Growing carrots each year and looking forward to their crunch and color may be a highlight of every summer for you. Learning how to grow carrots in containers not only maximizes space, it can help you maximize the harvest of you or your kid’s favorite summer crisp vegetable!
Since carrots are a root vegetable, it may come as a surprise to some that they grow so well and can have such a high yield if they are planted in a container instead of mounds of dirt.
The truth of the matter is that, with the right combinations made of pot and variety, many root vegetables can grow in a container and may even be happier there than in the soil.
They are kept safe from prowling rabbits and deer, and container plantings tend to be more of an easily controlled environment so keeping pests at bay is another positive feature.
Carrots aren’t the only root vegetable that can be grown in containers either, but after you give them a try and fall in love with the space saving option that this provides, try out potatoes or radishes as well!
Picking the Right Carrot Varieties for Containers
If you haven’t grown carrots before, or if you are looking for a new variety to try out, then it is a good idea to start this process before attempting to choose anything else, as the variety you pick will shape the size of pot, location, watering needs and light requirement.
Here is a short list of some of the most popular and common varieties to plant and some of their main attributes:
An old classic, this variety has been around for years and years and has been a favorite since its beginning. It is an heirloom variety and is large, every inch of it being full of flavor. It can grow up to 9 inches long and is generally ready for harvest in about 68 days.
A beautiful blend of colors, this variety of carrot will produce carrots that are purple, some that are red, yellow and orange, and some white. They take slightly longer to mature, at 75-80 days and can grow up to 8 inches long!
Short ‘N Sweet
This variety sticks right to its name and provides you with shorter carrots that are bred to have a sweet taste. This is a great option for smaller pots and containers. They produce about four-inch roots and take about 68 days to harvest.
Another great variety for a smaller container, this are pretty, stubby little balls of carrot. A bright orange carrot that is known to be tender and sweet, it is also ready in 60 days, a week at least earlier than most.
A fantastic looking carrot that is long and brightly colorful, bright purple on the outside and a popping orange inside. They grow to about six inches long under the soil and take 65 to 70 days to harvest.
Steps to Growing Carrots in Containers
Finding the Perfect Pot
First you need to pick the right container for you. Since carrots do most of their growing underground, you want to find something that is going to not only fit this growth but also provide some wiggle room for the carrot roots to keep breathing and being able to take up the right nutrients and water that it needs.
When you buy your preferred variety of carrot, be sure to check and know how big they tend to be and get a container that is 1 ½ to 2 times as big as that.
You also need to be sure it has proper drainage, so they don’t rot. If the container does not already have holes, drilling some in the bottom will be the next best option.
Select a Site to plant
Before I add my soil, I always make sure to pick the place where that pot is going to stay because moving it after the soil is added, especially so after it is watered, can get very heavy!
Know that many vegetables do best in areas of full sun, and this will be true for your carrots as well. There are some varieties that have been bred for more shaded areas, however, so you still have options!
Check the packaging that your carrot variety comes in, it will often give you all the information you need.
Making Their New Home: Selecting Soil
Now that the pot has been placed and the variety of carrot has been selected, it is time to fill it with your soil. In many container plantings, it is okay to fill the bottom with a gravel or some crushed up plastic containers to save on soil.
This is not the best idea when planting a root crop as the container area is the total area your vegetable has to fill out and grow.
Instead, fill the pot with a soil that is more of a sandy loam mix as this should have a good balance of water retention as well as allowing the very efficient drainage that most root crops need to grow well and discourage rotting.
Adding organic matter, like compost, into the mix is another great idea since this will supply the carrots with more nutrients as well as increase the water retention, especially if the soil ends up being too sandy.
If a bit more water retention is your game, than adding peat moss to your soil can also be a viable solution to keep it balanced.
Planting the Carrot Seeds
Carrot seeds of any variety are quite small, which means that they won’t need to be buried very deeply. Instead, take a full scoop of soil out of the top of the pot and set it to the side.
Then,it is enough to simply sprinkle them over the top of the soil and pour the soil that you had previously set aside over the seeds, pressing down on it slightly to ensure that the seeds have settled firmly into the soil but still have room around them to breath.
Planting them up to two or three weeks before the last frost date will ensure a healthy first crop as well as maximize the available planting season throughout the spring, summer and fall, getting many harvests of carrots throughout!
Carrots take about 10 days to germinate, so you will have time to pay attention to the rest of your garden before attention needs to be turned on them again.
Carrots are relatively frost resistant, so they can be planted earlier than some other crops that freeze quickly, like tomatoes.
They prefer cooler temperatures, in fact, liking night temperatures of 55 degrees F (12.7 degrees C) and day-time temperatures of 75 degrees F (~24 degrees C). Much higher temperatures will cause lower quality carrots and the ability to move them to a more shaded area is another positive of growing in containers!
The Science of Watering
Watering carrots is very important as this is another one of those root vegetables that the taste may be manipulated by the heat and moisture around it.
The soil around carrots should stay slightly moist while not be soggy.
This is where the good drainage comes in but where high water retention in soil particles is still important. If carrots stay in soil that is kept moist, many varieties will actually grow sweeter.
However, finding the line between sweet and soggy is very important in the health of your harvest!
Carrots don’t need a lot more than being given the right soil to live in and the right amount of water while they grow.
Adding some fertilizers may help, however, in an environment that can be controlled as well as a container can, carrots will normally be able to grow just fine without any supplements if the beginning steps were taken as they should be to cultivate healthy soil.
