Celery Plants Can Be a Cinch

Growing celery plants requires sustained attention through winter, spring, and summer, but the results are worth it.

  • celery plants - mature stalks wrapped with tar paper
    The author's method of blanching celery plants involves wrapping the stalks with tar paper.
    Photo by John S. Bennett

  • celery plants - mature stalks wrapped with tar paper

While many gardeners boast of their zucchini yields or brag about the size of their prize tomatoes, it's rare that a green-thumber will even mention another staple of the vegetable plate: celery. Most people, it seems, are so intimidated by its reputation as a "fussy" crop that they prefer to harvest celery plants from the supermarket. And, all too often, the enterprising folks who do attempt to cultivate these crisp stalks find that their labors result in a limp, discolored, and not quite right-tasting product.

In fact, my first try at celery culture was, to be honest, pretty disappointing. But I've since discovered that this succulent salad mainstay is downright easy to grow as long as it's properly fed and watered. Moreover, because celery is such a nutritious food (it's rich in phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and a good source of roughage), it's a valuable addition to your garden plot.

Around my home (in British Columbia), the preparations for a quality celery crop begin in late February, when I start my plants indoors. Otis S. Twilley Seed Company, Inc. markets a variety of seed called Utah 52-70, which is well suited to the growing conditions in my area and highly resistant to disease. The stalks of this plant have a pleasing, nutty flavor, too. Whatever variety you choose, though, be sure to obtain fresh seed each spring, as older seed is often unreliable.

Using a shallow flowerpot filled with a porous mixture of equal amounts of vermiculite and potting soil, I sow the seeds sparsely (spacing them at least an inch apart), gently press them into the soil, and cover them with a 1/8-inch layer of vermiculite. Next, I add water to the pot's "dish" reservoir allowing the moisture to soak into the soil from below and cover the container with plastic wrap. Then I set the miniature greenhouse in a spot that'll remain at approximately 70°F.

Celery is slow to germinate; it takes about three weeks for the shoots to begin peeking through the soil. At that signal, I remove the plastic and set the planter on a sunny windowsill where the seedlings will be well ventilated and can enjoy an even temperature of 60°F or thereabouts. I've found that a combination of good drainage, plenty of moisture, and cool temperatures will insure a healthy crop. However, it is important to keep the delicate young sprouts from "catching cold," as they'll go to seed if left exposed to temperatures below 50°F.

When the plants are about a month old and close to 3 inches tall, they're ready to move to a small flat in which they're spaced on 3-inch centers. Once the celery plants start to shoot up in earnest, they're transferred again, this time to a cold frame where they'll remain until the nights are no colder than 55°F. In the meantime, I prepare the garden for the seedlings.

7/29/2013 7:06:47 AM

this is so helpful, thnx bt I think tar paper is most likely toxic; smells fumy. 

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