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. Allison says:

    I am surprised to learn that carrots are problematic. I always seed them straight into the garden at the end of May and up they come! I usually have to thin them.

    Now, of course, I’ve probably jinxed myself, and the lovely multi-coloured variety I just planted will all fail to launch.

  2. Laura M says:

    Carrots are not easy for many people. This year we dug a small trench in the ground and saturated it with water so there is plenty of moisture under the seed. Sprinkle seed in. Cover it lightly and in one week we have huge success with germination.

  3. Natalia says:

    That sounds like a lot of work but hopefully it will pay off. What helped me to get more carrots to grow was… sowing lots of them. I know this sounds obvious but if you think about that – not all of the seeds you buy in a package will germinate, some are older, some are weaker. That’s what my grandmother tought me and one doesn’t question grandma and her gardening skills! You seed quite a lot in a row and when they pop up and grow a bit you pull the weaker ones out to give more space to others. You can see it well here http://www.vegetable-garden-guide.com/growing-carrots.html Although I found this post on pinterest and one should maybe question that!
    Thank you for such an inspirational blog and regular dose of humor.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Natalia – The reason I don’t overseed is, it’s less work to begin with but more work later. But more importantly, because I buy a lot of hard to find heirloom seeds and don’t want to waste too many of them. ~ karen!

      • Natalia says:

        That’s a good point! I’ll remember about your tips for the special heirloom seeds. Thank you for replying, you made my day :)

  4. Maria says:

    Would I use the same method for parsnips? I read the seed packet and it clearly stated that the seeds need to be kept moist to germinate them. And I thought, ‘How in the world do I stay on top of that?’ Thanks for the tip!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Maria – Yes, that’s a great idea. I grew some parsnips last year and now that I think of it, they did the same thing as the carrots. They *did* eventually germinate, but not all of them and it took a long time. ~ karen!

  5. Ann says:

    I have had pretty good luck with using the method where you plant the seed in the ground, water and cover with a board. But never does it work perfectly. I still have the random blank patch in the row.

    And I have to keep everything covered or the chickens will denude the carrots down to soil level. And for some strange reason, carrots need those leaves to grow. Love my chickens, I love my chickens, I really do love my chickens

  6. SuzyM says:

    I’ve tried this technique with seeds that take forever to germinate like arisaema (Jack in the Pulpit) and peonies, but never thought to try carrots. Off to the seed store.

    I am also guessing that you keep both layers of paper toweling on the seeds?

    • Karen says:

      I’m actually not sure what I’m going to do about that SuzyM. I’m actually thinking I”ll get rid of the top layer of paper towel and cover them with vermiculite. ~ karen!

    • Toronto Boy says:

      SuzyM:
      If you are having problems growing peonies from seeds, try getting a cutting from a mature plant. Dip the cutting in rooting powder and place in soil, ensuring that the soil is kept moist. The first year, it will be quite short. The second year, it will grow taller. If you are lucky, it may have a flower or two. By the third year, you should have a mature plant that has lush blooms! Good luck!

  7. Kim says:

    Sounds like something I would do except my thing is checking incubator cause who doesn’t love new hatched chicks at 2am?

    LOVE me some carrot cake with CREAM CHEESE FROSTING! Send carrots when you have them. I’ve missed the “cool season” crops if the south has such a thing. Tomatoes look awesome though. Trade?

  8. karol says:

    Is it just me, or isn’t it dark and moist underground? Phew, who knew carrots were fussy.

    • Karen says:

      Karol – It’s only moist WAyyyyyyyy down in the ground. Carrots are scattered on top of the soil with only 1/8th an inch of soil or so over them. So the top of the soil dries out fast. Stupid soil ~ karen

  9. Su says:

    I’ve been buying the carrot seeds in a seed tape from Burpee. Just lay it into a small trench, cover and water. One less thing to stress about!

  10. Hilarious post! But I don’t know — this seems like a royal pain in the ass, just for carrots. :-) I direct-sowed some last week (my first time) and it’s been raining ever since, so maybe I have a chance!!

    • Karen says:

      It’s really not that big of a pain. Seems like it, but for perfect rows of instantly germinated carrots? Not bad at all! :) ~ karen

  11. Holly says:

    I did this for the first time this year and got nothing. NOTHING!!!

    • Karen says:

      You did the paper towel thing? If that’s true then it’s possible the paper towels weren’t wet enough. They have to be wet enough to stay damp for a week. ~ karen!

    • Toronto Boy says:

      Holly, keep an eye on them. If the paper towel isn’t damp enough, a spray bottle comes in quite handy. A few sprays and you are back on track!

  12. Emily says:

    aaawwwww Little sprouts!

  13. Candice says:

    I was surprised to see that carrots are hard to grow. Maybe it’s the variety I plant, Red Core Chantennay, but I’ve never had a problem with them sprouting after I direct sow the seeds in the soil.

  14. Laura Bee says:

    This is fantastic – I am just starting to get my veggies in & have three different carrot varieties. I know I would have just poked a hole & dropped them in & wondered why they didn’t grow.
    My little sister, me and five visiting kids ate a whole row of my mom’s carrots one year. NOW I understand why she was so upset. I don’t remember if I was spanked – but it was worth it if I was. They were so little & so sweet.
    p.s. The papertowel way is how I start my morning glories. I stick them in my Tupperware celery keeper. But they like a sunny window & pop out almost overnight.

    • Karen says:

      omg! That’s the other thing I can’t seem to grow! I have Morning Glory curse. I’ve finally given up on them. ~ k

      • Sera says:

        Morning glory behaves like a weed here. It crawls everywhere and now I have sprouts in my grass. I’m certain I’ll never get rid of it. As much as I love those pretty flowers, it’s not worth taking over everything!
        On the other hand, I planted carrots for the first time this year and they all seem to have germinated just fine. It must be the moldy dark climate I live in. We’ll see how they taste!

