If you have ever grown carrots in your garden, you know that there are a lot of things that can go wrong. You can end up with carrots that are small and stubby, bumpy, cracked, or deformed. These carrot problems can happen for a number of reasons.
So, what causes garden carrots to be small, bumpy, cracked, or deformed? Carrots are small if planted too close together. Bumpy carrots are caused by root-knot nematodes. Cracked carrots are caused by a lack of water followed by excessive watering. Forked carrots are caused when the growing tip is disturbed by a rock in the soil or an insect.
There are other factors that affect the outcome when you grow carrots, including soil quality, sunlight, temperature, disease, and pests. Let’s take a closer look at some of the problems you may encounter, what causes them, and how to solve or prevent them.
Why Are My Garden Carrots So Small?
There are several reasons that you can end up with small, stubby, short carrots in your garden. We’ll start with the most common one, mentioned earlier: planting seeds too close together.
But first, just remember: if you choose a variety of carrot that is naturally short and stubby, then no amount of work will make them long and slender!
Planting Carrot Seeds Too Close Together
Planting your carrot seeds close together is a way to protect your harvest, just in case some of the seeds fail to germinate. However, if the seeds have a high germination rate, then you can end up with too many carrots that are too close together.
In this case, the carrots will compete with each other for water and nutrients in the soil. The best way to solve this problem is to thin out your carrots.
To thin out your carrots, wait until the seedlings start to show green above ground. Then, pull the extra plants out of the soil until the carrots are 1 to 2 inches apart in a row.
After a little more time, you can thin the carrots again if you want, by pulling out extra plants so that the carrots are 3 to 4 inches apart. The more space between carrots, the less competition for resources, and the bigger they will get.
Remember that carrots compete with each other for nutrients and water, but they also compete with other plants. To prevent this, don’t plant other vegetables too close to your carrots, and be sure to pull out any weeds you see.
One of the most annoying things about growing carrots is when you see big, beautiful, green tops above ground, and then pull them up to find tiny, short, stubby carrots. Why, oh why does this bad thing happen to good gardeners?
Usually, this is caused by excessive nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is the nutrient responsible for causing a plant to grow green: shoots, stems, and leaves.
Too much nitrogen in the soil causes the carrot plant to focus its energy on growing greens above ground. This comes at the expense of the root underground (that is, the orange part of the carrot that you want to eat!)
To solve this problem, avoid fertilizers that contain excessive nitrogen. Use a balanced fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) to allow the carrot to grow both its greens and its roots.
Bone meal (not blood meal) is a good soil additive to promote root growth, which is what you want for larger carrots. For more information, check out my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.
Low Soil Quality
Even with proper spacing and nutrition, carrots are still very picky about soil conditions. First of all, the soil needs to be loose, not firm or packed.
Avoid planting carrots in clay soil, and avoid adding too much organic material (such as mulch or compost). If all of your garden soil is dense, then you can add sand to the soil where you want to grow carrots.
If you have a problem with dry soil, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.
Also, carrots will not grow to their full potential if the growing tip (bottom of the carrot) encounters rocks or dense soil clumps. To prevent this, you can sift your soil using some type of mesh (metal caging used for rabbits would remove large rocks and clumps of soil). For more information, check out my article on how to remove rocks from soil.
The soil should also be loose at a depth that allows the carrots to grow to their full potential. If you are sifting the soil as mentioned above, make sure you go down 12 to 18 inches deep. If using a raised bed or container, make sure that it is 12 to 18 inches deep.
Finally, the soil should be moist (not waterlogged) to encourage germination and growth. The soil pH should be 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). If you are not sure, use a soil test kit or send you soil to the local agricultural extension for testing. To learn more, check out my article on soil testing.
You can add lime to raise the pH of your soil if it is too low, or sulfur to lower the pH if it is too high.
The soil temperature should be between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to encourage germination of the carrot seeds. If the temperature is much colder than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, then carrot growth will be stunted.
If temperatures are much warmer than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the soil can become dry, which can lead to other problems, such as cracking (more on this later).
Carrots need six to eight hours of sunlight each day. This means that carrots will tolerate partial shade, but growth will be stunted without enough sunlight.
There are many pests that are happy to feed on carrots – either the roots or the leaves. One such pest is the cutworm.
