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9 June 2021

How to grow carrots

Easy to grow both in the ground and in pots, home-grown carrots are packed with flavour. Find our Best Buy varieties and growing tips.
carrots
CT
Ceri Thomas

Whether you grow carrots in spring and summer for quick, tasty crops or in the autumn for larger roots to store over winter, they're one of the tastiest crops you can grow. 

How to grow carrots: month by month

January February March April May June






SOWING SOWING/HARVESTING SOWING/HARVESTING
July August September October November December
SOWING/HARVESTING SOWING/HARVESTING

HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING

Best carrot varieties

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Best Buy carrots for pots or in the ground
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 16L pot
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366g
This variety was in no hurry to grow too large and so gave us a good number of baby carrots from six to eight weeks after sowing, peaking in week seven. This makes it an ideal choice if you want to harvest baby carrots from a container over a few weeks. We thought the flavour was more intense and sweeter when the carrots were still small, but it was still good as the carrots matured to ‘bunching’ size.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 16L pot
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295g
This popular variety doesn’t produce huge carrots, even when harvested as a maincrop, so it’s a good choice for baby veg. The yield per pot was slightly lower than in other varieties, given its smaller size, but overall, it produced plenty of carrots and more than two thirds were baby-sized. We liked the flavour, which reached a peak of sweetness and tanginess at the same time while the carrots were still baby-sized.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 16L pot
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330g
This variety is a Best Buy maincrop carrot, so you can let it grow on knowing that the carrots will still be excellent. It holds a RHS AGM. The heaviest crops were harvested six and seven weeks after sowing. Around two-thirds of the carrots were baby-sized and only a few were larger. The flavour of the carrots in the first pot was a little weak, but it got better as the carrots grew.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 16L pot
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425g
We had plenty of baby carrots in every pot, with over 60% this size in every pot for four weeks, peaking at seven weeks after sowing, with a massive 84% of baby carrots. The flavour matures as this carrot grows, and was at its best eight weeks after sowing.

What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 16L pot
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454g
This variety holds a RHS AGM and we can see why. It was one of the most uniform carrots that we tested, with most of the carrots in the pot growing at the same rate. Around half of each pot was filled with baby carrots, with the most at six weeks after sowing. We really liked the flavour of this carrot, which was also at its best just six weeks after sowing, so it’s one to harvest early.

Best Buy maincrop carrots
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
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3.9kg
This old favourite was a Best Buy when we tested maincrop carrots in 1999 and also holds an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It’s a long, round-tipped carrot that’s very uniform in length. This makes it quick and easy to prepare, and the taste was good, raw or cooked. It’s sweet and juicy with a strong, carrot taste. It lasted very well in the ground until January, with no cracks, splits or green tops.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
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2.7kg
This is a Nantes type, with long, cylindrical tubers and a rounded end. It’s an AGM, but as it was bred after our last maincrop carrot trial, it’s a Best Buy for the first time. It grew very well in our test, with uniform, long slim roots. It’s very sweet when cooked and its smooth skin makes it quick to prepare. Its skin stayed unblemished, even after months in the ground, and it didn’t split.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
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3.2kg
There are no end of Chantenay-type carrots available, and this one is distinguished by a redder centre. It has short, stubby roots with a slightly ridged outer surface. They weren’t particularly easy to peel as a result, but the sweet taste more than made up for the effort, especially when eaten raw. Most of the carrots lasted well in the ground, but by January, the largest roots had split.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
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3.6kg
This French heirloom variety is often grown for showing, given its long, tapering roots. It certainly gave us a heavy crop and, although the carrots varied a little in shape and length, they were a good size. We liked the taste both raw and cooked. The roots needed little preparation with a smooth, thin skin. It stood well into winter, and the skin was still smooth and unmarked in January.

How we test carrots

Varieties for pots

We chose 25 varieties that we thought would do well as baby carrots and grew them in 15L pots filled with a Best Buy compost for patio pots in our trial gardens in Cambridgeshire. Each pot was covered with a fine mesh to keep out carrot fly. We know  that some varieties take longer to grow to baby size and the flavour can develop as they grow, so we grew four pots of each variety, harvesting the first pot after six weeks, then one pot per week for the next three weeks to see how long they took to reach the perfect size and if more mature carrots tasted better. We weighed and counted the carrots from each pot, grading them to see how many were baby-sized or were too large or too small to fit the bill. We tasted every harvest.

Maincrops

We chose 25 varieties of carrots, selecting old favourites and new varieties we haven’t tested before. In mid-May, we rotavated the ground at our test site, levelled it and added bonemeal. We sowed two 2m-long rows of each variety, and once thes eed had germinated, we thinned them to 5cm between carrots. To avoid our crops being attacked by carrot-root fly, we covered them with fine insect-proof mesh. We harvested three-quarters of our carrots after 12 weeks, in mid-September, and left the rest in the ground, pulling up the remaining carrots in early December and also in mid-January. We weighed, measured and graded the carrots, looking for any with defects, including splits, fangs, green tops, and small or mis-shapen carrots. We tasted them, giving a score for how easy they were to prepare and how tasty they were when eaten raw or cooked.

