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Growing Celery in Containers

Celery bucket

Utah celery growing in a sunny spot on my balcony.

Celery is a biennial: taking two years to complete it's growth cycle. But that doesn't matter to us. I guess the benefit is that is shouldn't want to flower in its first year but under extreme conditions, it will try. I've been growing "Utah" celery. It's suppose to be a compact plant and therefor better for container growing I guess. But I think I choose it because it was the cheapest celery seed I could find at the time.

Apparently celery takes a long time to reach maturity. I start mine indoors and transplant out when the weather warms past the possibility of a late spring frost. It's not a large sprawling plant so it doesn't take up much space. And it has a shallow root system so keep that in mind when selecting a container and watering. It's a great candidate for drip irrigation but it will be equally happy in a self-watering container.

Celery requires lots of moisture to grow thick juicy stalks. Don't let it dry out. It also helps to keep the stalks out of the sunlight so they maintain a mild taste. But it also requires a good amount of sunlight to grow. I've read that celery is a nutrient-hungry plant. As it has a shallow root system, all of its nutrients must come from the top layer of the soil which adds to the challenge because constant watering will wash nutrients into the bottom of the container where the plant's roots will have a harder time reaching them.

I start my plants indoors. Germination time is around 2 or 3 weeks. Room temperature is fine. It takes a few weeks past germination for the plants to reach transplant size. Starting them in a window sill is not easy as the tiny plants will want to grow tall and spindly and always lean out towards the sunlight. But I haven't had any real problems with starting celery. No more than I have with any other plant. When planting celery plants, be sure to leave the crown of the plant above the soil surface. The crown is that part of the base of the plant from which the stalks emerge.

Celery Crown

The crown of a new celery plant. Don't bury the crown of the plants when transplanting.

Celery planted

After a few weeks in their new container.

The best celery I was able to grow, I grew in a bucket on the floor of my balcony. I only filled the bucket to 2/3 with fertilizer rich potting soil. By growing it in a deep container I was able to keep the stalks shaded. The lack of sunlight exposer will give you a milder tasting celery. I placed the bucket on the floor of my balcony. It didn't get as much sunlight down there and therefor, didn't provide me with thick or tall celery. But I was able to keep the container shaded so I didn't have to worry as much about the soil in the container drying out in the hot sun. I was also able to setup a gravity fed drip irrigation system to keep the celery container soil constantly moist.

Celery bucket

Small stalks but ready to eat. They will get thicker over time.

Celery plants should reach maturity in 80 to 100 days. But with a plant that lets you steal stalks as it grows, I'm not sure if that really matters. I think the young stalks taste much better than the older tough stalks. If you harvest stalks early they will taste best but they won't be very big. You can use tough or hollow stalks in a soup stock. And the leaves. Hollow stalks are usually a sign of under-watering.

Celery can be bound while growing. This blanches the inner stalks because it keeps them from receiving sunlight. That's why the inner stalks taste different from the outer stalks. Although the darker outer stalks are darker and perhaps tougher in taste and texture, they contain more nutrients.

Late in the season some leaves will start to yellow. That's a pretty good sign that the plants have exhausted their supply of nutrients from the soil. If you mow the plant down, removing all stalks while leaving the crown intact, it will continue to grow and put up new stalks. In fact you can take the bottom of a bunch of celery purchased at a store and plant it in the ground, and it will root and send up new stalks.

Growing your own celery in a container on a balcony, don't expect really thick juicy stalks like the kind you get a the grocery store. To be honest, I'm not sure there is much point to growing it yourself in a container. It's one of those things you grow for a challenge. I spend months tending to a few plants just to find they don't taste all that great. And I'm not sure there is much variation between celery varieties either. With all the effort required to grow decent celery in a container on the balcony, you might be better off passing on this one. But it's great it you're looking for something different to try.

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