Cutworms move along your garden and attach themselves to a plant’s stem. Then, they begin to feed, sometimes cutting the plant off at the stem. For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of cutworms.
The cutworm may only damage a carrot, causing it to grow slowly and produce a short, stubby root.
Why Are My Garden Carrots Bumpy?
Usually, root-knot nematodes are the cause of bumpy carrots. Root knot nematodes are tiny worms, which are so small that you need a microscope to see them. These parasites burrow into a carrot’s roots to feed.
Root know nematodes cause stunted growth, yellow carrots, and roots that are deformed, hairy, or have strange knobs or swelling. These knobs are what give the carrot a bumpy appearance.
You will need a soil test (or a microscope!) to determine whether you have them in your soil. If so, then you will need to take steps to sanitize your soil and prevent them in the future.
To sanitize your garden, follow these steps:
- First, remove and destroy infected carrot plants (do not compost them – root knot nematodes can survive for years in a compost pile!)
- Next, turn the soil over, and cover it with a piece of clear plastic.
- Then, weigh down the sides of the plastic with rocks, so it does not blow away.
- Wait 4 to 6 weeks, while the sun heats up the soil under the plastic and kills organisms in the soil.
- Leave the soil fallow (unplanted) for one year.
- Sterilize your garden tools with heat (for example, a blow torch) and clean them with either soapy water or a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water).
For more information, check out my article on how to sterilize your soil.
When you plant again, don’t put carrots in the same soil – grow your carrots them somewhere else (crop rotation). Choose a plant that is resistant to root knot nematodes, such as corn, clover, wheat, or rye.
Another way to prevent root-knot nematodes is to plant marigolds, and then till them into the soil. Do this in any soil where you want to plant carrots. Just make sure to do it a year ahead of time, since marigolds and carrots are both planted in the spring.
Why Are My Garden Carrots Cracked?
The carrots growing in your garden will end up cracked if there are extreme changes in water levels. A lack of moisture, followed by excessive moisture, is what causes carrots to crack and split.
For example, let’s say there is a long drought while you are on vacation, and you forget to have anyone water the garden. Then, you get back and water the garden heavily, and then get a huge thunderstorm with lots of rain.
In that case, you will end up with cracked and split carrots. To prevent this, make sure to keep the soil moist – not too dry, but not waterlogged either.
Also, keep an eye on the weather forecast. If you see a rainstorm coming, avoid watering that day and perhaps a day or two before. Remember that it is possible to over water. For more information, check out my article on over watering plants.
Of course, the best way to test the water level in your soil is to just use your fingers and hands to feel the soil. If it is too dry, add water!
Why Are My Garden Carrots Forked?
Your carrots will fork, or branch off, when the growing tip (bottom of the carrot) encounters some type of resistance. Most often, this is a rock or hard clump of soil in the ground.
Since the carrot cannot grow through the rock or hard clump of soil, it instead grows around it, leading to deformities such as forking and branching off.
As mentioned earlier, you can prevent this if you sift your soil with metal rabbit cage material (wire mesh) to remove rocks and dirt clumps. You can also add sand to your soil to make it loose and remove resistance for the carrots as they grow.
Another cause of forked carrots is when root knot nematodes or other pests feed on the growing tip of the carrot, causing deformities. If you have garden pests, you may need to sterilize your soil, as mentioned above.
Other Common Questions
Here are a couple other common problems you may encounter when growing carrots in your garden.
Why Are My Garden Carrots Bitter or Tasteless?
Carrots can end up bitter or tasteless if the temperature is too high when they are growing. Carrots tend to store sugar when it is cold, and use sugar when it is hot. Temperatures much higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit will often cause bitter or tasteless carrots.
Why Are My Garden Carrots Green Near the Stem?
If rain or watering washes away some of the soil in your garden, it can expose the tops of the carrots. If these are exposed to the sun, they will turn green. The carrots are still safe to eat – just cut off the green part of the root before you consume the orange part.
We covered a lot of the common problems you will see when growing carrots, along with solutions and prevention. I hope this article was helpful in troubleshooting your problems with growing carrots in the garden. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.
If you have any questions or methods for growing better carrots and avoiding these problems, please leave them in the comments below.