Celery is one of those vegetables that people take for granted. It’s not expensive and it’s readily available at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Some garden experts say celery is a difficult plant to grow. Others disagree, saying homegrown celery is not only tastier than what you buy in a store, but a fairly simple choice for home gardens. By following a few simple guidelines, you can grow your own crop of crispy, crunchy celery.
Celery is a high-fiber food and two medium stalks contain only 15 calories. Each stalk is packed full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Nutritionists say it contains up to 25 anti-inflammatory compounds and reduces inflammation caused by arthritis and osteoporosis. Celery also contains apiuman and polysaccharides that reduce the risk of developing stomach ulcers, according to research.
There are three ways to grow celery: from seed, seedling starter plants, and using the base of a celery bunch. All three methods require loam soil, a rich, sandy, fertile soil that contains a little less clay than other mediums. This soil drains well but also has ample texture to hold water so that the plant’s roots can access moisture before it drains. Outdoor planting in the late summer leads to a fall crop in most areas. To grow well, celery requires 120 days of 60-degree daytime temperatures with nighttime temps around 50 degrees.
Many vegetables have specific types for different uses. Celery has three types and many different varieties within each one:
Celery grows well with full sun to partial shade and moist soil. It is a cool-weather crop and a slow-grower. Many leaf celery varieties grow best in USDA zones 5a through 8b. Try Safir, a variety that offers crisp, pepper-flavored leaves. Celeriac prefers zones 8 and 9. Brilliant is a popular variety with a mild flavor, and it's a fast, vigorous grower. For something different, try growing Red Stalk heirloom celeriac with a richer flavor that retains its red color even after cooking. Stalk celery is hardy from zones 4 through 10. The Conquistador grows crisp stalks and adapts well to less moisture and higher heat.
If you plan to start celery plants from seed, start them indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date. Press the tiny seeds into potting soil formulated for starting seeds, but don’t cover them — they need light to germinate. Cover the pots or trays with plastic to help them retain moisture. Within a week, you’ll usually see the first signs of a tiny, new plant emerging from the soil.
Although you’ll have less choice of variety, growing celery from seedling form is often more successful, especially if you’ve never grown celery before. Plant two to three weeks before the average last frost date. Use a compost-rich soil and choose a spot where the temperature ranges between 60 and 70 degrees with access to full sun or partial shade.
Prepare for more leaves than stalks to emerge if you plant celery using the base of the stalk. Cut off the stalks, leaving about two inches of base. Fill a small container with about an inch of water. Place where it has access to bright light, but no direct sun. Once you see sprouts, transplant it into a pot filled partway with damp potting soil. Place the sprouted celery base on top of the soil. Cover the base with additional soil.
Sometimes home-grown celery is too stringy. Other times, it’s too watery or bitter. Blanching celery plants prevents these issues. Cover the stems of the plant with newspaper, cardboard, or aluminum foil for the final two to three weeks of growth before harvesting, limiting sun exposure. Or, use clean, waxed milk cartons with the tops and bottoms cut off and place around each plant. A third option is to rake the soil in a mound around the stalks up to where theleaves begin. Or, you can plant self-blanching celery varieties such as Tango F1 and Loretta.
Companion planting not only creates balance in your garden, but it also helps with pest management. Lettuce, spinach, onions, tomatoes, and English peas are excellent companion plants for celery, as are members of the cabbage family. Flowers like cosmos, daisies, and snapdragons add color, deter pests, and attract other insects that eat your plants’ predators. Avoid corn, carrots, parsley, potatoes, or aster flowers, which can interfere with celery growth.
Pests like celery leaf miners and nematodes can be an issue. To prevent them, add an insect-proof mesh over the growing plants, rotate them, and remove weeds regularly.
If your celery plant blooms, it means it is trying to set seeds. Flowering diminishes flavor and makes the stalks tough and hard to chew. This occurs after exposure to high heat, so provide shade during the hottest hours. Blooming can also indicate that a cold snap damaged the plant. Consider using a cold frame or soil-warming blanket to remedy the issue.
Get daily tips and tricks for living your best life.