Celery is a crisp vegetable that’s bright in color and flavor. It is a temperamental plant to grow, but with proper care and conditions, gardeners can raise beautiful and succulent stalks. Here is all you’ll need to know to grow your celery crop.
Celery needs a long (130-140 days) and cool growing season and does best in areas with mild winters and summers. Planting times for celery differ from place to place to accommodate temperature patterns. Extreme heat kills celery while cold forces celery to bolt (seed) prematurely.
A successful celery crop yields plants between 12 and 18 inches tall. Aside from growing a bountiful crop, the goal is to have plants that are sweet, vibrant, crisp, and full of moisture.
To give celery its best shot, start seeds indoors. Begin ten weeks prior to the last winter frost. When the outside temperature stays at or above 50 degrees, it’s time to transplant seedlings into the ground. You should space seedlings six to ten inches apart from each other three to four inches deep into the ground. Space each row two feet apart from the next.
Celery loves a nutrient rich, constantly moist, and well-drained soil. Because its roots are shallow and live toward the top of the earth, it’s important to keep the top layer of soil moist and nourished. Celery does best in soil that has a pH of 6 to 6.8, which is slightly more acidic than it is alkaline. Work a balanced, 10-10-10 fertilizer into the soil before planting seedlings. After that, fertilize once per month. Use a liquid fertilizer in summer. You may use mulch to help retain moisture and protect roots from heat.
As mentioned above, celery needs constant moisture. It doesn’t tolerate drought conditions. It’s important to provide plenty of water throughout the entire growing season and pay extra attention in the hottest part of the season. Depending on the heat in your area, you may have to water more than once per day during the hottest days. While you don’t want to create rot, you should always err on the side of giving too much water rather than risk giving too little water. Signs that celery plants are getting inadequate moisture are dry, thin plants that have a slow growth rate. Lack of moisture results in small, flavorless stalks. They may also be dry and hollow.
Celery plants need a lot of sun. In areas with mild summers, plant celery in full sun. However, celery will do fine in partial shade, as long as it gets at least six hours of sunlight per day. In areas that receive extreme heat, plants should be shaded during the hottest periods of the days. It’s better to give celery partial shade than to expose it to extreme heat. Again, you may choose to use mulch to help with the heat while providing sufficient sunlight.
Pests and Diseases
There are a few pests and diseases that affect celery, but keep a keen eye out and you’ll catch them early enough to avoid much damage.
Aphids may show up on your celery plant. For small infestations, trim off affected parts of celery. You may also have success knocking these tiny green insects off with water or by using insecticidal soaps meant for edible crops. If you have a large infestation, consider removing the plant.
You may also encounter celery worms. Celery worms are green caterpillars with black bands that transform into swallowtail butterflies. The best way to deal with the worms that eat through your plants is to pick them off by hand or use an insecticide. The same goes with beetles or other worms you may encounter.
One common disease to look out for is leaf blight. This bacterial infection thrives in warm, wet weather. You can identify leaf blight by the small brown spots that appear on and spread among the celery leaves. To battle leaf blight, keep your garden weed free with good drainage. Pinch off brown spots and use a fungicide when you first notice the spots. Remove any plants that are heavily infected.
Blanching celery is an act of preference. Some gardeners like to blanch their celery, saying it makes for a sweeter, tenderer stalk than non-blanched celery. Other gardeners skip blanching, saying it only affects color and not taste.
Blanching celery blocks the sun from the celery, resulting in stalks that are pale in color. To achieve this, continue hilling the dirt up around the celery stalk as it grows. You can also blanch celery by gently wrapping stalks in newspaper. Some gardeners also snip the tops and bottoms off cardboard milk cartons and slip those over the plants. Each of these methods allows continued growth and air circulation while protecting stalks from receiving light.
After about 130-140 days, it’s finally time to reap your reward. Ideally, your celery crop will be ready to harvest before the hottest days of the season, but that depends on when you started the seeds. Celery that is ripe for the picking will be in tight bunches with the low outer stalks at least six inches tall. The inner stalks will reach at least 12 inches. Cut celery bunches below the soil line, taking the entire bunch.
Celery may be a challenge for some, but the reward is worth it. With attention and care, you’ll end up with sweet, watery celery that will brighten your meals and snacks.