Have you ever seen a carrot that seemed to have strange-looking limbs sticking out of it? Some almost look like they have legs, while others might have multiple appendages, or deep trenches in them. If you’re wondering why do carrots split while growing, read on!
Why do Carrots Split While Growing?
Most people see pretty standard-looking carrots at the grocery store. They’re generally long, orange, and straight. Sure, they might have the occasional curve to them, but for the most part they’re all the same shape. As a result, people who shop at farmer’s markets might be quite shocked to see all the different shapes these roots can take.
Some are twisted and gnarled, others seem to zig-zag, and some are split. Now, these splits can take the form of deep grooves that almost look like they’ve been cut into the roots. Others may manifest in “legs”, or other deformities.
Although the deep splits and trenches might look like damage from insects or tools, this is rarely the case. Instead, there are three main reasons why carrots split while growing. Fortunately, there are easy ways to deal with all of these issues.
1. Poor Soil
Carrots and other root vegetables need deep, loose, well-draining soil in order to thrive. Since they grow downwards, their rootlets do best when the soil around them allows them egress, rather than fighting them.
Related Article: Why are Some Carrots Sweeter than Others?
If your soil has a lot of clay in it, or if it’s full of rocks, the carrots will end up misshapen. Think in reverse in this regard: imagine a small boy whose upward growth is hindered by a really low ceiling. The kid is programmed to keep growing. As a result, his body will keep lengthening, but he’ll end up a stooped hunchback because he can’t stand up straight.
Same goes for carrots, but downwards. If they’re growing and hit a hard clay pocket or a big stone, they’ll grow around it. You’ll end up with a twisted, bent carrot rather than a straight one. Similarly, if that rock is sharp on top, it’ll dig into the rootlet as it develops, ultimately splitting it.
If the carrot gets cut/scored by several rocks on the way down, it’ll end up with many splits. These can look like cut wounds, or they can trigger new growth in that area. Basically, the root will look like it has mini limbs or tumors all over it, from all the mini wounds.
To avoid this issue, make sure to dig and sift your carrot beds at least a foot and a half deep. Rake out any rocks larger than about 1/4″. Then, mix the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as sawdust and well-aged, loamy compost. This will grant your carrots plenty of space to stretch out the way they’re meant to.
2. Irregular Watering
Carrots can often split if the soil they’re in isn’t kept consistently moist. Alternating extremes really affect their development. If you let the soil dry out almost completely, then absolutely saturate it with water, this causes the roots a great deal of stress.
Their cells contract when soil is dry to conserve moisture. Then they split their seams when they’re inundated with sudden water overload. If you let the soil dry out more, followed by a soaking, the split will widen.
To avoid this issue, make sure to offer your carrots loose, sandy-loamy soil that both drains well, and retains water well. Work perlite or sand into your grow beds, and add vermiculite and/or peat to retain moisture. Water your carrots regularly, and place mulch around them during extended hot, dry periods.
3. Accelerated Growth
Another issue that your home-grown carrots can come across is sudden, accelerated growth.
Sometimes this happens when there’s a sudden temperature shift. An unexpected heat wave might set your carrots on overdrive, and they can grow significantly almost overnight. Granted, they can also bolt and go to seed, so this can go either way.
Further Reading: Why are Some Carrots so Big?
Similarly, if the temperature gets cooler very quickly, your carrots might think that they only have a bit of time left to grow. As you can imagine, they’ll have a sudden growth spurt in an attempt to reach maturity however they can. A final way that this accelerated growth can occur is if a gardener gets too enthusiastic with fertilizer.
For example, if you plant your carrots late in the season, you might think that abundant fertilizer will speed up their growth. Technically, this can work, but it’ll be detrimental. If you use too much nitrogen fertilizer, the carrots will produce bushy green leaves, but small roots. In contrast, if you use a fertilizer that’s high in potassium and phosphorous, the roots might BOOM into action and grow really quickly.
The main downside to this is that the root’s skin might not be able to keep up with the internal growth spurt, which results in splitting. You also won’t get the sweet, delicious flavor from your carrots. This takes time and ideal temperature shifts to develop. Ultimately, you’ll have big, flavorless, funky-looking carrots that nobody wants to eat. Try to plan ahead, plant at the ideal time, and let your carrots grow at their own speed.
Aim for Heirloom Varieties
Some growers have noticed that modern hybrid carrot cultivars mature faster than heirloom varieties. As a result, they’re also more prone to splitting. If you’ve have trouble with split carrots in the past, try growing heirlooms instead. Choose open-pollinated species that thrive in your growing zone. Grow your carrots in the spring or autumn, so they don’t bolt on you.
Finally, choose species that will do best in the conditions you’re offering. If you have deep raised beds, you can grow long carrots. Alternatively, if you have shallower beds or less-than-stellar soil, go for Nantes or other shorter varieties. With good soil and regular watering, you may never have to deal with split carrots again.