How to Grow Carrots in Pots or Containers in 9 Easy Steps
Are you thinking of adding some container grown carrots to your vegetable garden this season? Growing carrots in pots or containers is a bit easier than many people think! In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Sarah Hyde shares 9 simple steps to grow carrots in pots or containers this season!
Garden grown carrots are a favorite amongst gardeners all over the world. The flavor and freshness beats the grocery store every time. Carrots are easy to grow, and don’t take up a lot of space. Plus, you can choose to plant every color of the rainbow! Carrots can even be grown in containers for gardeners that do not have access or space for an in ground plot.
There’s a few important factors that you don’t want to miss though, when it comes to container planting carrots in your garden. Growing carrots in shadier areas can have consequences, and so can picking the wrong type of soil.
So, where do you start? We’ve assembled a step by step guide that will walk you through everything you need to know about container planting your carrots this season. By following the 9 simple steps outlined below, you’ll be well on your way to a bountiful container carrot yield this growing season!
Step 1: Choose the Right Variety
Carrots thrive when they have deep, loamy soil to stretch their roots, ideally 12 inches of soil space. If you are using deep containers, then your choice of variety is hardly limited. However, when you are growing in containers that may not be a realistic depth.
One option is to choose short rooted varieties, such as Parisian Market, a round-rooted variety, or Red Cored Chantenay, a short, stocky workhorse variety. Both of these varieties are open pollinated.
If your container provides adequate depth for a full size carrot, your choices of what variety to grow are more extensive. With adequate root space, all types of carrots will grow in containers. One consideration is how large the greens get, and opting for a smaller-statured green may be better suited for container growing.
Do not buy carrot transplants from a nursery (if you can even find them). Carrots do not like to be transplanted and will not thrive.
When buying carrot seed, decide if you want to grow hybrid or open pollinated varieties, or both. Read the variety description or look for “F1” after the variety name to indicate a hybrid seed. No F1 indicates the variety is open-pollinated.
Hybrids are the result of the crossing of two-parent plants and have “hybrid vigor,” or the best traits of both parents. Hybrid seed tends to perform reliably and carrots tend to be more uniform than open-pollinated seeds. However, you cannot save seeds that will come true from hybrids.
Growing open-pollinated seeds has many benefits too – one is that the seed is much less expensive than hybrids. You can save your own seed from open-pollinated carrots. (Note: in container growing, there are not enough carrots growing in a single container to have proper genetic diversity.)
Step 2: Use the Biggest Container You Can
When it comes to containers, use the biggest, deepest size container you can. Bigger containers hold more water and dry out more slowly than small containers. Also, big containers provide adequate area for root growth, an essential when growing a root crop!
Anything less than 6 inches will not be enough soil space and your carrots will probably not mature fully. The only exception to this is if you are growing round-rooted carrot types, though even these carrots will benefit from a deeper pot. Always use a container with drainage holes in the bottom.
Step 3: Mix Fertilizer With Soilless Potting Media
Use a soilless potting media to fill your containers. Soilless mixes provide the best drainage, which is especially important when growing in containers. Soilless potting media does not have weed seeds, which means you should not have to weed your containers except for weed seeds that are wind-blown.
Do not use garden soil, bagged top soil, pure compost, or bagged manure in your containers. Using these will result in poor drainage, water-logged soil, and potentially contain weed seeds and soil pathogens.
Carrots will be in the soil for a minimum of 40 days, but other varieties take as long as 70-80 days to mature. During this time they will need nutrients, and most soilless potting mixes naturally have very little nutrients in them. Check to see if your bagged potting mix contains fertilizer, and if not, add a granular (dry) balanced vegetable fertilizer before planting.
Make sure the premixed fertilizer or fertilizer that you add is recommended for vegetables. It should be indicated on the bag what the N-P-K numbers are, and a balanced fertilizer means the numbers are the same (ie: 5-5-5-).
Organic fertilizer’s N-P-K numbers are almost always much lower than conventional or synthetic fertilizer N-P-K numbers. If you mix your own potting soil or buy potting soil without added fertilizer, plan to add a balanced vegetable fertilizer to the soilless potting media before you plant. Follow the specifications on the bag to determine how much to add and when to reapply.
