Carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden and, quite often, one of the most rewarding because they are so versatile when you use them in the kitchen. However, although growing carrots is fairly easy, gardeners often wonder why their carrots are so small.
Small carrots can be attributed to a number of problems. Primarily, compacted soil that is not loose and friable can result in small carrots. Not thinning them out after germination is another common problem. Additionally, using too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer can result in small carrots, as can overwatering and a lack of sunlight.
Here’s why your carrots may be small and what you can do about it.
In order to grow long and slender roots, carrots need lovely, loose, and friable soil. If the soil is hard and compacted, the long slender roots simply can’t break through, and your carrots end up being severely stunted. Similarly, too many rocks in the soil will stop your carrots from growing down further into the soil.
Therefore, if you have heavy clay soil, you’re going to need to work on improving it so that you can grow the best carrots. This could involve breaking up the clay and digging in lots of compost and even sand.
Alternatively, you could try growing your carrots in raised beds instead. This allows you to place the garden bed on top of your soil and fill it with lovely loose compost that the carrots are going to love.
Make sure that the garden bed is deep enough so that your carrots don’t become stunted when they reach the heavy clay soil beneath. In other words, your raised garden bed should be at least 12 to 24 inches high and completely filled with compost.
If you don’t want to go to the effort of installing a complete raised garden bed or you don’t have the space, you could consider growing your carrots in a deep planter box instead. This is also ideal for people who don’t have much garden space or just a courtyard or balcony for growing their vegetables.
Failing To Thin Out The New Seedlings
When you plant carrot seeds, you will probably oversprinkle your seeds because they’re quite small, and it can be hard to control their spread. It’s also recommended that you sow more seeds just in case some of them fail to germinate.
Expert Tip: It’s always recommended that you only grow your carrots from seeds that are directly sown into your garden bed or planter. This is because carrots do not transplant well, and if you try to transplant seedlings, you’ll often end up with misshapen and distorted carrots.
Once the carrot seeds have germinated, it’s really important to thin them out so that the remaining seedlings have plenty of room to grow. Ideally, you want to do this about one week after sowing the seeds or just after they’ve germinated.
In addition, too many carrots grown together means that each one won’t get enough nutrients and water to grow into a lovely juicy large carrot.
How Do You Thin Out Carrot Seedlings?
Thinning out your carrot seedlings is not an exact science. What you want to do is choose the weakest or smallest seedlings in each group and carefully pull them. Be quite careful when you do this so that you don’t dislodge the one seedling that you want to keep.
If you’re worried about disturbing the roots of the seedlings you want to keep, you can always just snip the tops off the ones that you want to remove with a pair of garden scissors.
Ideally, you want the remaining carrots to be spaced around 1 inch apart during the first thinning. Then, in two or three weeks, once the seedlings have grown a little, thin them out again until you have around 2 to 3 inches of space between each seedling.
This should give each plant enough space to grow without having to compete with overcrowding.
Tips For Avoiding The Thinning Process
If you don’t want to thin out your carrot seedlings because this can be quite tedious, there are a couple of options that you could consider instead.
- Purchase pelleted seeds that are coated with clay in order to increase their size. These are usually more expensive, but they are far easier to space accurately, especially if you’re using a seeding device.
- Purchase seeding tape that you place on top of the soil. This special seeding tape already has the tiny seeds spaced correctly and is biodegradable.
Using Too Much Nitrogen-Rich Fertilizer
Believe it or not, carrots don’t actually need to be fertilized. If you have added plenty of organic matter or compost to the soil before planting the previous crop, there should be enough nutrients left after you harvested this crop for your carrots to grow happily.
In fact, using too much fertilizer, especially one high in nitrogen, will give you plenty of top growth, but your carrot roots will be small and stunted. Therefore, sow your carrot seeds in well-tilled soil and don’t give them any additional fertilizer.
Expert Tip: Did you know that you can eat the carrot tops as well as the roots? In fact, carrot tops can be used in the same way as other greens and are full of nutrients. You can even make carrot top pesto from them.
Additionally, you don’t want to add manure to your soil before sowing your carrot seeds. This will make the soil too rich, and your carrots will end up being twisted and forked.
Ideally, you want to plant your carrots in a garden bed that has previously grown fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, or capsicum. This is one of the primary rules of crop rotation. Roots crops should follow fruiting crops if you are following those rules.
Overwatering Can Result In Small Carrots
Another thing that your carrots don’t need much of is water. This is because you want the carrot roots to go far down into the soil to search for moisture. Therefore, if you water often but not deeply, the roots have no need to burrow down into the soil for the moisture that they need.
So, the rule here is to not water your carrots once they have a decent amount of top growth. Let the roots do their job of going deep down into the soil to search for moisture.
However, during long periods of dry weather or a heatwave, you can give your carrots some extra water, and you should. But, when you do, make sure that you water deeply so that the moisture can penetrate the top two inches of the soil and travel down much further.
Your Carrots Are Not Receiving Enough Sunlight
Carrots love to grow in full sunlight. While they can handle a little light shade, the more sun that they get, the more they are going to grow.
You’ll find that this is often the case if your carrots have both stunted roots and a lack of lush, green top growth. That’s why growing carrots in deep planter boxes or pots can be such a bonus. It means that you can easily move the pots around so that your carrots get lovely sunlight all day long.