QUESTION: My carrots are forking. What causes forking in carrots? What am I doing wrong? -Van R.
ANSWER: A few environmental conditions can cause carrots to fork. They could run into an unforgiving obstacle such as a small rock as they were growing downward, causing them to split and grow in two directions to avoid the object. Carrots also have a tough time developing properly in heavy, compacted soil. They prefer a light loam or sandy soil medium instead.
If your soil is heavy and you want to grow carrots, you can amend your soil by digging in some compost. You could also put shredded leaves on your empty garden beds a few months before planting time, let them break down, and dig them into your beds in the spring. Manure can also be used to amend the soil in your carrot beds, but make sure that it’s been composted. Fresh manure, or too much nitrogen in your soil can cause your carrots to have an unattractive, hairy appearance.
Whatever you do, don’t add sand to your clay heavy soil to try to turn it into a sandy soil, as the combination of sand and clay creates a near cement like medium, which will be terrible for cultivating carrots in. If the soil in your yard is heavy clay, you may be better off creating a raised bed for your carrots instead of trying to amend your soil.
There are a few other factors which can cause carrots to develop odd roots. Root-knot nematode is a common garden pest that can cause your carrots to be deformed, or grow hairy roots. Find out if your soil has been invaded by root-knot nematodes by conducting a soil test. Transplanting carrots can also cause them to become forked. Transplanting vegetables with long taproots is never a good idea, so avoid transplanting your carrots and parsnips.
Finally, growing your carrot crops too close together can lead to twisted root systems, or even stunted root development, so be sure to thin your carrot crops down after the leaves are a few inches tall to make sure your plants produce nice straight roots during the growing season.