One extra tip is to moisten the soilless potting media evenly before planting seeds. This helps the seeds adhere to the soil and helps the post-seeding watering drain down through the pot better.
Step 4: Make Your Trench
Before you sow the carrot seeds, make parallel, slight trenches in the potting soil with the side of your hand where the seed will go. Space the trenches about 2” apart.
Forming these before sowing the seed helps guide your sowing and ensures that the seeds will stay put when watered rather than running off the top of the soil. It also helps you space your seed more evenly.
Step 5: Sow Seeds & Cover Lightly
With dry hands, carefully sow the seeds 1” apart. Tamp the seeds down into the trench gently with the side of your hand and cover lightly. Tamping down gently after covering also helps make good soil contact with the seeds.
Since carrot seed is expensive and containers are generally not huge growing areas, it pays to take your time when sowing tiny carrot seeds. The more carefully you sow now, the less thinning you will have to do later, and you should have a more evenly-growing crop.
Step 6: Water and Cover to Germinate
Gently water your seeds. Be extra careful not to wash them away with too strong of a water stream. Use the smallest droplet watering nozzle or can you have.
Carrot seeds like to be in moist soil until germination. Since germination can take as long as 14 days for carrots, you will have to check the soil moisture daily. Water gently again if the soil is dry, but never drown the seeds.
To help keep the soil moist, cover the soil (making contact with the soil) with a row cover, an old cloth, or burlap. This will help reduce evaporation off the surface of the soil and keep the soil more moist for longer. As soon as you see the first green hook of a carrot sprout emerge from the soil, remove the cover.
Step 7: Thin the Seedlings
After your carrot seeds have germinated and have their cotyledon leaves, you can start thinning them to approximately 1” apart. It is easiest to thin the seedlings at cotyledon stage before they get their true leaves whose feathery shapes get entangled with one another.
Though it may be hard to thin out seedlings you worked hard to germinate, it is better to give the remaining plants enough space to mature quickly and evenly.
Overly crowded carrots do not mature well, and occasionally not at all if they are too crowded. If you were very precise in your seed sowing, you may not have to thin the seedlings at all!
Step 8: Keep Well Watered and Fed
Carrots do not do well when their soil dries out. Extreme swings between wet and dry soil can cause lengthwise splitting of the roots. When they are planted in a container it is especially important to keep the soil from drying out completely. They do not like to be constantly saturated either.
Check the soil moisture by feeling the soil before watering. If the soil is dry down to the second knuckle, water deeply until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, but not dry out completely. You may need to check on your carrots more frequently if you are growing them in a hot and arid climate.
Watering occasionally with fish emulsion fertilizer is a great way to give your carrot seedlings a drink of nitrogen while they are young. Dilute the liquid fish fertilizer to the specifications on the bottle and water with a watering can. Apply based on the product recommendation. Do not fertilize with fish emulsion within a week of harvesting for food safety considerations.
Step 9: Harvest
Check the maturity of your carrots by observing their stems and shoulders. The stems should be thick at the base where they meet the root with many layers of leaf growth.
The shoulders or tops of the roots may be visible above the soil line and that is a great way to estimate the size of the carrot. If no shoulders are visible, gently brush soil away from the tops of a few carrots to see the shoulders. If you reveal a tiny-size carrot, just gently brush the soil back and wait a week to check again!
Once the greens are thick and the shoulders appear large, go ahead and pull one carrot out to see the size. It can help to gently hold down the surrounding carrots, especially if they do not look mature.
Once most of the carrots are mature, you can either harvest them all at once or as needed. The carrots will continue to grow slowly in the container and will be available as you need them. Just be sure to harvest them all before the deep freeze of winter.
After harvesting, be sure to wash them before eating. Carrots store best in the fridge without their greens. Keeping the greens on the carrots in storage only causes the carrots to become floppy, since the greens are continually pulling moisture out of the roots to survive.
Carrots are a fun and rewarding crop to grow. From a tiny seed grows a fantastic treat. Try as many different colors and varieties as you can to find your favorites. The best part is that carrots can be grown in containers!
They do require a bit of care and attention, especially when they are small. By following these 9 easy steps, you can learn how to grow your own carrots in containers successfully!