Growing celery in the home garden provides crunchy snacks and flavor for homemade soups and stews. Celery will provide a harvest – both leaves and stems – for months (or even a couple of years) making it a worthwhile addition to your garden plans.
Swiss chard is another great vegetable to grow in containers that will provide a long harvest season.
Introduction to growing celery
Crunchy green celery is a familiar vegetable to most of us, but it seems like it’s not commonly planted in backyard gardens. I’m here to change that! I love having celery growing in my garden, both for its usefulness in cooking and its sheer beauty. It grows one-to-two feet tall and the celery leaves are a beautiful foliage. It’s a great addition to front yard gardens.
There are not a lot of common named varieties of celery. Unlike crops like tomatoes and beans that come in more colors and options that you can count, you won’t be faced with such daunting decisions when growing celery.
- Conquistador tolerates more heat than some varieties.
- Tango has less fibrous stalks than Conquistador, and some say a better flavor.
- Chinese pink celery will give you something to talk about with its pretty stalks.
How to plant celery
Celery seedlings aren’t commonly available at garden centers, so you’ll probably have to grow it from seed. Celery should be started from seed 10-12 weeks before the average last frost date for spring planting. For a fall harvest, start seed during the summer, 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost. Soaking seeds overnight before planting them can improve germination. Celery seeds are small and are best sprinkled onto seed starter mix and gently pressed into the soil; there’s no need to cover the seeds.
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Plant seedlings out in the garden when the soil reaches 50 degrees and nighttime temps remain above 40. Allow about 10″ between plants, adding mulch around the base of each plant to help retain moisture.
If (like mine) your climate allows you to direct sow celery, I’ve had good luck with broadcasting seeds over a fresh layer of compost.
Requirements for growing celery
Celery is best planted in the spring or fall; it doesn’t do well in the heat of the summer. It takes 130-140 days to mature; plan your planting accordingly, so that it matures before the weather becomes unbearably hot. This is not a good option for veggie gardens facing drought conditions. Celery is a thirsty crop that demands regular water. Without it, it can become stringy and hollow. Still edible, certainly, but not lovely.
Plant celery in nutrient-rich soil — it’s a heavy feeder. Add a side-dressing of compost near the base of the plants every three weeks or so.
Combating pests and other problems
Homegrown celery needs a consistent source of water or the stalks will grow hollow. All that moisture, though, is a siren call for slugs and snails who like to hide in the tightly clumped stalks.
How to grow celery in containers
Celery is shallow rooted, and perfectly suited to container gardening. Choose a container that’s about 10″-to-18″ inches in diameter. A pot on the smaller end of this spectrum is large enough for one or two celery plants. Choose a large one and you can grow three or four.
Fill your container with a rich soil. If you use a potting mix, incorporate some good quality compost. Transplant seedlings or direct sow seeds following the guidelines above.
This veggie is one that fits in the “cut and come again” category. Commercial growers harvest the entire plant, cutting it off at the base. Home gardeners can harvest from a single celery crop as long as the plant doesn’t succumb to hot weather. In my mild climate, I can grow and harvest celery in this manner all season long. It’s easy to pop out to the garden and snip off several stalks as needed for recipes. This makes for less waste, too, since you’ll harvest just what you need. No celery going limp in the produce bin!
To harvest celery, use scissors to snip off the mature stalks on the outer portion of the plant. Take just what you need for your recipe and leave the rest of the plant in place; new stalks will continue to emerge. To harvest celery at the end of its season, use a sharp knife to cut the entire plant away from the roots.
Celery is a biennial. In zones 5-6 and above, celery can be wintered over.
I’ve found that my homegrown celery has great flavor, but can tend toward being a bit tough for fresh eating. Which really? Is fine with me because while I use celery in recipes a lot, I rarely eat it raw.
Celery is an ingredient in the holy trinity and mirepoix. These cooking terms refer to combinations of vegetables used as a base in so many recipes. The holy trinity is commonly used in Cajun food and features celery, onions, and bell pepper. A mirepoix is often used as a base for soups, and includes celery, onions, and carrots.
Are celery leaves edible?
Absolutely! They’re flavorful and nutritious and it would be silly to discard them. I tend to use the entire stalk all at once, chopping everything to add to recipes. If you have a recipe that would be weird with celery leaves in it (though I’m not sure what that would be), remove the leaves from the stalk and save them for another recipe.