How to Successfully Grow Carrots

How to germinate the most ungerminaetiest seed of them all – the carrot. Carrots are notoriously difficult to germinate which is why so many people think they’re hard to grow. They’re not, they’re just hard to germinate.

So what’s with the picture of the carrot cake?  It all ties in to germinating carrots. My former fella’s favourite birthday cake was carrot cake with a cream cheese icing.  It’s what his mother used to make him.

Years ago my plan was to grow all the carrots I needed to make the cake for his birthday. An ambitious plan that went horribly, horribly wrong.

Why?

Carrots are a bitch to germinate. Also, the year I was planning to do this, the fella ran away and I never heard from him again until a week later when I texted him a photo of me pirouetting his things into the dump.  

Carrot germination is sporadic at best if you don’t take certain precautions.  A clump will grow and then nothing else, then a month later a few more might sprout.  Or sometimes they just don’t sprout at all and you hate them.

You can fix  your relationship with germinating carrots.   Here’s how.

How to Germinate Carrots

Carrots like 2 things to germinate.  Darkness and moisture.  

Like mould. Or a yeast infection.   If they don’t have either of these things even for a day, their germination rate can drop by 50%.

One of the easiest ways to increase your carrot germination rate is to pre-sprout your seeds by “planting” them on a wet paper towel.

  1. You need squares of cardboard, carrot seeds, and paper towels.
  2. Place a very damp paper towel on a piece of cardboard (or anything else sturdy, the cardboard is just to keep the seeds stable).
  3. Place your carrot seeds 2 inches apart across the whole paper towel until it’s covered.  You’ll plant about 20-25 seeds per paper towel.*  Since I plant a lot of carrot varieties, I label each board to know what’s what.
  4. Cover with another wet paper towel. Continue doing this with all of your seeds.
  5. Stack the boards up and place the entire stack in a plastic bag and put it in a dark area.
  6. Then wait.
  • You can also just scatter the hell out of the carrot seeds if you want to go a bit rogue.
Carrots

How to Germinate Carrots

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Estimated Cost: $5

How to help guarantee germination with carrot seeds.

Materials

  • Carrot seeds
  • cardboard
  • paper towels
  • water
  • plastic bag

Instructions

  1. You need squares of cardboard, carrot seeds, and paper towels.
  2. Place a very damp paper towel on a piece of cardboard (or anything else sturdy).
  3. Place your carrot seeds 2 inches apart across the whole paper towel until it’s covered.  You’ll plant about 20-25 seeds per paper towel.  Since I plant a lot of carrot varieties, I label each board to know what’s what.
  4. Cover with another wet paper towel. Continue doing this with all of your seeds.
  5. Stack the boards up and place the entire stack in a plastic bag and put it in a dark area.
  6. Then wait.

In 7 – 10 days you can check to see if anything’s going on in there.

As soon as the seeds have germinated and have a tiny root on them you can take the piece of cardboard and paper towel outside. Carefully slip the paper towel off of the cardboard and onto your garden soil.  Cover with a scant 1/4″ or less of compost or vermiculite so the seeds and paper towel don’t blow away or get eaten by whatever eats things in your particular garden.

How to Germinate and Grow Carrots in the Field

  1. Press seeds in wet/damp soil. (you can use your hand or a board and mallet like I am in the photo to press the seeds into the soil) Soil contact is important.
  2. Cover the rows of seeds with wood boards.
  3. Lift the boards after a week to see if any action is happening. Once you see seeds sprouting, you can remove the boards and remember to keep the area watered.

Lately, over the past 5 years or so, I’ve been planting my carrots in the field. One way to improve your carrot germination a lot is to oversow your seeds into wet soil and cover them with boards.

Covering your carrot seeds with boards will keep the seeds in contact with the damp soil, keep them dark AND prevent anything from eating them.


If it’s ZUCCHINI you’re having trouble take a look at this post to see if you might be growing them all wrong.

(most people grow them wrong)


When to Plant Carrots

Plant carrot seeds 2-4 weeks before your first frost-free date. This will give you a summer harvest.

Plant carrot seeds 10-12 weeks before your first frost. This will give you a late fall harvest.

This method doesn’t give you as good of a germination rate as pre-sprouting, but it’s perfectly acceptable.

Remember to oversow! That’ll improve your chances at getting a good harvest.

In a couple of months you’ll be looking down at a ferny swath of carrots.

No field? No problem.

Grow your carrots in buckets.

A couple of years ago when we were allowed to roam free I toured the University of Guelph’s kitchen garden where they grew a lot of their produce in leftover muffin mix buckets. Carrots, tomatoes, corn, okra … all grown in buckets.

Just remember to drill some drainage holes into the bottom and you have a perfect container for carrots.

That birthday cake for the man that ran away? I still made it. It was the one you saw at the top of the post. I froze a piece of it to eat on the 10th anniversary of my dump run.


This post was originally written 40 billion years ago almost before carrots were invented. It was completely rewritten with new photos for 2021.


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How to Successfully Grow Carrots

134 Comments

  1. Amber says:

    I just realized I’ve been reading your blog for over 10 YEARS. I remember being so sad for you during the the ‘dump run’ as you so gracefully call it. Thanks for the great articles and thanks for the carrot tips ;). I hope your cake tasted delicious. You deserve it!

  2. Karen says:

    I tried this paper towel method a week ago. On the first 3 paper towels I carefully spaced out each insanely tiny carrot seed. By the fourth towel I was done with being careful and just dumped them on and scattered them about. Those all germinated. So when I place all these paper towels in the garden the roots will just penetrate the paper towel? FYI these are Costco paper towels. You know. Bigger. Better. Bigger.

  3. Nicole Feraud Lewis says:

    Karen i really enjoy your real life gardening advice and i agree with you almost all the time.
    Boards and pelleted seeds are the best carrot crop insurance.

  4. Roxanne Pearce says:

    Hi Karen
    Do you think the paper towel process would be good for beets as well?

  5. Ann Visco says:

    Weirdly enough my husband does none of this and we have carrots going nuts. He literally just throws the seeds on the dirt and rakes more dirt over. I buy broccoli plants and they’re dead in a couple weeks.

  6. Tracy King says:

    I wish I had seen this literally a week ago. 🤦‍♀️ I just planted my garden last Saturday. It’s a circle and I just had fun planting things in increasingly larger circles with the radishes and carrots in a complete circle around the edges like the rings of a target. I just made a trench with my finger, probably waaaay over seeded, covered them up, and watered the ever-loving hell out of them. Then the temp dropped to the 40s (had been the 60-70s.) I think what I have in my favor is that it’s been cool, but overcast and wet. We’ll see what happens. Really glad I covered my tomatoes milk jugs!

  7. Andrew K says:

    The board method looks good. I sow carrot seeds into a 3/4” layer of peat moss which keeps stays damp in a raised bed. Works incredibly well! 🤗

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