Root vegetables are frost-tolerant, healthful, and store well. What isn’t to love? We have 10 great tips to successfully grow roots in your garden.
Direct sow. Sow root seeds directly in the garden to avoid transplanting, which could stunt their growth. When seedlings are 1″-2″ tall, thin seedlings to their recommended spacing (see seed packet).
Prep beds. Roots perform best in well-drained, loose soil, rich in organic matter. Prior to sowing, loosen soil to 12″ deep to break up clods and remove rocks. Tip: If you have heavy clay soil, which carrots are particularly sensitive to, try growing carrot varieties like Kuroda or Danvers which excel even in heavy soil.
Sow in late-summer/fall. Add 2 weeks to the “days to maturity” to allow for shorter days and cooler growing temperatures. Roots are frost tolerant and actually sweeten a bit if allowed to stay in the garden to experience a nip of frost.
Mark rows with radishes. While you are waiting for slowpokes like carrots or parsnips, the quick radish sprouts will remind you to water the area, while maturing for harvest before the other roots need their space.
Add phosphorus. Be mindful when applying fertilizer that phosphorus aids root growth, while too much nitrogen can result in lots of top growth but wimpy roots.
Mulch roots. Mulching will keep roots cool and moist. If carrot root “shoulders” come up above the soil or mulch, cover them again to prevent sunlight from “greening” them, which can cause bitterness.
Grow in a container. It’s true, you can grow roots in a container! They just need to be fairly deep containers, about 18″ deep.
Don’t forget to sow winter radishes. They form bulbous roots in the short days of fall (not spring) and store for several months. Daikon, Black Radish, and Watermelon Radish are mild and are downright beautiful; they are so worth their seasonal-fickleness.
Overwinter carrots. In USDA zones 5 and warmer, you can overwinter your carrots. Sow carrots in late summer/fall and grow them to 75% maturity before a hard frost allows you to store them in the ground and harvest them throughout the winter months (when the soil isn’t frozen). You can also grow them to 50% maturity before a hard frost and they will be ready to harvest the following early spring!
Roots’ leaves are edible, too*! For maximum freshness, store the leaves separate from the roots, both in sealed containers in the crisper. Enjoy the leaves during the following week or freeze them to make stock later. Roots can also be stored in a root cellar or a cool basement, buried in a tub of wet sand. *NOTE: Parsnips are the exception to this. Their leaves are toxic.