10 Carrot Growing Problems and How to Prevent Them

Fall Garden · Garden Planning · Gardening Tips & How-to's · In the Garden · Raised Bed Gardening · Spring Garden · Summer Garden · The Beginner's Garden Podcast · Troubleshooting · Vegetables · Vegetables · Vegetables

Carrots. They’re among the top vegetables gardeners include in their garden plans, but many times gardeners grow dismayed when they bump into problems growing carrots.

Carrot growing problems are completely normal, and thankfully most of them can be prevented. In this podcast episode and blog post below, you’ll learn how to prevent or address the most common problems with growing carrots that many beginners face.

With a little bit of knowledge, you may just find yourself harvesting more carrots than you’ve ever imagined!

Group of harvested carrots

Listen to the Beginner’s Garden Podcast episode below or continue reading for all the details.

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Why aren’t my carrots sprouting?

First, it’s important to know that carrot seeds like to be planted directly in the garden. They don’t like to be transplanted and even though I’ve attempted that in soil blocks, in my experience it’s not worth the effort involved.

Carrot plants growing in soil blocks under grow light
I tried sowing seeds in micro soil blocks one year, and while it worked, for a large planting it was more trouble that it was worth.

Carrots can take up to three weeks to germinate. That can be a very long wait for most of us who start scratching our heads, wondering if they will sprout or if something went wrong.

The good news is, unlike other crops, carrot seeds germinate in a wide range of soil temperatures (40F-85F). The key, instead, to carrot germination is all about the seed depth and consistent moisture.

Don’t plant too deep and water, water, water

Carrots seeds are tiny. You barely want them under the surface of your soil. Many gardeners unknowingly plant their carrot seeds too deep. Even a shallow furrow is likely too deep. When I plant my carrots, I sprinkle the seeds on the surface and lightly scratch the soil up with my fingers. This is enough to cover the seeds “just enough” for ideal sprouting.

A second critical step is that once you sow your seeds, that soil must remain moist until germination. This is imperative.

carrot seedlings sprouting in soil

How do you keep the surface of the soil moist for up to 3 solid weeks? My preferred method for early spring planting is to water well (perhaps even moistening the soil before planting if necessary), and cover them.

You can use different things to cover them (some people use cardboard boxes or pieces of wood), but my preferred method is a flat, floating row cover. It helps keep the moisture in, allows the sun to hit those baby sprouts, and I can water directly on top of the cover without disturbing the delicate sprouts.

What if all my seeds sprout?

Another common problem with growing carrots is that too many seeds sprout, too close together and they fight for nutrients to grow. It’s difficult to achieve proper plant spacing upon sowing seeds because they are so small. Even long-time gardeners can get a little heavy-handed with the sowing.

Carrots sprouting in ground

When this happens, we must embrace the most tedious part of growing carrots, but it absolutely has to be done. We have to thin the sprouts. Yep, this means removing extra sprouts to ensure each remaining carrot seedling has 1-2″ of space in which to grow. If we don’t, the carrots will compete with one another and they will be drastically smaller. I’ve seen this in my own harvest. Trust me on this one. Two tiny 4″ carrots don’t compare to a meaty 8″ root.

crowded carrots not thinned
These carrots were not properly thinned.
small carrots not thinned
When harvested, their roots were only a few inches long.
large carrots properly thinned
Compare to these carrots, which were properly thinned to approximately 2″ between roots.

To remove extra seedlings without disturbing the delicate root system of the sprout you intend to leave, take a pair of micro-tip pruners and snip the sprouts until you have one to two inches of clear space between sprouts. When you take the time to do this, you’ll likely have some of the biggest carrots you’ve ever harvested.

Can I avoid having to thin my carrots?

There are a few things that you can do to help with carrot spacing. One, you can buy pelleted seeds. This is more expensive, but there’s less waste. You can also buy seed tape. This is a biodegradable film that has the seeds already placed where they need to be and you sow them on top of the soil. For a more frugal option (and a fun project for kids), make your own seed tape!

Why are my carrots so small?

You’re in your garden, the leafy tops of your carrots are gorgeously green and large. You reach down to feel around the tops of them and they have nice large shoulders. You pull that carrot out ready to be amazed…and it’s tiny. What in the world happened?

How’s your soil?

The first troubleshooting tip is to know that carrots are picky about their soil. They grow down and so the soil must be loose and not compacted. It can’t be filled with rocks and hard clay. In my garden, I have compacted clay and this limits the carrot to grow deep.

The best thing that you can do if you’re soil isn’t compatible at all for the growth of carrots, due to rocky soil, is to plant your carrots in a raised bed or a large container. Unless you want to do a lot of sifting, you’ll never get all of those rocks out.

Carrot seedlings growing in good soil
Leftover wood chip mulch from a previous planting on top of the soil is actually good for water retention and weed control, but rocks in the growing zone of the roots can spell disaster for young carrots.

If you have really compacted clay soil, you can loosen that soil with a broad fork. This tool is a dream for a no-till gardener and it works great in raised beds!

I will also let you know that my best carrot harvest to date has been when I planted my carrots in about 4 inches of straight compost in a garden bed. They were the biggest, healthiest carrots I’ve ever grown. The more organic matter you can add is always best for all parts of the garden.

free garden printables

Why are the greens and roots so small?

If you know your soil is fertile and loose, but you’re still looking at small carrot greens, what could be the problem? Most likely, it could be an issue of light. Carrots need full sun or very light shade. If you’ve planted them in a place where they aren’t getting this, there’s a chance you’ll have super small greens and roots.

What’s root branching (hairy roots)?

Root branching (or hairy roots) is when you see a multitude of feeder roots branching off of your carrot. It’s really not a huge problem, but it’s a sign of too much nitrogen in your soil.

hairy carrot roots

Carrots don’t need extra nitrogen like a lot of plants. This is why compost is ideal because your carrots can uptake exactly what they need.

Why are my carrots splitting, cracking and forking?

If you’re not familiar with root splitting, just search Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll find hilarious photos of carrots that look like legs because they’ve split in two. Most of the time they develop like this because the young, growing root hit a rock in the growing process, causing the carrot to split out.

Typically this happens in the beginning process of the carrot growing process, so this is another reason to make sure that first 6 to 8 inches are nice and loose and clear of rocks.

Another thing you may experience is cracked roots. One of the reasons for this is that you simply could’ve waited too late to harvest. You may find those carrots to be bitter, though I’ve found that to be the case more with summer-harvested than winter-harvested carrots.

Another reason is that you could’ve had a dry spell followed by rain, causing them to crack open.

Carrot that has split

Why are the shoulders of my carrots green?

Some people have a problem with green shoulders on carrots upon harvest. This simply means that the top of your carrots saw sunlight when they were growing. This isn’t a problem or toxic like with potatoes. Just cut it off and go on.

You can prevent it by taking a bit of soil and covering them as they grow when you see them poking through.

Why are my carrots growing REALLY tall?

If you notice your carrot tops have grown really tall, and I mean several feet tall, you will probably also notice a prominent central stem emerging from the root. This means that your carrots are going to seed.

The natural growth habit of carrots is to go to seed during that second season of planting. But, they can bolt during the first season if stressed or extreme heat happens, but this isn’t as common as other plants that bolt easily.

So, if you see that central stem start to grow up and you’re wanting to harvest them, do it now. Or, let it go to seed, watch the flower come and the beneficial insects that come along with it.

flowering carrot attracts beneficial insects

What pests and diseases do carrots have?

Carrots aren’t really a vegetable that comes to mind when I think of pests or disease. This may be because of the particular zone 7b that I live in? But, the most common best associated with carrots are the Carrot Rust Fly.

You will know you’ve had the Carrot Rust Fly if you see brown lesions on your carrot’s roots. These flies are attracted to the smell of the host’s plants. This includes celery and parsley. You can companion plant garlic and chives to help mask the plant scent, effectively repelling the fly before it and lay its eggs on your carrots.

If you know you have a serious Carrot Rust Fly problem, you can add a floating row cover so that the flies don’t even get to land on the plant, to begin with. Also, make sure you rotate your crops and clean your gardens well in the fall.

Learn more about potential carrot pests and diseases here.

Overall, carrots are relatively easy to grow and once that soil condition is right, you’ve planted in sun and keep those emerging seedlings watered, you should have an abundant carrot harvest.

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3 Comments

    1. I’m not sure about that, Bill. The ones I’ve grown have been much more flavorful than what I grow at the store. I would recommend making sure you have plenty of organic matter that will provide a variety of nutrients in the soil. This will translate, usually, to a more robust flavor. You might also try a different variety, as different kinds have different flavor profiles.

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