By Sherry Stover VCE Southside Master Gardener Growing celery (Apium graveolens) is generally considered to be the ultimate vegetable gardening chal-lenge. It has a very long growing season but a very low tolerance for both heat and cold. Give it plenty of water and a good rich soil, and you can have a supply of celery from midsummer into late fall. This cool-weather crop requires 16 weeks (4 months) of cool weather to come to harvest. Celery is considered a hardy biennial, but it’s grown as an annual which is mainly grown for its edible 12- to 18-inch stalks. Originally hailed from the Mediterranean basin, celery was primarily known for its medicinal purposes.
Celery can be grown in this area with special care. The greener the stalks, the more beneficial nutrients. VARIETIES Grown for its succulent stalks or petioles, celery dates as far back as 850 B.C. and was cultivated not for its culinary use, but its medicinal purposes. Today, there are three different kinds of celery: self-blanching or yellow (leaf celery), green or Pascal (green stalk) celery and celeriac grown for its root. Leaf celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) has a thinner stalk than Pascal and is grown more for its aromatic leaves and seeds to use as herbs. It can be grown in zones 5a through 8b and resembles Old World smallage (a wild form of celery). Leaf celery varieties include Par Cel, Safir and Flora. Pascal-The most commonly used is stalk celery, which thrives in long, cool growing climates in zones 2-10. It takes between 105 and 130 days for stalks to mature. Varieties include Golden Boy, Tall Utah, Conquistador and Monterey. Celeriac (Apium graveoliens var. rapaceum) is grown for its delicious root, which is then peeled and either cooked or eaten raw. It takes 100-120 days to mature and can be grown in zones 8 include and 9. Research suggests that it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and dietary fiber. Varieties are Marble Ball, Tellus and Globs. STARTING SEEDS Because a celery plant has such a long maturity time, unless you live in a location with long growing sea-sons, you need to start celery seeds indoors at least eight to 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost date. For a fall crop, start seeds in time to transplant seedlings 10 to 12 weeks before the first autumn frost date for your area. Celery seeds are tiny and tricky to plant. Try mixing them with sand and then sprinkle the sand-seed mix over the potting soil, adding vermiculite to the soil will help to trap moisture around the seeds to prevent them from drying out. Cover the seeds with just a little bit of soil. Celery seeds like to be planted shallowly. Once the celery seeds have sprouted and are large enough, either thin the seedlings or prick them out to their own pots. Harden off seedlings before transplanting by reducing water slightly and putting them outdoors for a couple of hours each day. SOIL PREPARATION Select a site that receives full direct sunlight. Celery needs compost-enriched soil that is moisture retentive that doesn’t drain too quickly. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches with a garden fork or tiller. Mix 2 to 4 inches of aged manure and/or compost into the soil or work in some 5-10-10 fertilizer. Celery prefers a soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8. It has a shallow root system and needs a celery planting depth of 18 inches of soil well prepared. Celery takes 85 to 120 days from transplant. The ideal growing range is 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. PLANTING Plant celery outdoors when the soil temperature reaches at least 50°F and nighttime temperatures don’t dip down below 40°F. Tight planting forces taller stalks. Transplant young plants in late May to early April or when plants have 3 to 4 true leaves. Optimum plant spacing for celery is 10 to 12 inches apart. This plant spacing for celery allows for taller petioles and better growth. Water thoroughly. CARE If you prefer the paler, sweeter celery that’s protected from the sun, you can tie up the young stalks to pro-tect the inner branches or cut the top and bottom off a half-gallon milk carton and push it over the young seedling like a sleeve to shade the stalks. Celery requires lots of water. Make sure to provide plenty of water during the entire growing season, especially during hot, dry weather. If celery does not get enough water, the stalks will be dry and small. Feed celery with a 5-10-10 fertilizer before transplanting. Mulch once the plant is 6 inches tall with organic matter and side dress with the 5-10-10 fertilizer in the second and third months of growth. A layer of organic matter such as compost between the plants helps to keep the roots cool, feed them, and lock in moisture. Carefully weed but be careful as celery has shallow roots. Tie growing stalks together to keep them from sprawling. Lack of water will cause skinny stalks as celery is comprised of mostly water. PESTS/DISEASES Celery is pretty trouble-free but watch out for slugs and snails early on. Beer traps will tempt slugs and snails away from young plants. There are also flea beetles and earwigs. To help control pests you can cover the plants with garden fabric (row covers) during the first four to six weeks of the growing season BLANCHING Many gardeners prefer to blanch their celery to make them more tender, but be aware that when blanching you are reducing the amount of vitamins in the plant. Blanching celery turns the green part of the plant white. The deeper green stalks have a stronger flavor. Blanching celery is done one of two ways. The first way is to just slowly build a mound around a growing celery plant. Every few days add a little more soil and at harvest the celery plant will be blanched. The other method is to cover the lower half of the celery plant with thick brown paper or cardboard a few weeks before you plan to harvest the celery. HARVEST and STORAGE Once your plant has eight to 10 good-size stalks and the stalks are about 8 inches tall, you can start harvest-ing. Snap off stalks at the base, from the outside. Cutting stalks can open a wound in the plant and weaken it. The plant will grow new stalks until it goes to seed, so expect to keep harvesting celery well into the spring in warm weather areas. And if you let your plant go to seed, expect a final beautiful display of delicate white flowers. Or harvest the whole plant. Young celery is as good as the mature product. Celery can be kept in the garden for up to a month if soil is built up around it to maintain an ideal temperature. Harvest celery from summer and through the autumn until the first hard frost stops growth. Celery will tolerate a light frost, but not consecutive or hard frosts. In milder areas celery may overwinter, producing occasional stems through-out the coldest months then picking up again in spring before finally stretching to flower. The darker the stalks become, the more nutrients they will contain. Texture changes with color; dark green stalks will be tougher. Celery stalks can be frozen, cut the stalks into half-inch pieces and store in freezer-grade bags. Best way to keep celery fresh & crisp in the refrigerator is by wrapping the whole head up tightly in aluminum foil and then keep up it in the crisper drawer. When stored this way celery stalks can maintain their freshness anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. SOME WAYS TO USE THEM Chopped in salads and stir-fries, soups, added to curries or simply braised in stews and casseroles. You can also store the celery leaves and later use it as flavoring herbs or in salads. BRAISED CELERY RECIPE - A SIMPLE AND GOOD DISH The recipe has just 5 ingredients, including salt and pepper; turning an underused vegetable into a delicious savory side. The celery mellows as it cooks, yielding to a knife but still with enough crunch to keep it inter-esting. Perfect to pair with meat for a low carb dinner. Or add it to your Thanksgiving or holiday table for something a little different. Prep Time 5 mins Cook Time 10 mins Total Time 15 mins Servings: 6 -8 Ingredients 12 stalks of celery 2 tbsp butter 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper 3/4 cup vegetable stock Instructions Wash the celery then top and tail it, reserving any leaves for later. Cut the celery, on the diagonal, into 1 inch chunks. Melt the butter in a heavy based skillet or pan. Add the celery, salt and pepper, then sauté gen-tly for 5 minutes until it has started to soften. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for a further 5 minutes so the liquid can evaporate. Serve garnished with any reserved leaves. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and try some celery in your garden.