Growing Parsley

growing parsleyIf you think parsley’s only good for being a garnish on the salad bar, you are missing out on the incredible flavor that this herb has to offer. Parsley originated in the Mediterranean thousands of years ago and has been an essential part of the region’s cuisine ever since. In fact, the ancient Greeks revered parsley so much that they used it to decorate graves of their loved ones!

You don’t have to wait until you’re dead and buried to enjoy the benefits of growing parsley. This fragrant herb can be enjoyed right from your own garden. Simple to plant and almost entirely self sufficient, parsley is an easy herb to sneak into your garden beds. Plus, this long-lasting plant will leave your foods full of flavor all season long.

Don’t waste any more time; start growing parsley in your personal garden today!

Start Growing Parsley

Though parsley is in the same plant family as carrots, keeping the roots untouched isn’t necessary for the plant. This means it can be grown indoors and transplanted outside once the weather gets above freezing. Whether you choose to plant transplants or direct sow your seeds depends on the climate conditions that you are growing in and the length of your summer season.

When and Where Should You Grow Parsley?

Parsley can be grown just about anywhere, so long as you plant it in a place where it can get six to eight hours of sun daily and is watered regularly. In hotter climates, parsley prefers a little shade in the afternoon to keep it from bolting prematurely, making it an ideal plant to be grown in containers that can be moved around depending on the weather conditions.

Understanding Seed Germination for Parsley

Parsley seeds have a well-earned reputation of being slow germinators, so your seeds might take close to a month to sprout if conditions aren’t ideal or the soil is too cold. You can speed up the germination rate by soaking the seeds overnight before planting them.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Northern climate growers will benefit from planting their parsley seeds indoors before the start of the growing season. It’s a smart idea to start growing your parsley six to eight weeks ahead of the last frost date.

The easiest way to plant parsley is to seed it on trays, though Styrofoam egg cartons can work if you are just growing a few plants. Be sure to plant several seeds per cell to make up for the poor germination rate. Make sure there is a strong light source present, as parsley seeds germinate better when they can detect light.

Because parsley seeds are so tiny, they don’t need to be covered with soil to germinate. You can simply sprinkle them on top of a potting mixture and water them lightly. To speed up germination, use plastic covers for the seed trays so that they moisture can’t escape, which helps to keep the temperatures warmer.

Preparing a Parsley Bed

Parsley doesn’t tend to be picky about where it is grown. To prepare a garden bed for it, layer several inches of compost in the bed and till it in six inches deep. Be sure to add a good amount of nitrogen as it is necessary for getting the plant to grow big green leaves quickly. Parsley grows optimally at pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0, but varying levels tend to be fine.

Moving Outdoors

Once the temperature is above freezing and your seedlings have at least two true leaves, they are ready to be moved outdoors. You can harden them off by bringing them outdoors for a few hours every day for a week until they have adjusted to the temperature.

Plant your transplants four to eight inches apart in rows that are three feet wide, and water them immediately after planting them. Especially when the plants are young, it is best to keep them moist at all times.

Direct Seeding

If you live in a warmer climate, you can direct sow your parsley seeds. It’s best to seed them several times throughout your growing season to ensure you have a harvest all summer long.

You can plant parsley right around your last frost date of the year, but be sure to protect seedlings with row cover if frost becomes an issue. Sow your seeds thinly in rows that are three feet apart, on the top of the prepared bed and water them down being careful to not cover them deeply with soil.

After the seedlings are about four inches tall, you can thin them out to eight to ten inches apart. As they grow, pinch off any flower stalks that appear, as they will change the taste of the leaves and cause them to become bitter.

Watering and Mulching Requirements

Parsley needs consistent water when getting established, but be careful to not over water by allowing the soil to dry between watering. A good rule of thumb is to plan on about one to two inches of water a week and to use drip irrigation. If you use an overhead watering system instead, be sure to water early in the day so that the plants have time to dry out before the cool night begins.

Be sure to hand pull any weeds that grow within a couple inches of your parsley plants. Mulching parsley is a good idea, so add a few inches of organic mulch like leaves, straw or grass clippings to your bed to help it retain moisture while keeping the weeds in check.

