Celery has a very long maturing time, and can be finicky about soil nutrients, but growing your own celery is easy when given enough time and compost! Growing your own is also very economical. When harvesting just what you need from the outside of the plants, they can continue to grow all season long!
There are two basic types of celery: standard green celery (which includes pink and red tinged varieties) and golden celery, also known as self-blanching varieties.
Green Celery varieties have a stronger taste, are crisper, and contain more vitamins than self-blanching pale colored celeries. Some people prefer pale celery, especially for fresh eating because of its mild flavor and will blanch green types by mounding soil around the stalks or using a brown paper bag to keep the sunlight from darkening the stems.
Self-Blanching types have naturally lighter-colored stems, similar to the color of celery you find in the grocery store. Some people like its softer texture and subtler flavor.
Planting and Aftercare:
Celery seedlings germinate best in a temperature of 55-60 degrees F, so skip your heat mat! You should plan on keeping your seedlings inside for 10-12 weeks as they are slow growers, so time this with your last frost date in spring, with the goal of planting out about 2-4 weeks after your last frost date. This your seedlings to about 1” apart after the second set of true leaves develop, or at this time plant in individual pots. When you are ready to transplant outside, prepare your bedding area with 3 generous inches of a good compost. Celery will do well with the extra nutrients compost will provide. Plant your seedlings 8-12” apart in rows that are 2’ apart. As they grow, you need to keep the plants well-watered to prevent stress which will cause the stalks to flower (also known as bolting) and will make your celery very bitter and not good for eating. Feeding with your favorite balanced liquid fertilizer every 3-4 weeks is helpful. When harvesting, simply pull what you need from the outer stalks. The plant will keep producing more stalks from the center!
Tips for Success:
Because celery is exceptionally sensitive to environmental stresses, watering consistently is possibly the most important key for a healthy crop. Buying and starting seeds yourself will give you a better selection of varieties, but if you need to buy seedlings, choose plants with several strong stems. Avoid plant starts that are too large for their containers. They are likely to bold before they can grow any edible stems. With celery, slow and steady wins the race.
To make celery seeds sprout quicker, soak them in water for about 3 hours, then drain, spread to dry very well, and then transfer to a small container and freeze for a week. At this point, plant in your flats as usual!
Trouble to Watch For:
Pink Rot is a fungal disease that causes pink spots and fuzzy dying growth near the base of stalks. Remove and destroy (do not compost) affected plants. Rotate crops season to season to prevent, and don’t grow celery in the year following where members of the Brassica family have grown like broccoli and cabbage.
If you find cracked, brittle stems and leaves with brown spots, that is usually a sign of a boron deficiency. Avoid this by adding plenty of compost when planting. Keep the plants well fed during the growing season with a balanced, organic, liquid fertilizer.
Splitting of stalks is most often caused by lack of water or excess nitrogen. Keep plants well-watered and avoid high nitrogen (the first number in the composition sequence on the packaging -example: 10-10-10) fertilizers.
Growing Zone and Special Conditions:
Celery is an annual vegetable will grow in all USDA grow zones and can be harvested from summer until well into fall. It will do best in full sun in soil well amended with compost and regular applications of organic liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Plants can be stored in fall by pulling up the entire plant including the roots, and pushing the roots into a container of sterile playground sand that has been lightly moistened. Leave the tops of the plants uncovered and store in a cool, dark place. You can pull off stalks as you need them!
Celery also dehydrates and freezes very well. Chopped, dehydrated celery goes perfectly into soups and stews, and chopped, frozen celery sautés again with very little change in texture from fresh.
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo.