Technically a biennial that produces seeds in its second year, celery is usually grown as an annual to harvest its crunchy, edible stalks. Preferring a long season of cool weather, it can be a little tricky to grow, but the flavor of garden-fresh celery is unbeatable. Stems, leaves and seeds are all edible, so don’t throw any of this plant away during harvest! White flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects and will emerge in the second season in the shape of an umbel if allowed to continue growing for seed-saving.
Tango celery is a great type to grow organically. Smooth and tender stalks are 18–20″ tall, sweet and tasty, and have minimal stringiness. An improvement on older varieties of celery, Tango does well in most climates and prefers a northern latitude. Will tolerate imperfect growing conditions such as excess heat and lack of moisture. Tolerance to Fusarium diseases and a self-blanching nature round out the reasons to pick this type for your garden.
Seed Depth: 1/8″ or surface.
Space Between Plants: 6–10″
Space Between Rows: 20–36″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 15–21
Sow Indoors: 10–12 weeks before average last frost date. For fall crop, 10–12 weeks before transplanting outdoors in late summer.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks before average last frost date. Only recommended in mild climates with a long growing season.
Vegetative: You can regrow celery from the base of the plant after you eat its stalks. Root base in a dish of water, then transplant into soil once the first few leaves have grown. Harvest will not be as great as with a seed-grown plant, and flowering time will occur earlier, but it’s a fun experiment for getting kids interested in growing plants!
Grows best in cool weather and needs a long period of mild temperatures for best results. If grown in weather over 80°F, it can get fibrous and bitter tasting. A moderate and moist coastal climate is ideal. Grow as a fall crop in regions with hot summers. If you’re growing in warm climates, it can overwinter successfully, but keep in mind celery isn’t stoked on temperatures consistently below 55°F.
Natural: Partial shade. Can grow in full sun in climates with consistent cloud cover, though.
Artificial: Grows well under LED or fluorescent lamps. Needs 6 hours of light daily.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained loamy soil with high amounts of organic matter. A pH of between 6.0 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in mineral wool cubes.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems, including ebb and flow. Use clay pellets as your growing medium to provide support for the roots.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Aim for about 2″ of consistent watering per week. Do not allow soil to dry out, particularly as plants near maturity.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, to support its quick growth. Feed with compost tea or liquid seaweed once per week, especially if growing in poor soils. Amend soil with compost before planting.
Foliar: A foliar spray of diluted Epsom salts will help with magnesium deficiency.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Disease(s): Resistant to Fusarium diseases. Still, watch out for:
Deficiency(s): A boron deficiency will cause distorted growth and splitting of stalks. Magnesium and calcium deficiencies can make plants more susceptible to rot and blights. A lack of magnesium will also make the leaves turn yellow, and a lack of calcium will cause the tips of leaves and younger stems to die.
Rotation: A 2-year rotation away from all plants in the Apiaceae family is recommended. This includes carrots, fennel, cilantro, dill, anise, and parsley.
Companions: Grows well with lettuce, spinach, and peas. Avoid cucumber family plants like pumpkins, squash, melons, and cucumbers.
Harvest: Cut stalks as needed from the outside of the plant using a sharp knife. You can also wait to harvest the whole plant by cutting at soil level when all stems have reached full size, about 2 to 2.5′ tall. For best results, water well the day before a harvest.
Storage: Stalks will keep in the refrigerator for 1–2 weeks. For longest life, harvest the day after a deep watering. You can even place the base of stalks in a glass of water to help revive any that have wilted.
Seed Saving: To save seed in an area where the soil freezes in the winter, you’ll have to dig up your plants and store them in a container of straw in a cold, dark location. In spring, you can replant them, and they should flower. If your winter is mild, cover plants with thick mulch and leave them in the ground. After flowers dry and seeds begin to brown, remove and hang to fully cure indoors. Separate seeds from any remaining plant matter.
Fun Fact: Celery seeds are so small that one ounce of seeds is enough to plant an entire acre!
Preserve: Stalks can be frozen with or without blanching first. Un-blanched stalks should be used within a few months, but blanched ones will keep for up to a year. This celery will have to be used cooked or to make veggie broth, as it won’t retain the crisp texture it had when fresh. You can also cook and puree celery before freezing. Leaves can be either frozen or dried. If you wait until the second season to harvest seeds, they can be dried and stored in an airtight container.
Prepare: Use stalks fresh and chopped in salads. Cut off the base and tops of stems and rinse well to remove the dirt. It can also be cooked in a variety of recipes. Steaming is best for retaining its full nutritional value. Leaves can be used as well, so don’t throw them in the compost! You can add them to salads, use as a spice (their taste resembles parsley), or toss into a smoothie. Seeds are used as a culinary spice.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Contains antioxidants. Celery is an anti-inflammatory and can be used to treat joint pain, headache, and loss of appetite. Because of its fiber content, it’s beneficial for your digestive system. It may also help to treat insomnia. Seeds are a diuretic.
Warnings: If you’re pregnant, nursing, or have kidney issues or low blood pressure, avoid using celery seed in large amounts. Some people are highly allergic to celery, particularly the seeds, but all parts of the plant may cause a reaction. This is most common in central Europe. Also, certain chemicals found in celery may cause the skin to become more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.
Use your celery stalks in this veggie based and grain-free Detox Tabbouleh next time you feel like your body needs some cleansing nutrition.