Carrots are among the most beloved crops any gardener can grow. They are also without a doubt one of the most challenging.
One reason is weeds. Because carrots are slow to start—taking more than 14 days to germinate in the colder months—weeds can easily slip in and take over. So today let’s talk about how to get a good stand of carrots with little or no weeds every time you grow them.
1. Stale Seed Bedding for Carrots
One easy strategy to helping your carrots beat weeds is to set up a bed so it’s ready to plant—watered and everything—then not plant it at all.
If you own a flame weeder, you can then sow the carrots into the weeds as they come up, then wait a few days and flame weed. Otherwise, just wait about a week, then very lightly cultivate the weeds out and sow your carrots. The idea here is that you are simply germinating and cultivating the weed seed before the carrots go in, not after.
2. Tarping Carrots
Tarping a bed before planting can provide great soil preparation, but some weeds need light to germinate. In such cases, tarping—often called occultation—won’t get rid of everything. However, you can also use some sort of tarp or cover (some people even use boards on a small scale) to keep the soil moist and more easily germinate the crop. Essentially, you would sow your crop then cover it directly for roughly five days. This would in essence help to suffocate some of the weeds while germinating your carrots at the same time. You must remove the cover before the seeds come up. Alternatively, a row cover or light (1/5 inch or less) layer of compost mulch helps hold in its true and the row cover could simply be removed when you have the time, and the compost could just remain.
3. Flame Weeding
If you don’t have the time to stale seed bed and just need to get the garden planted, flame weeders can work. Essentially sow the carrots, plant a small patch of beet seeds next at the end of the bed. When the bed seeds germinate, you know it’s time to flame because carrots always take longer than beets to germinate. So use your flame weeder to kill any little seedlings, and the carrots will come up into a clean bed. One important note: Flaming won’t kill every weed. Grasses in particular can often survive it. Also, your beds should be nice and level so weeds can’t hide under a clump of mulch or dirt.
Carrots do well to germinate in the early spring, and so one nice strategy is to simply beat the bulk of the weeds and sow your carrots early. Here in Zone 6b we start sowing carrots in early March for May and June harvests.
5. Spacing and Cultivation
Spacing can be important for many reasons in a garden, including yields and airflow. However, spacing your rows of carrots to fit your hoes is also important for cultivating them as they grow. If your rows are wonky and not parallel, it takes longer to run a hoe in-between them (which you should regularly do as they grow). Spacing also helps create a canopy to block weeds as the carrots get larger. In this way, it’s good to plant several rows together and water them rather than plant single rows far apart—less space to cultivate but also the carrots do some of that work.
6. Deep Compost
One really effective strategy is to plant them into a thick layer of compost that is placed over your beds at 3 to 5 inches. Sow them right into the compost, and the compost acts as a mulch to block the weeds. Note that you must keep this well-saturated to ensure carrot germination. They require nine days of moisture to germinate, and some composts—especially mulch-heavy types—can dry out.