Growing Winter Carrots: Rooting for Compliments

Harvest homegrown carrots all winter by sowing in August and then protecting the plants from harsh frosts.

| Fall 2018

  • carrots
    Fresh, crisp carrots from the garden in January are a joy you won't want to miss.
    Photo by Rebecca Martin
  • carrot-seedlings
    Remove the burlap cover as soon as you see seedlings.
    Photo by Rebecca Martin
  • row-cover
    Fabric row cover will protect your plants from freezing temperatures.
    Photo by Getty Images/masterovoy
  • carrot-garden
    You might want to pack straw bales around the edges of raised beds, or enclose the entire bed in fabric row cover.
    Photo by Getty Images/jess311
  • winter-carrots
    Carrots are remarkably winter-hardy, and the roots are sweeter after a hard freeze.
    Photo by Getty Images/ligora
  • carrots
    Take a sturdy garden fork with you to dig your winter carrots; the ground will be harder than usual!
    Photo by Rebecca Martin
  • root-and-leaf-crops
    Grow other root and leaf crops, such as turnips and lettuce, with your carrots.
    Photo by Rebecca Martin

  • carrots
  • carrot-seedlings
  • row-cover
  • carrot-garden
  • winter-carrots
  • carrots
  • root-and-leaf-crops

On the shortest day of every year, I like to bundle up and head out to the garden with a spading fork. At the carrot bed, I pull back the fabric row cover and fork up a bunch of sweet, tender roots from the chill soil. Take my word for it: Winter carrots taste better than carrots grown in spring or summer.

Growing carrots for your winter table doesn’t require expensive equipment or much gardening experience. With a little advance planning, you too can eat fresh, homegrown carrots every December — and beyond. Here’s how to get started.

Countdown to Winter Carrots

To find the planting date for a winter crop of carrots, you’ll have to count backward from the first frost date in your area. (Plants don’t germinate or grow well in cold, low-light conditions, so your carrots will have to do most of their growing before frigid temperatures set in.) Check the seed packet for the days to maturity, and then count backward from the first frost date in your area. For example, the average first frost date in my area is October 20, and heirloom ‘Danvers 126’ carrots need 75 days of growth before harvest. Counting back from October 20, I discover that I should plant this cultivar in my garden around the first of August. By comparison, small ‘Paris Market’ carrots take only 55 days to mature, so their planting date for a winter crop would fall nearer the end of August. Most carrots take 50 to 70 days to mature, so you can use that as a rule of thumb if you have seeds of unknown cultivars you’d like to grow.

At this point, readers who garden in places with long, hot summers are thinking “I can’t get carrots to germinate in August!” Actually, you can. The trick is to keep the seeds consistently moist for the first few days, by covering them with wet burlap or cardboard. I like to use fabric row cover because it keeps the soil surface moist while letting sunlight penetrate. Whatever material you choose, check on your seedbed a couple of times each day to make sure the cover is moist. Look for seedlings underneath the cover every day, too. As soon as you see a fine crop emerging, remove the cover; the seedlings need light as much as they need moisture once they’re aboveground. Thin the seedlings when they’re about 2 inches high. (See “Growing Great Carrots” below for more advice.)



Keep your late-summer carrots well-watered so they’ll thrive despite the heat. Mulch will help with moisture retention, and if you water late in the day, the moisture will soak into the soil rather than evaporate. I also like to suspend fabric row cover over the seedlings as a shade cloth, offering them some relief from the relentless sun while allowing air and rain to penetrate. Plus, tender seedlings are attractive to the rabbits and the huge grasshoppers that proliferate in my summer garden. Row cover is a great way to keep them away from the buffet.

If you’ve been a decent carrot steward, you’ll have a good-looking crop by the time of your first average frost date. But don’t harvest just yet! Cold temperatures will sweeten your carrots by converting their starches into sugar, so allow a few light frosts to affect your crop before you taste any roots.






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