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How To Successfully Grow Celery From Seed

Homegrown celery is a treat not to be missed. The flavor boost in your soups, stews, and smoothies is worth the effort. Your mirepoix will never be the same. 

Grocery store celery is often pale and bland. The commercially grown varieties are selected for their storage and transport qualities. They must withstand abusive mechanical harvesting, pesticides, rough handling, and distribution nationwide. Not so the celery in your garden. 

When you grow your own, you can select varieties bred for superior flavor. Like celery flavor but hate the strings in your teeth? Home growers can choose stringless varieties of celery. Don’t want pesticide residue on your celery? Grow it at home and you know every step of its journey from germination to your kitchen. Looking for a better celery stalk to hold peanut butter? Grow your own celery!

Celery is known for being tricky to grow in the garden, but it doesn't have to be. Problems with celery usually boil down to poorly prepared soil or uneven moisture (not enough water). We'll run through the entire process for celery stalk success, from seed to harvest.

Planning Your Celery Patch

Celery is often hard to find as started nursery plants, so you will likely need to start your own from seed. That's okay, you’ll get to pick from dozens of varieties to find one that suits your climate and taste.

Growing celery from seed requires an early start. In colder climates, you'll want to sow celery seeds indoors 10–12 weeks before your last frost date. If you aren't sure when that occurs, you can get an estimate from this map on NOAA's website. They average frost dates for 30 years to provide an accurate range estimate. Southern gardeners can grow a fall crop by starting celery seeds indoors about 10 weeks before your ideal transplanting time of late summer.

Celery varieties are sometimes sorted into blanching and self-blanching. However, most varieties sold now are self-blanching varieties. Blanching means protecting the stalk from sunlight by mounding up the soil, tying stalks together, planting very closely, or using tubes or covers. 

If you'd rather not be bothered by all that fuss, choose a self-blanching variety–they taste just as good. Celery is usually green, but reddish purple stalked varieties are also available. If you’ve only eaten celery from the supermarket, homegrown celery may surprise you with its deep, beautiful color. You'll also be able to select varieties with shorter or longer days to maturity (important for those with shorter growing seasons), and some that are resistant to diseases like Fusarium wilt. 

Celery Seeding and Germination

While some gardeners swear by soaking celery seeds for 24 hours before planting, it isn't necessary. Celery seeds do not need any pretreatment, either stratification or soaking. However, it won't hurt them if you'd like to do so.

  • Choose a high-quality seed starting mix.
  • Prepare containers, cells, flats, or seed blocks with a moist starting mix and lightly tamp it. 
  • Sow the seeds on the surface. If more than one of the tiny seeds falls into the same spot, don't worry; you can thin them later if they all sprout. 
  • Celery seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury them. A light sprinkling of seed starting mix or fine vermiculite is all that's needed.
  • Cover the tray with a humidity dome or plastic wrap to keep moisture in, and place it in a warm, bright spot.
  • Keep the seed starting mix moist, and be patient. Celery seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate.

Celery seeds are absolutely tiny and trying to control the seeding rate can be frustrating. Some ways to deal with small seeds include gently tapping the envelope, rolling them between your index finger and thumb to drop them, or mixing the seeds with a small amount of dry sand and then evenly planting the seed-sand mixture. 

Pro Tip:  My favorite trick for tiny seeds is to moisten the end of a toothpick. Then, lightly touch the toothpick to the seed. The seed will stick to the end of the toothpick, and then you can wipe the seed off on the starting medium. 

Growing Strong Celery Seedlings

Once they’ve sprouted, celery needs light and lots of it. They grow best in full sun, and as seedlings indoors, they'll need supplemental light. Both fluorescent or LED lights work well. You'll need to place the lights closely over the top of the seedlings. Shop-light type fluorescents will need to be hung 2–3 inches above the seedlings and moved up as they grow. LED lights can be a little farther but should still be within 12–18 inches. 

A sunny window likely won't do it—celery seedlings need about 16 hours per day of bright light. Use a timer to avoid forgetting to turn the lights on or off. 

Soil moisture is critical for celery, first as seedlings and later in the garden. Keep the soil mix moist but not soggy. If under artificial lights, you may need to check them twice daily. Once they've popped up and grown an inch or two, it's time to thin out any extras you may have dropped when planting. Use scissors to snip off extras to avoid accidentally pulling up the keepers' roots.

Transplanting Celery to the Garden 

When celery seedlings have a few true leaves and are at least 3–4 inches tall, they're ready to be hardened off and transplanted. Check out our blog post here if you want to brush up on hardening off seedlings. 

Transplant celery seedlings out to the garden or into containers on the deck when the danger of frost has passed and night-time temps remain forty degrees or warmer. While celery tolerates light frost, extended exposure to cold temperatures after transplanting can cause celery to bolt.

  • Choose a location with full sunshine and good drainage. 
  • Prepare the garden bed by deeply loosening the soil—as deep as you can—and working in several inches of compost and aged manure. 
  • Space celery transplants about 9" apart. Plant celery in a block instead of rows, and it will help keep weeds down and aid in blanching (even for self-blanching varieties).

Ongoing Care and Maintenance

Most celery growing problems in the home garden can be traced to a lack of water. Small stems, bitterness, hollow stems, and tough, fibrous stalks are all caused by insufficient moisture. While most garden veggies we grow are happy with an inch of water each week, celery needs double that, especially during hot weather. 

Mulch around the plants helps keep soil moisture even and eliminates dry and wet soil swings in sunny weather. It will also keep the weeds down. If you grow celery in containers, you'll likely need to water daily. 

Time to Eat—Harvesting and Storing Celery

Celery can be harvested at any time. You don't have to wait until the end of the season to snag some stalks. To harvest, snap off single stalks as needed, starting outside and working in or digging up the entire plant. 

Celery will keep quite a while in the refrigerator, but it can also be frozen. While frozen celery won't have a crisp texture anymore, it still works fine for flavoring soups and stews.

Growing celery at home is an excellent way to add flavor to your favorite recipes. The taste and aromatics of homegrown celery can't be beat. And, knowing the flavor in your dish came from your garden makes learning to grow your own celery even better. 

Shop our selection of Celery Seeds today!

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