Carrot Plant Growth Stages – Seed to Harvest (w/Pictures)


If you are planning to grow your own carrots, you may wonder what to expect along the way. So, in this article, I’ll show you the 5 carrot plant growth stages.

Carrots are fairly easy to grow, with germination being the most challenging part of the process. Once they sprout, they are easy to maintain through to harvest.

What many gardeners don’t know is that carrots have a 2-year life cycle. During the first year, carrots grow foliage and a large taproot (the part the we typically eat).

When winter comes, the foliage dies back, and energy is conserved in the large root. Then, the plant regrows in spring, producing flowers and seeds to repeat the life cycle.

Carrot plant growth stages

Stage 1: Seedling stage

Carrot seedlings are the first signs of life. This is the stage just after the seeds sprout in early spring. The first leaves are called “cotyledons” and are a pair of thin, long leaves.

After a week or so, the first true leaves will appear, showcasing the classic carrot foliage shape.

Carrot seedlings after a few weeks of growth.

Germinating carrots can be difficult, as they are surface sown (not buried) and take between 2-3 weeks to sprout. During this time, the seeds need to remain moist.

Carrot seedling stage of growth.

If the seed dries out before it sprouts, then it may never germinate. So there are some methods to keep the soil surface damp until carrot seeds sprout. One technique I like to use is covering the soil with cardboard or a wood board.

Stage 2: Growth stage

As the weather warms up, carrot plants will really start to grow quickly. The foliage will get taller and taller, and the taproot will be growing deep underground.

Carrots in raised bed early June
Carrot plants with strong leafy growth.

The roots will be very thin during this point, so it is much too early to harvest. Instead, you can help your carrots thrive by providing even watering, and perhaps a light fertilization if your soil is lacking.

Otherwise, the carrots will continue to grow a large leafy top while the roots develop underground.

Carrot flies are a major pest the primarily affect carrots. They can devastate your crop by laying larvae in the soil which then eat the roots. The best time to avoid them is during the growth stage.

Here are some methods to avoid carrot flies:

  • Cover with insect netting. The best way to avoid carrot flies is to simply block access. Insect netting is an excellent pest avoidance tool. It can also protect early tomatoes and peppers from rabbits, and brassicas from cabbage moths.
  • Don’t sow too early. Carrot flies tend to arrive in the late spring. So, planting seeds in early summer helps avoid the first rush of this pest.
  • Don’t thin your carrots. Thinning carrots releases more of the carrot scent into the air, which attracts carrot flies. Instead of thinning, sow the seeds at the appropriate distance (about 1″ between seeds).
  • Plant companion plants. There are several other plants that grow well alongside your carrots. The best carrot companions can help confuse or deter carrot rust flies, such as onions, chives, garlic, and leeks.

Stage 3: Root swell (harvest time!)

In late summer and early fall, your carrots should be reaching their peak harvest window. The foliage will be full-grown (usually 12-18″ tall), and the roots underground will swell to a larger size.

Carrot harvest in hand

It is critical at this stage to water evenly. If your carrot plants experience too much drought or erratic watering, the roots can crack or fork, forming undesirable carrots.

If you aren’t sure whether your carrots are ready for harvest try peaking under the soil. Dig a small trench around the base of the foliage to see the diameter of the top of the carrot. If it is thinner than you’d like, let it grow for a few more weeks before picking.

Stage 4: Winter dormancy

Most gardeners don’t allow their carrots to reach this stage (unless it is an accident). If your carrot plant goes unharvested in its first year, it will go dormant in the early winter weather.

Carrot foliage dies back in the cold, and the root stores energy below ground. Your carrots can be harvested in the early winter, and they may actually be sweeter after experiencing some frost!

In places with milder winters, carrots will re-grow in the spring, moving onto the final stage of growth: reproduction.

Stage 5: Flowering and seed production

In the 2nd year of a carrot plant’s life, its goal is to reproduce. So, your carrots will sent up flower stalks and go to seed.

This completes the carrot plant’s life cycle, and so flowering is a final carrot plant growth stage. After flowering and dropping seeds, the carrot will die in the winter.

Now, you can harvest carrot roots during the flowering stage. However, carrots are more likely to be woody and tough in their 2nd year of growth.

Carrot plant flowering
Carrot plant bolted and flowering.

Common Carrot Growing Questions

If you’re new to growing carrots, you may have a few questions. Here are some of the most common questions new gardeners have about growing carrots from seed.

I hope this article helps you know what to expect when growing carrots from seed! The only thing left to do is plant your carrot seeds and nurture them through to a bountiful harvest.

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