Growing Things: Container gardening lets carrots grow in small spaces


Gerald Filipski is the author of Just Ask Jerry.

I was talking to a friend and his wife the other day who recently had downsized and moved into a townhouse with a very small yard.

They were lamenting the fact that they did not have a vegetable garden any more, and the thing they missed the most were their carrots, because they enjoyed the sweetness of homegrown carrots over store-bought. I told them that they could grow their own carrots in containers easily, and the more we talked the more excited they got at the possibility of growing their own veggies again.

On my way home I thought that there must be others in the same position and thought this would make a good column. I know we talked about this five or so years ago but the timing seemed right to revisit the topic.

This downsizing is a trend I am seeing more and more as our population ages and people are downsizing. The good news on the gardening scene is that container vegetable gardening is not only possible but highly successful. Plant breeders continue to develop dwarf vegetable varieties for containers, and more and more gardeners are experimenting with growing all types of vegetables in all types of containers.

Growing root crops such as carrots in containers is an ideal situation because the containers can ensure a deep root run. This is opposed to the heavy clay soils that many Edmonton gardens have that can inhibit good root crop growth. Now, having said that, the container needed to grow root crops would need to be deeper to accommodate the long roots but carrots, beets, parsnips, swedes and turnips are all possible.

I would recommend a container that is at least 18-24 inches deep with a couple of drainage holes. This depth allows them plenty of room for growth, and you will likely be harvesting them earlier anyway since you will want to enjoy the young, sweet carrots. You can plant successive crops in different containers every few weeks in the spring. Remember that good drainage is essential, as carrots do not like sitting in wet soil.

Carrots prefer a looser and lighter soil. A good quality potting mix is a good bet and I would add compost to the mix at a ratio of two parts potting mix to one part compost. Do not use bagged topsoil or soil from a garden, as it has a tendency to compact and the carrots will struggle to grow through it.

I have always found that when planting carrot seeds, the seeds themselves can be hard to see, especially when they are sitting on the soil. This can make it very easy to overseed a container. The telltale sign, of course, is after they begin to sprout and you can easily see the overcrowded seedlings. If you try to thin out the seedlings by pulling them out it is very easy to damage the ones that you are intending to leave growing.

A good tip I learned many years ago is to cut out the overcrowded ones with a sharp pair of scissors rather than trying to pull them out. The root left behind will die and feed the soil and remaining seedlings. Just take your time when trimming out the unwanted seedlings.

Thin the seedlings to between one and four inches apart and remember that they do prefer the cooler days of spring. In the hot summer months you should offer your carrots some shade. Keep the container well watered. Carrots like to have a moist (but not wet) soil. Fertilize your carrots with a fertilizer lower in nitrogen such as 5-10-5.

Depending on the variety of carrots they will mature in 60-75 days. However, you can harvest them earlier for a sweeter and more tender carrot. I have grown potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, kale, lettuce, spinach, and many other veggies successfully in containers.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.