull them straight up from the ground. At this point, because they are so small, they should come up very easily.
If you planted your carrots in rows, thin them to one plant every 2 to 3 inches along the row. If you planted your carrots in an intensively planted raised bed or container garden, thin them to one plant every 2 to 4 inches, so they each have a little bit of distance between their nearest neighbors.
You can also stagger the thinning process. Do an initial thinning when the plants have just a few true leaves, leaving one carrot every 1 to 2 inches. Then around 3 to 4 weeks later, do a second thinning, leaving one carrot every 2 to 4 inches.
The carrots you removed in the first thinning were likely too small to bother with eating. But any small carrots that you remove with this second thinning are perfectly edible and can be eaten as an early harvest of baby carrots!
This is the time when your carrots will do some very fast growing. Leaves will become dense and bushy, carrot roots will thicken. Plants need a lot of bright sunlight, cool temperatures, and consistent moisture during this time.
Carrots are cool-season crops. They grow best when temperatures are between 60°F and 75°F. Temperature extremes, either too cold or too hot, can kill the plant or stunt its growth. During this primary growth phase, continue to keep the soil moist and make sure your plants get plenty of bright sunlight.
Carrots don’t typically have too many problems with insect pests, but there are a few issues that you should be aware of. If you notice any problems with your carrot crop, try to act quickly to address the issue before the problems progress any further.
When is the best time to harvest carrots? Since the part you want to eat is growing underground, it can be difficult to judge when they are ready. You can make a decision based on time, size, or color.
Carrots can typically be harvested anywhere from 50 to 80 days from sowing the seeds, or 55 to 60 days after the seedings first sprout. Each variety of carrot will be a little bit different, so it’s best to refer to your seed package for specific harvest instructions.
Many people will say that carrots tend to take longer than what the seed packets claim, however, so don’t be too surprised if your first harvest is later than you expected, even up to 100 days.
More than likely, you will see the top of the carrot poking out through the soil. Depending on the variety of carrot, when the visible top of the carrot is ½ -inch to 1-inch across, it’s time to harvest. You will likely discover, however, that not all your carrots are the same size at the same time. You will probably have some that are noticeably thicker or thinner than others.
Assuming your carrots are all planted fairly close together, it can be difficult to harvest the thicker roots without disturbing the thinner roots, so just wait until most of the roots are approximately large enough and you should get a pretty good harvest.
A good sign that your carrots are ready for harvest is that they will simply look like carrots. If you are growing orange carrots, look for orange carrot tops poking out.
How to Harvest
As tempting as it may be, don’t just grab the green carrot tops and yank them out of the ground. If you try this method, you will end up with many broken carrots, and you will be digging around in the ground in search of broken carrot chunks.
When you are ready to harvest a row or cluster of carrots, first identify which plants you want to harvest. You don’t have to harvest an entire row all at once, but it’s probably best to work with them in clusters because you will need to do a bit of soil disturbance to remove them.
Using a trowel, spade, or garden fork, loosen the soil around the carrots you want. When the soil is loosened and the carrots are loose and wiggle freely, gently grasp the greens near the base and pull straight up.
The carrots should release easily from the surrounding soil. If not, loosen the soil some more and try again. If you end up pulling them too hard you risk breaking off your carrots in the ground
Carrots can be a little challenging to grow, but well worth the effort. You have to be patient while waiting for them to sprout. Keep the soil consistently moist from sowing until the vegetative growth phase.
You will also need to provide deep, light, loose but fertile soil to get the best root development. Otherwise, it can be tremendous fun trying unique and different carrot varieties in a variety of bright colors. And of course, the best part is pulling a big crunchy carrot from the ground and enjoying the freshest and tastiest carrots ever!