Homegrown celery is delicious, nutritious, and surprisingly easy to grow! Here’s how to grow celery in your own garden…
Although celery is practically a staple in our kitchen, I have to admit I never even thought of growing it myself until my husband gave me a variety pack of seeds as a gift a few years ago, which included a packet of celery seed!
Learning to Grow Celery
In our case, starting celery from seed proved to be more hassle than it was worth, especially since we only needed a few plants. Germination took a long time, and the tiny plants grew very slowly until I eventually planted them out in the garden. However, once established, the plants took off and grew like crazy in our wet summer, creating huge, bushy mounds of leaves atop hundreds of long stalks.
Unfortunately, the stalks were very thin and tough, with an extremely strong flavor that made them somewhat unpleasant for eating raw. We harvested them all in the fall (I later learned they are fairly hardy, and some varieties may even make it through an Ohio winter with just a light row covering), chopped up all the tiny stems, and packed them in freezer bags for use in cooking. Despite their unpalatable flavor when raw, they turned out to be quite delicious in soups and stews over the winter, and since they keep very well in the freezer and we use so much celery in cooking, I have grown celery every year since!
Although I prefer to start most of my seeds from scratch, celery is one of the few exceptions. Since the first year, I have purchased celery seedlings at our local nursery. These seem to grow much better, and have much thicker, more tender, juicy, and edible stalks. (I am not sure if it was the variety, or another factor that made them turn out that way the first year.)
Some varieties are better than others, and I don’t care as much for the “Peppermint Stripe” variety, which although attractively colored, tends to have thinner stalks that trend on the strongly flavored or bitter side. The regular green variety (usually organic) is what I prefer if I can find it (Tango is one of the best as mentioned below). Most years they do quite well for us, although they occasionally are prone to a brown, slimy rot – maybe due to excess heat? (Last year, we packed so many bags of celery in the freezer that I may not need to grow any this year – for the first time since my husband gave me that first batch of seeds!)
I have found celery to be surprisingly easy to grow, and as a staple kitchen ingredient that is easy to preserve for later use in the freezer, it’s something that belongs in just about every garden, in my opinion! It does like a decent amount of water, but we have had good crops even during dry summers, although it doesn’t seem to care for extreme heat. Thus far, we haven’t really noticed any pests bothering our celery, so it is pretty low-maintenance.
Celery is also quite productive, and a single plant may be all you need for 1-2 people if you aren’t planning on freezing or drying any for later use. As a vertical plant, it doesn’t take up a ton of space, and you can easily grow 1-2 plants at the end of a garden bed, or in an out-of-the-way corner of the yard that gets plenty of sun.
If you haven’t considered growing your own celery, here are 3 reasons to add it to your garden this year:
- Conventionally grown celery is ranked as one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops by the Environmental Working Group. Organic celery, on the other hand, can e difficult to find and expensive at the grocery store. Growing your own celery is a great way to enjoy this tasty vegetable without adding chemicals to your body – or the environment.
- It’s really good for you! In fact, according to this article, “before it was a culinary staple, celery was used almost exclusively for medicinal purposes from 850 BC through the 17th century.” Celery is high in vitamin K and other antioxidants, fiber, and electrolytes, and may help fight inflammation, heart disease, and cancer, and improve fertility and gut health. As with other vegetables, growing your own celery and enjoying it fresh can ensure that it contains the maximum amount of vital nutrients for good health.
- You won’t believe how much tastier homegrown celery is than store-bought! Despite our first year’s experience, most of our homegrown celery has been amazingly crisp, juicy, and flavorful, and has a sweetness that I have never tasted in store-bought celery. Its fragrant leaves are also wonderful in soups, and we always store a giant bag of the tenderest leaves in the freezer for use when making homemade stock throughout the year.
Here are a few tips for success with growing your own celery:
1.) Start with seedlings.
Although you can certainly try growing your own celery from seed, germination is slow and spotty, and the tiny seedlings tend to grow very slowly. If you are experienced with starting seeds and want to try it, it is best to start your seeds 10-12 weeks before you plan to plant them out in the garden. But for most people, buying pre-established seedlings is the best way to go.
2.) Choose the right variety for your area.
Although you can grow celery in most temperate climates, be aware that celery grows best in temperatures between 55-80°F. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you should choose heat-resistant varieties, and it might be a good idea to grow under shade cloth. Tango is a good variety for warmer climates, and tends to have tender and less bitter stalks (we have grown this one and it did very well for us).
Tall Utah is an upright celery variety that takes up less space, and there are also red and pink varieties that will add some fun color to your garden – and your meals!
3. Ensure plenty of light.
Celery needs at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, or if growing indoors, 16 hours per day under a grow light. That said, all you need is a small amount of sunny space to grow celery. You can space your celery plants as close as 4″ apart, but the plants will be smaller. Giving them more room will allow your plants to spread out and produce more stalks.
We usually only plant about 3-4 plants in a 4′ x 4′ bed and they will grow huge and take up most of the bed, producing more than enough for 2 people for a year!
4. Provide plenty of water and nutrition.
Celery likes rich soil, so adding a couple of inches of compost at the start of the growing season will provide the best result. Given that celery stalks are mostly made up of water, your celery plants will also need plenty of this, but you’ll also want to make sure to have good drainage to prevent rot. Consistent moisture is very important, so if you live in a dry climate, adding several inches of mulch to the soil will go a long way towards helping your celery thrive. Celery does best in soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8.
5. Harvest often to maximize your crop.
You don’t have to wait for your plant to grow into a huge head of celery before you harvest it. Once your plant has at least 10 stalks, you can start harvesting and enjoying your homegrown celery! Just cut the outermost stalks with a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears, making sure to leave at least 7 stalks on the cluster at all times. This way, you’ll have a continuous harvest for the entire growing season. Cut as close to the ground and as cleanly as possible to prevent rot or disease.
This short video shares a quick step-by-step guide to growing your own celery from seed:
While celery is a common kitchen ingredient, many people don’t necessarily think of growing it for themselves. But as easy and delicious as it is to grow celery at home, you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try!