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March Mania

Short carrots, a great gardening tip and mulching perennials

Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum1 / 2
A reader wonders why his daughter's carrots grew so much shorter than expected. Special to The Forum2 / 2

Q: I just wanted to drop you a line to say my wife and I enjoyed your article on millennials and gardening. It was timely because just this week, our daughter sent us a picture of her first carrot crop from their garden down in Bayport, Minn. I gave them the seeds which are the same Scarlet Nantes seeds that we planted that consistently produce carrots 2 inches in diameter and 10 inches long in our garden’s Red River Valley soil.

Do you know why our daughter’s carrots grew so much shorter? I’m thinking next spring of helping them prepare a proper seedbed. — Terry Kensok, Wheatland, N.D.

A: Scarlet Nantes has been a standard variety in many of our gardens for years and the carrots you’ve produced are typical of that cultivar. When your daughter's carrots from the same seed grew so short, the cause is almost certainly soil-related.

Carrots are very sensitive to compacted soil, or soil that isn’t prepared deeply enough. If carrots can’t easily penetrate the soil in which they’re planted, their shape is often short and squat, rather than trying to penetrate soil that's too compact. Similarly, when carrot roots encounter a hard lump of soil or a pebble, they take the path of least resistance, often becoming crooked, forked or misshapen as they navigate around the obstruction.

If your daughter’s soil is hard-packed, adding peat moss, compost, bagged manure or other sources of organic material will help greatly. Thanks for assisting your daughter, as you pass along gardening tips to the next generation.

Q: I’m not in the millennial generation, but I’m a baby boomer and farmer and enjoy working in a large garden. This year we froze or canned over 350 quarts of asparagus, rhubarb, peas, beans, beets, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet corn and carrots and lots of jams and jellies from strawberries, raspberries and cherries that we grow.

In the last two years I’ve discovered an effective way to grow carrots in my heavy black soils. In the spring I use a narrow garden spade to dig an 8-inch-deep trench, fill it with sand from the grandchildren’s sandbox and then plant the carrots, covering the seeds with black soil. When harvesting, if I have dug the trench deep enough, I can usually just pull them without all the caked-on mud. — Amon Baer, Lake Park, Minn.

A: Thanks for the great tip and sharing an inspiring story of the gardens you raise. All of us who have grown carrots in heavy clay soil can appreciate the difficulty in digging. Next year I am definitely trying the method you’ve found successful when growing carrots.

Q: How do you know when to mulch perennials with leaves this fall when the weather has been so weird? — Judy Gemar, Fullerton, N.D.

A: Mulching perennials and roses in the fall is best done after the soil has frozen consistently to a depth such that you can no longer get a spade into the ground. The purpose of fall mulch is to keep perennials comfortably frozen in soil while preventing bitter extreme cold from penetrating deeply into the root zone during winter. Mulch applied in fall also buffers against the freezing and thawing that can happen during the so-called “January thaws.”

This November has certainly been weird, like you say, with soil starting to freeze during earlier weeks of frigid temperatures, but thawing again in recent milder conditions. If perennials haven't been mulched yet, I would probably wait a little. The main concept is to apply mulches after soil is frozen, but before we start getting frigid temperatures approaching zero degrees.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.