Weeds generally won’t be a problem; however, it is a smart move to thin the carrots out as you go to ensure that each little root as enough underground room to grow into the full vegetable that you know it can be!
Thinning simply means pulling the plants out that are too close to another, perhaps bigger or healthier-looking young sprout to ensure better growth.
Even if I don’t add any more fertilizer on top of the carrots while they are growing, having prepared for this already.
I will watch and add soil over the tops of the growing roots if they become apparent as I watch them mature.
This will keep the orange part hidden from the sun and safe under the soil layers.
Pests and Diseases
Keep an eye on the bugs that may be around your crop as they may be a cause for alarm, or at least for keeping a closer eye on the leaves and roots of the carrots.
Prevention is going to be the best way to deal with all of these pests and diseases and you may be able to supplement your soil with compounds that will keep the pests away.
Many diseases can be avoided by keeping up a clean container and making sure your watering pattern is as good as possible.
Below is a short list of different diseases and pests to watch out for, including the most common to affect specifically the carrot:
Aster Yellows Disease
Carried by the aster leafhopper, this disease will cause the plant stunted growth both on top and bottom.
This growth on the top is often called “witches’ broom” because of its bushy appearance. On the bottom, it destroys the carrot’s flavor.
This disease is caused by carrot rust flies that will come in and lay their eggs in the soil around the plants.
When they hatch, they burrow into the soil and into the carrot itself, leaving rust-colored tunnels all the way through.
These pests look like a beetle and also lay their eggs and cause burrowing. However, they won’t leave a rust color behind.
Leaf blight is common in many garden vegetables and this remains true for the carrot.
It causes yellow and brown spots on the carrot that will eventually cause them to merge into one and make the tops look sickly and brown.
Finally, all of your work has paid off and you are looking at a beautiful bushy green plant sitting above the confines of the container.
It has come time to pull them out and see what your handiwork has accomplished!
When harvesting, it may be a good idea to try and scoop some of the soil out from around the clumps of carrots.
however, since it is important to plant carrots in pretty loose soil, grabbing them firmly at the bottom of the green stem and gently tugging them out of the soil will generally be enough for them to break free and be placed in whatever bucket or basket you may be using to take them in and clean them.
Finished and Repeat
Now that you have harvested your first round of carrots and are a professional, or even if you need a couple more rounds to perfect your carrot and container growing routine, you are now ready to plant another crop!
You should be able to reuse the container and the soil for four or five carrot harvests, depending on the work you put into the health of your soil beforehand.
In between each go, you may want to ensure the health of your soil and add a bit more compost and stir it in. This also guarantees that the soil is still as loose as you need it to be.
This is also the time to make any amendments you may have thought necessary during the growing period for the last crop, perhaps more sand for drainage, or more peat moss for retention.
How often is it necessary to water carrots?
It is important to keep them moist without overwatering them. Depending on the sun, wind and rain that you are getting in your area, this can vary widely.
One good way to determine whether they need more water is to stick your finger into the top two inches of soil. If it is crumbly and dry, definitely time to water! If it is still very wet, then wait a day or three.
How much space do carrots need to grow?
They can be planted very close together by sprinkling, as they are so slight that planting one at a time is generally more time than it is worth.
They can be thinned afterwards so that there is at least a space of 2-4 inches between each of the plants.
Look at your packet and see how big the carrots will be growing, if they are a smaller variety, they can be grown closer together.
How long do carrots take to grow in containers?
Carrots only take about ten days to germinate, and varietal dependent, will generally take about 65 to 75 days to reach full maturity after planting.
How big (width) do containers need to be for carrots?
This is entirely dependent on how many carrots that you would like to grow at a time.
Planning for each carrot plant to have 1-3 inches, will allow you to determine how much each container can feasibly support. Keep in mind that depth is also going to be important!
How do you know when carrots are ready to harvest?
This is hugely varietal dependent, however, when they have reached a bright orange color is generally a good indicator.
This may not work for you, though, if you like to plant purple, red white or any other color carrot. Keeping a calendar will be the best way to go.
If the packet that your variety came in says it reaches maturity in 65 days, keep track of when that is going to be, check for color, and if all looks well, go ahead and harvest!
How many carrots can you grow in a 5-gallon bucket?
Without overcrowding, you can plant anywhere from 10 large carrots to 25 smaller carrots inside of an average 5-gallon bucket.
Be sure to space them 2-4 inches apart and then you should be fine, even growing in such a small, but amply deep, area.
What happens to a carrot if it is left in the sun instead of covered with soil?
Although it doesn’t encourage toxins to be produced, like it will in potatoes, the sun will cause the top of the carrot to turn green and give it a sharply bitter taste compared with the rest of the carrot that is, hopefully, sweeter.
Learning about how to grow carrots in containers may not only help you to maximize your garden space and harvest, but can be its own project for your kids, making it a little more approachable and small scale for them to start to handle before getting them dirty up to the shoulders in the larger garden, if that’s what you have space for.
With the promise of some great harvests and the versatility that containers provide, growing carrots, potatoes and many other plants, you may find yourself switching to a container garden steadily over the coming years, since they make your plants easier to reach and control the environment for the crops!
If you are being sure to watch the how dry the soil is, as well as its health, then you are sure to have a bounty each season for friends and family to continue to enjoy, all from perhaps only a bucket!
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.