      • Shauna says:

        I’ve read that Morning Glories are poisonous for chickens – you don’t want them. Plus, once you get them growing, they never stop and they get into every crevice. My poor neighbors dilapidated garage started to have my vines coming through before we ripped them all out. It took months before we got them to stop growing and I could bring in the chickens.

  15. And then once you get them to germinate, they’ll behave like normal plants? I’ve planted 5 sets so far, different kinds, different parts of the garden. Got 3 or 4 lousy sprouts. This is embarrassing for someone who writes a garden & food blog. They did fine the last 2 years, then this year, they suddenly refused. Glad to hear it’s not just me.
    And yes, getting up in the middle of the night to check your seeds is completely normal.

    • Karen says:

      Claire – Yes, once they germinate the hard part’s over (finger’s crossed). They need to get in the garden right away though. ~ karen!

  16. Laura M says:

    I am going to try this! I don’t have trouble germinating carrots but my rows are always crowded…this trick will definitely give order to raised beds.

  17. AndiB says:

    Speaking of internet carrot lies…have you heard the one about growing them in liter soda bottles? Just wondering if this piece of propaganda would actually work.

  18. brittany says:

    Due to lack of indoor space, I did paper towel germination for all of my veggies (except carrots, go figure) this year with great success! Transplanting into cups and moving to a makeshift greenhouse had about a 60% success rate, and I got everything into the garden this holiday Monday. As for my carrots, they went into the ground in March between the rows of lettuce and have already begun to peek out, but germination was still spotty. I think I might give your method a try next time. Thanks for the post!

  19. Jennifer says:

    Forgot to add – I do hope this works for you; I’ll be paying attention to find out. All the best!

  20. Jennifer says:

    I never realized that different areas of the country might have different results. Carrots are easy for me (Peace country in northern Alberta) – broadcast the seeds straight from the pack, brush a little dirt (and that’s nothing special)and firm it down with my hands or the rake. Given some rain, they almost all come up. Maybe it’s the variety? I’ve only ever planted Nantes, and they taste wonderful.

    • Hannah says:

      Me too, Jennifer. I’m on the BC side of the Peace Country, and I have never, EVER had a problem germinating carrots, which you think would be weird, because it’s 1) bone dry and 2) light all day and night.

  21. bex says:

    O boy, I am sure going to look forward to trying this. I wonder if it’s better to get most veg seeds sprouting before planting. Waiting for spring :-)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Bex – Most things aren’t nearly as finicky about germinating as carrots so there’s no need to do it with everything else. Just these stupid carrots! ~ karen

  22. Yay for carrot sprouts!! I remember my one and only batch of carrots in the garden. It was a meager harvest. However, the highlight was allowing a friend’s little boy to come pick his own carrot…he managed to pick a HUGE one, and he almost tumbled over backwards when it finally popped out of the ground. He wanted to eat it right away, but his mom and I convinced him to wait until we went into the house and washed it off.

    Later his dad told me that he had caught his little boy heading out back with a store-bought bag of baby carrots. “Whatcha doing with those?” “I’m going to plant them and grow big carrots.” “Um, son, it doesn’t work that way.” Well, the dad said the little boy wouldn’t be denied, and he went out and planted that bag of baby carrots! LOL! So I didn’t get a bunch of carrots in my garden, but I got a great memory that makes me smile each time I think about it!

    Hope you get a great batch of carrots for your cake!

  23. Jean in BC says:

    I’ll have to try this! I grew carrots last year. They were as big as the picture on the seed envelope – 1-2″

    Your front yard garden is really inspiring. Makes me want to change out my front yard! Have you every tried those upside down planters for tomatoes or strawberries? I haven’t had much success with those – think “Charlie Brown” tomato plant lol.

  24. gloria says:

    I suspect you would not want to be laying the paper towel with its spriglets onto the ground on a windy day? Also, almost every seed i plant has to be covered with flexible plastic mesh (the kind used to keep leaves out of rain gutters) or the chipmunks will dig them up and eat them. When the plants begin to break through the soil, I can remove the mesh. I guess I’d have to do the same with this carrot method. Or it would be like providing Chip and Dale with a paper towel to wipe their mouths after they eat my seeds.

  25. Becky says:

    I will be interested to see how this works.. carrots are my nemesis in the garden.

    Its just easier, and less frustrating, to just buy a bag…. they don’t taste anything like a homegrown carrot, but I sacrifice taste for lower blood pressure.

    • RCA says:

      So how did it turn out in the end? I am considering giving it a try but if the yield was marginal, I don’t want to go to the trouble.

      I blame some of my carrot problems on the birds who I believe may eat the seedlings but I have that solved by putting various barriers in their way so they can’t get to the seedlings.

      • Karen says:

        Hi RCA. I’ve tried a few things over the years and this really does work. You don’t get 100% success rate but more than just planting each individual seed in the soil and walking away. HOWEVER I’ve had the absolute best success with slightly overseeding into damp soil (you don’t have to go crazy overboard with the overseeding) and covering with a board for around a week. Keep lifting the board every day or so to check for germination. Once you see several of the seeds have germinated and are sending up tiny shoots, remove the board. They carrot seeds thrive in the damp, darkness under the boards. ~ karen!

      • Kirk says:

        Trying something new this year. I am reusing an old fridge and kept the freezer door just to cover the top where I will be planting carrots just to hold in the moisture and keep it dark, will let yall know how it works out.

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