Want to learn how to grow celery plants in your garden at home? Here’s a helpful guide to get you going.
Types of Celery Plants
There are two main types of celery. There’s the traditional, long-stemmed and labor-intensive English “trench” celery and the more common green American celery, also called Pascal. Both are considered difficult to grow, but with the right conditions, you can grow celery at home. Utah is one of the most popular American varieties, and you can also find uncommon red or pink-stalked celery varieties.
There are also “self-blanching” varieties of celery, like Golden Self-Blanching, for gardeners who prefer the taste of blanched celery to regular celery. Some celery and celery hybrid varieties are resistant to diseases like late blight and fusarium wilt, so consider whether this is desirable when choosing seeds.
Conditions for Growing Celery
The main problem home gardeners usually run into when growing celery is how much water it needs. The soil should always be moist. You may need to use drip irrigation or soaker hoses on a bed or row of celery to keep water conditions right.
Celery also requires a long, cool growing season, from 130 to 140 days of moderate weather. It grows best in climates with either very mild winters, where it is a good winter crop, or in climates with cool summers. Rich topsoil is a must, as celery has shallow roots – just a few inches deep — that need a moist top layer with plenty of organic matter. If you venture into growing trench celery, you should prepare the site with a trench dug a foot deep where you intend to grow the celery.
Planting Celery: the Details
Celery has a long germination period, and is usually started indoors. Plant seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before you expect the last frost. Soak seeds overnight before planting to help speed germination. Harden them off for a week to 10 days before transplanting outside, by setting them outdoors in the warmer part of the day for a few hours, gradually increasing until they are inside only at night.
They can be planted in the garden when they are four to six inches tall, and this can be within a week or two before the last frost date. Use 5-10-10 fertilizer to help the plants start outside, mixing it into the soil before planting. Strip a couple of the outer leaves off each celery as you plant it, which will help the plant regain its growth pattern.
Space celeries about eight inches apart to let them reach their full growth. Plan for them to be mature in 100 to 120 days from transplanting. For the trench method, fill the trench halfway with rich compost or manure, then add a three-inch layer of soil on top. Place seedling celeries along the trench, then firm up the rest of the soil around them, which is called “earthing up.”
Caring for Celery Plants
Mulch with a light layer of mulch around the bases of celeries in the garden when they are at least six inches tall. This will help keep down weeds and help the plants retain their much-needed water. Take care when weeding around celery; do it by hand, not with a hoe, and keep a sharp eye out to avoid damaging celery’s shallow roots.
Applying liquid fertilizer early in the growing season will help your celery continue regular growth, especially as the weather gets warmer. Apply it once in the second month and once in the third month of growth. Water at least every other day to keep celery from becoming tough and stringy. Water every day if there is no rain.
You can harvest celery as it grows throughout the growing season. Simply pull off or snip off the outer stalks as you need them, leaving the inner hearts intact to produce more stalks. Some gardeners blanch celery before harvesting, turning the stalks yellow and giving the vegetable a milder taste. This can be done by shading the bottom of the plant with paper wraps, tiles, boards or soil mounds.
At the end of the growing season, you can harvest whole plants by just pulling them up and cutting off the roots. If you need to store a lot of celery at final harvesting time, you can keep them very fresh by leaving the roots on, and replanting them upright in boxes of sand in a root cellar or other cool, dark place.
If you would rather keep them outside, you can dig a trench inside a cold frame and set them in it, close together, where they can sustain themselves without freezing. Celery will keep for weeks as long as the roots are kept moist and the stalks are dry. In either case, temperatures in the 35 to 40 degree Fahrenheit range work best for storage.
Troubleshooting: Celery Problems
Celeries attract the same kinds of bugs as do cabbages, leafy greens, and cruciform vegetables. One thing to watch for if you also have cabbages or cauliflowers is the presence of cabbage worm, which likes all of these plants. Cabbage looper, green peach aphids, leafminers, and tarnished plant bugs all can sometimes be found infesting celery.
Their tender stems also attract moles, voles and other rodents, so you may want to plant them in an enclosure or tightly fenced area. The two most common celery diseases are late blight and fusarium wilt, which can be avoided by selecting a disease-resistant cultivar for planting. Other diseases to watch for are alternaria, root knot, thielaviopsis, xanthomonas, leaf blight, and basal stalk rot, along with the celery mosaic virus.
Want to learn more about growing celery?
Check out these resources for more information on the subject.
The National Gardening Association gives tips on planting celery.
A Utah State University Extension specialist answers questions on cauliflower and celery.
The University of Massachusetts Extension’s Vegetable Program provides extensive articles on celery pests and diseases.