A well-prepared parsley bed won’t need much additional fertilizer throughout the year, but if your parsley leaves are a pale green they might benefit from some extra nitrogen. An injection of compost tea or diluted fish emulsion can make a big difference in perking your plants up.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Parsley is a friendly plant that does well with lots of other vegetables, including asparagus, corn, tomatoes and roses. Parsley tends to be a good deterrent of carrot flies, so if you have chronic problems with them, a few parsley plants next to your bed should make a difference.

There are some gardeners that claim that mint and parsley tend to compete with each other and shouldn’t be planted next to each other, but that hasn’t been proven either way.

Common Pests and Diseases for Parsley

Pests and diseases tend to leave parsley plants alone, but there are a few that can cause problems.

  • Carrot Rust Fly: these flies are less than a quarter inch big and are green or black with yellow hairs. They tend to lay their eggs on the crowns of parsley plants, which hatch into larvae that love to attack their roots, leading to root rot and death for the plant. One of the best ways to defend against the fly is to rotate your crops so that the maggots starve and don’t hatch into flies.
  • Flea Beetles: As tiny beetles that like to chew holes in the leaves and stems of parsley plants, flea beetles can quickly weaken or kill them. Using row cover over your crop helps to keep the beetle away and can protect your crop.
  • Parsley Worm: This worm (actually a caterpillar) is a nasty pest that needs to be controlled, though it turns into the beautiful swallowtail butterfly. For this reason, its best to look through your plants and remove any worms you see without killing them- simply move them to a more suitable plant instead.
  • Damping Off: This disease is caused by a fungus that rots seedlings just as they are sprouting. Using fresh potting soil and containers can stop it from spreading from one year to the next.
  • Septoria leaf-spot: This fungus begins as small, dark lesions on parsley leaves that can kill the plant. Remove any infected leaves that you see and take out entire plants if they seem like a risk to the rest of the bed. Your best protection is to buy high quality seeds and water early in the day to prevent fungus conditions from starting.

Harvesting and Storing Parsley

Harvesting parsley is straightforward. Once your plants produce leaf stems with three branches, you can harvest these stems. It’s best to harvest in the early morning, as this is when the plant oils are strongest. Always remove the oldest growth (lowest on the plant) first to encourage it to grow new stems faster. Never prune the top to the plant off as this will slow down new growth. Be sure to harvest often, as the flavor improves the more cuttings you do.

Your parsley can be stored in a ziplock bag in the fridge for two weeks, or for a fresher look, upright in jars with water on the bottom.

For longer storage, you can dry your parsley by hanging bunches upside down in a dark, dry place, or simply put some sprigs in a dehydrator. Fresh parsley can also be frozen for use in soups.

Saving Parsley Seeds

Parsley plants are biennials, meaning that they live for two years and don’t produce seeds until the second one. If you want to save your seeds, be sure to select the strongest plants and keep them away from other varieties as they will cross-pollinate.

You can overwinter some of your plants by mulching them with a foot of organic material. The next spring, the plant will flower and quickly go to seed. Once these flower heads have turned brown and dry, you can harvest them and shake them into a bucket to collect the seeds. Dry these seeds in a well-ventilated place for about two weeks, making sure to turn them every day.

Once thoroughly dried, these seeds can be stored in a cool, dark place and will remain good for about two years.

Choosing the Best Parsley Seeds for Your Climate

There are lots of varieties of parsley that can be grown, but they are typically split into two main categories: curly and flat leaf.

  • Curly parsley is the standard type that is grown for both decorative and edible uses. Two common varieties are ‘Forest Green’ and ‘Extra Curled Dwarf‘. One of the best varieties for both aroma and taste is ‘Triple Curly‘, which is easy to find in most seed catalogs.
  • Flat Leaf parsley is tall, often reaching over three feet. Considered more flavorful than curly parsley, it is a favorite for Italian cooking. ‘Titan’ is a great flat leaf variety that produces small, compact leaves while ‘Giant of Italy’ varieties have a peppery taste and looks like cilantro.

Additional Growing Tips for Organic Parsley

Growing parsley is fairly straightforward, but following these tips can help you to achieve more success with your first attempt.

  • Whether you are growing indoors or direct seeding, always soak your seeds before planting them to get a better germination rate.
  • Harvest your plants from the outside in to encourage new growth.
  • If you want, you can harvest an entire plant at the base of the root early in the season, and with proper nurturing it should grow back for a second cutting within a few weeks.