The carrot growth stages are one of the most unique lifecycles you will find in your garden. This is because carrots are a biennial plant. This means that it takes two growing seasons to complete its lifecycle. For most gardeners, the cycle stops when they pull carrots from the ground to harvest them. However, if you wish to get seeds from your carrot plants or simply enjoy the lovely white flowers a carrot plant can produce, you will need to leave some in the ground for the next season. Let us take you through the life of a carrot from germination until when it produces seeds.
In This Article
What are the Carrot Growth Stages
The carrot growth stages can be divide into two seasons. Season one consists of germination, seedling stage, vegetative stage, harvest stage, and wintering. The second season is where the carrot reproduces and contains the flowering stage, seed formation, and seed dispersal. Read on to learn more about exactly what is happening with your wonderful little root crop as it grows.
First Season of the Carrot Growth Stages
In the first growing season, your carrot plants will go from seed to the carrot you know from your dinner table. During this season its goal is to store as much energy in its roots as possible. This is why it has such tasty and nutrient rich roots that we harvest for food. It stores this energy to be used in the second growing season to reproduce and create seeds! Lets break down each stage.
There isn’t much to see with your eyes in this stage of your carrot’s life. It all happens under the soil where you can’t see it. The seeds you planted will absorb moisture from the soil around them and soften. Eventually it will grow out roots and anchor itself to the soil, while simultaneously shooting up a stem with two leaves to soon emerge from the soil.
During this part of the carrot growth stages, your carrot seeds need plenty of moisture, a temperature between 55-65 degree Fahrenheit (13-18 degrees Celsius). This is unique because carrots prefer cooler temperatures than most seeds for optimal germination. In fact, temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) can reduce your carrot’s germination rate. This means it’s best to direct sow your seeds as soon as the risk of last frost has passed to take advantage of the cooler soil temperatures. Alternatively, you can wait until the heat of the summer has passed and start your crop in the early fall because carrots are notoriously fast growers.
Once the stem and leaves of the carrot plant emerge from the soil the seedling stage has begun. This is the stage where the carrot plants are at their most vulnerable and need the most care. They will need plenty of light and cooler temperatures that do not exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius). This is because carrots do not like high heat and do their best growing at cooler temperatures. Make sure your plants are properly watered, taking care not over or under-water them. As the new seedlings take in light, they will begin to form new true leaves that resemble the foliage we recognize as carrot greens.
Once your carrots have formed some of their first true leaves, they have entered the vegetative stage of the carrot growth stages. In this part of their lifecycle, they are working their hardest to grow new foliage and store energy from the sun into their roots. This is an important stage because how successful they are at this will determine how successful your carrot crop will be. If you plan on leaving some carrots in the ground to go to seed, it is even more important that your carrots store a lot of energy. They will use that energy in the following season to produce seeds.
The harvest stage is the most rewarding of the carrot growth stages. You can finally reap the reward you worked so hard to care for! The harvest stage arrives when the roots of the carrot have fully matured. This will be about 70-100 days from when you planted your seeds. You can loosen the soil and harvest your carrots.
If you planted your crop in the early fall, you can even leave your carrots in the ground through some of the first frosts with no harm to your crops. Additionally, if you want some of your carrots to go to seed you can leave them in the ground for the following season to have them finish their lifecycle and reproduce. However, it should be noted that any carrots left in the ground for next season to produce seeds will not be good for eating. The plant will take all of the energy stored in its roots and use it to produce its seeds. This causes the carrots to turn fibrous and bitter.
Since carrots are biennial, winter is not the end of their growing cycle. When the temperatures begin to drop in the winter, any carrots left in the ground will go dormant. Their foliage will die but the root of the carrot will be perfectly fine. The plant waits until early spring for temperatures to warm again before continuing its growing cycle.
Second Season of the Carrot Growth Stages
The second growing season is very important in the carrot growth stages due to the fact that it is a biennial plant. In this second season, the carrot goes through its reproductive cycle and produces seeds. If you want to harvest seeds from your carrot crop, you will have to leave some of them in the ground over the winter into a second growing season.
Once early spring comes and the soil begins to warm, carrots left in the ground will begin the process of bolting. This marks the flowering stage of the plant. The carrot has stored energy in its roots during the previous season to be used this season for reproduction. When your carrot starts bolting it will shoot up a long stem that will begin to produce a cluster of flowers rather than growing leaves for growth. This flower cluster is called an umbel.
The umbel will have both male and female flowers so that the carrot plant can cross-pollinate. This can be a problem because your carrots may cross-pollinate with wild-carrots or with Queen Anne’s Lace. To prevent this, you can cover your carrot flowers with a bag so they cross-pollinate only with themselves.
Throughout the flowering stage, the root of the carrot will be drained of the nutrients it had stored. This will cause the carrot root to become woody and stringy. Its flavor will also drastically decline and it will become bitter. Therefore, the carrots you leave to produce seeds will not be good for eating.
Now that pollination has occurred, the next part in the seed formation process can begin. The nutrients will drain even further from the root of the carrot and be used to form the seeds. The flowers will have mostly fallen off and the plant will look like it does in the picture above.
Seed Dispersal and Plant Death
Now that the seeds have formed, the carrot’s lifecycle has complete. The plant will begin senescence, where hormones are released that begin intentional death of the plant. The plant will brown and die so that the seeds my begin to dry. Once the seeds have dried, they will be dispersed from the umbel. This is the point at which you may harvest your carrot seeds. This also marks the end of the carrot growth stages.
Carrots in the Garden. Utah State University