Maybe you’re planting carrots for the first time, or maybe you have planted carrots before, but didn’t get the results you were hoping for. Getting the soil conditions right will improve your chances of having a successful carrot harvest.
So, what is the best soil for growing carrots? The best soil for growing carrots is sandy and loose, with plenty of organic material. The soil should be free of rocks, soil clumps, and other obstructions. The soil pH should be around 6.4. To encourage germination, the soil temperature should be 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and the soil should stay moist until carrot seeds sprout.
Knowing the ideal soil conditions for growing carrots is one thing. Preparing the soil to match those conditions is another. Let’s look at ways to prepare the best soil for growing carrots.
How to Make Soil Sandy For Carrots
Remember that sandy soil is looser than clay soil, and sand drains better than clay. Sandy soil is also less likely to form clumps. This means that carrots are less likely to encounter resistance as they grow in sandy soil.
If you have an area in your garden with sandy soil, you can grow your carrots there, as long as the other conditions (water, sunlight, etc.) are right. If not, you can make your own sandy soil.
First, find some horticultural sand, sharp sand, or builder’s sand. This sand is coarser with larger particles. You can often buy this sand at home and garden centers such as Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Second, decide on an ideal area of your garden for carrots. Carrots need full sunlight (6 to 8 hours per day of direct sun).
Finally, mix the sand into the top 12 inches of soil in the selected area. This will make the soil sandy and improve drainage. It will also make it easier for carrots to grow without becoming deformed.
If you don’t want to put sand directly into your garden, you can plant the carrots in an area of their own, such as a raised bed, cold frame, greenhouse, or indoor containers (more on this later).
How to Make Soil Loose For Carrots
As mentioned above, adding sand to your soil will help to make it loose, which allows carrots to grow more easily. However, you can also loosen compacted soil by rototilling, aerating, or digging and turning your soil.
A rototiller will break up tough, compacted soil and move some lower soil to the surface. You can buy your own, or you can rent one for a day instead. For more information, check out my article on the cost of rototilling.
Aeration tools are used to poke holes in soil, which allows air (specifically, oxygen) to come into contact with the soil. Soil that contains air is better able to retain moisture, and is less likely to become compacted.
A simple and inexpensive solution is to dig and turn your soil. You can do this using a shovel, but it requires the most work out of all of these methods.
Also, keep in mind that digging with a shovel can kill or disturb earthworms, which are beneficial to your soil. If you are worried about this, it is better to use a pitchfork instead of a shovel.
Finally, avoid walking on the soil where you are going to plant your carrots, since putting all your weight on the soil will compact it. If you need to cross an area that you have tilled, aerated, or dug up, use a piece of wood as a walking plank. This will distribute your weight over a larger area to prevent soil compaction.
How to Add Organic Material to Soil
Carrots also like soil with plenty of organic material. There are lots of good reasons to add organic material to soil. It restores nutrients to the soil, improves drainage, and attracts earthworms and beneficial bacteria to your garden.
The most common way to provide organic material to your garden is by using compost. Compost can be made from many common materials that you have or can find easily, including:
- grass clippings (watch out for grass cut from lawn owners that use pesticides or herbicides!)
- fallen leaves
- kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetables – not meat or dairy!)
- dead plants (not diseased ones that can come back to infect your garden later!)
- manure (animal waste and bedding) – for more information, check out my article on where to get manure.
You will know that compost is ready when it looks like dark brown or black soil, and does not smell rotten. You can mix compost right into your soil, or you can use it on top of soil as mulch.
For more information, check out my article on how to make compost.
How to Remove Rocks and Debris From Soil
Remember that the carrots we eat actually come from the root of the plant, which has developed and grown large (hopefully!). If a carrot’s growing tip (the root) encounters resistance as it grows, it can end up crooked, forked, and deformed.
Common obstacles to carrot growth include rocks and other debris, such as pieces of wood and soil clumps. You can pick these out by hand, but it is very difficult to do this to a depth of 12 inches, which is recommended for optimal carrot growth.
A better way to remove rocks and debris from your soil is to use a soil screener (sifter). This is simply a rectangular piece of chicken wire (with small, rectangular holes) attached to a rectangular wood frame.
After you build or buy a sifter, you put it over a wheelbarrow or container. Then, pour soil on top of the sifter, and push the soil back and forth with a shovel. The soil will fall through the chicken wire, but the rocks and debris will stay on top.
Once you have enough sifted soil, you can replace the debris-free soil in your garden. You can also do this if you are planning to use the soil in a raised bed, greenhouse, cold frame, or container.
For more information, check out my article on how to remove rocks from soil.
How to Test and Adjust Soil pH
Remember that carrots prefer a soil pH of around 6.4. If the soil pH is too low (acidic) or too high (alkaline), some nutrients will be unavailable to the roots of the plant.
To find out if your soil pH is right, do a soil test. You can buy your own soil test kit online or at a home and garden center. You can also send a soil sample to your local agricultural extension for more detailed testing and recommendations.
For more information, check out my article on how to do a soil test.
If your soil pH is too low (acidic), you can raise it by adding lime (calcium carbonate) to your soil. For more information, see my article on how to raise soil pH.
If your soil pH is too high (alkaline), you can lower it by adding sulfur to your soil. For more information, see my article on how to lower soil pH.
How to Maintain the Right Soil Moisture Levels for Carrots
Right after you sow carrot seeds, you will want to keep the soil moist. Carrot seeds cannot tolerate long periods of drought when they are trying to germinate.
After germination (which takes 6 to 10 days under ideal conditions), you will need to strike a balance when watering. If you followed the advice above, hopefully you will have sandy soil with organic material, which will drain well.
If you still have issues with wet soil, check out my article on how to improve soil drainage.
On the other hand, if you soil is consistently too dry, you may need to set up a drip irrigation system that can water while you are away. This is especially true during hot, dry weather, or if your soil is extremely sandy and drains quickly.
You can also use mulch, such as wood chips or cardboard, to prevent water from evaporating out of the soil quickly. For more information, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.
Avoid Excessive Nitrogen When Growing Carrots
Be careful to avoid excessive nitrogen in your soil if you want to grow carrots. Too much nitrogen will cause the tops (greens) of carrots to grow nice and thick. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the root, which is the part of the carrot you want to eat!
You can end up with too much nitrogen in your soil if you use uncomposted manure or a fertilizer that is heavy in nitrogen. You can tell by looking at the three numbers on a fertilizer package: they are N-P-K, or nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
The first number is the fertilizer’s nitrogen content by weight. Avoid a fertilizer that is high-nitrogen when growing carrots. For more information, check out my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.
Other Ways to Grow Carrots
As mentioned earlier, you can grow carrots in raised beds, greenhouses, cold frames, containers, or grow bags instead of in your garden.
If you opt to do this, you should still follow the same advice given above: carrots like sandy, loose soil with plenty of organic material, no matter where you grow them.
Make sure that the depth of your raised bed, cold frame, or container is at least 12 inches, since a carrot’s roots can easily reach down that far.
At this point, you know exactly what you need to do to improve your soil for growing carrots. It’s time to get out in the garden and make it happen!
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or advice of your own about the best soil for growing carrots, please leave a comment below.
For more information about growing carrots, check out this article from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.