Do carrots have to be orange?

Carrots weren’t always orange. Most wild carrots are white or purple, while yellow carrots are thought to have derived from purple ones, thanks to a gene mutation.

Dutch growers bred orange carrots from yellow varieties in honour of William I of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange. Breeders now use wild carrots as a way of increasing the nutritional value of new varieties.

We tested eight non-orange carrots and, while we really liked the look of some of them, we were disappointed by the weight of the crop and the taste. We found most of the purple carrots tasted bitter and astringent, while some of the white and yellow ones were just a little flavourless. Many were also woody and tough .Only ‘Atomic Red’ had an outstanding taste, but it yielded a tiny crop

Do carrot-fly resistant varieties taste good?

We found one of the best ways to beat carrot fly is to grow a resistant variety. In our trial, we wanted to directly compare the taste of three carrot fly-resistant and non-resistant varieties to find out which is best to grow. ‘Flyaway’ This is quite sweet and was good eaten raw, but its flavour isn’t as strong as some of our Best Buys. 'Resistafly’ We think it’s best eaten raw when it’s sweet and tender. It loses some flavour when it’s cooked. ‘Maestro’ Opinion on taste was divided. Some of our tasters liked it and thought it was quite sweet, while others found it bland. It’s best eaten as a young carrot.

When to sow

Sow in May for crops that will stay in the ground into winter. Earlier crops can be sown from April, and you can sow until August if autumn is mild. 

Sow a few carrots every few weeks for a succession of crops. Carrots like sandy soil and don’t grow well in clay soils, or in very stony ground. In this case, grow in pots or raised beds

Carrots fork if there is too much nitrogen in the soil. Add manure to the bed the previous autumn and let it break down. A slow-acting, phosphorus-rich organic feed, such as bonemeal, is better for carrots than a nitrogen-heavy, controlled-release fertiliser.

Dig over your plot well, making sure the ground is crumbly enough for roots to push down into and the surface is fine enough to cover the seeds evenly.

Create a drill around 1cm deep and sow seed thinly, then pull the soil back over the seed and water in gently. When the seeds have germinated, thin to around 5-7.5cm between carrots.

Caring for your plants

Cover your seeds with insect-proof mesh to protect from carrot fly. Carrots shouldn’t need much watering. If the foliage starts to wilt, give them a good soak. Weed between the rows regularly, using a hoe or a hand fork. Carrots don’t grow well if they have to compete with weeds.

How and when to harvest

Baby carrots can be harvested from around nine weeks after sowing, but maincrop carrots will need at least 12 weeks to mature. Short carrots, such as chantenay types, can behand-pulled. Longer carrots will need to be gently lifted using a digging fork.

You can leave carrots in the ground until January. Or, store them in a cold, dry, dark space, such as a garage or shed. 

Growing in a pot

You don’t need a deep container to grow baby carrots. Use a 10L or 15L pot, or a windowsill trough and a Best Buy compost for patio pots. If you want to leave your carrots in their pots to mature into maincrop carrots, you will need to add a little bonemeal. This is better than using a controlled-release or liquid feed as these are both very rich in nitrogen, which makes carrots fork. However, if you want to grow baby carrots, there’s no need to feed them: there should be enough fertiliser in the compost to last around six weeks.

You can sow carrots in pots from around April. It’s a good idea to sow a pot every few weeks for a steady supply of baby carrots.

Sow thinly, leaving around 2.5cm between seeds, then cover with 1cm of compost. 

When the seeds have germinated, thin to around 5cm between carrots.  

Carrots in pots should be regularly watered to make sure the compost doesn’t dry out, but avoid keeping them too damp. Weed between the carrots regularly by hand to make sure the carrots don’t have to compete for water and nutrients. 

Baby carrots are ready after around six weeks. The ‘shoulders’ of the carrot should be around 2cm wide when they’re ready to harvest.

Empty out the whole pot, or if you only want a few carrots, pull out a good clump and firm back the compost to let the rest of the pot grow on undisturbed. You may need to add a little more compost to the pot to fill the gap.

Common growing problems

Carrot fly

Carrot fly can be a real problem. They lay their eggs on carrot tops and the developing larvae eat their way through the root, leaving black tunnels that can make the whole carrot inedible.

We found the best way to avoid this is to either cover the crop with insect-proof netting, pegged down around the edges, or grow a carrot fly-resistant variety. Thin seedlings, water and weed on a warm, dry afternoon, when carrot flies are less likely to be flying, and cover with mesh as soon as you have finished.

Read more about carrot fly

Slugs

If slugs are nibbling your seedlings and plants, sprinkle a few organic slug pellets containing ferric phosphate pellets around the crop.

Read more about slugs