Parsley is a mild flavored herb that has many uses in the kitchen. It is easy to grow in a home garden, in containers on your patio, or on a sunny windowsill indoors. Learn how to grow parsley so you can enjoy the beauty and flavor of this plant.
Most of us are familiar with parsley as a green garnish for food. Chopped parsley is frequently sprinkled on plated food to add color. Restaurants often tuck a sprig of the greenery on the plate to enhance the appearance of the food and to be chewed after the meal as a breath freshener.
Parsley has a mild peppery flavor with a bit of earthiness that adds balance to almost any recipe. Parsley also adds bright color to sauces, salads, and savory dishes.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a versatile herb that is in the same family as carrots, celery, and dill. It is a biennial plant that is normally grown as an annual. It grows dark green ferny foliage in mounded clumps, making it a striking color and texture contrast in the garden. Parsley makes a great companion plant to vegetables, perennials, and herbs in beds, containers, and window boxes.
Tips for Growing Parsley
Parsley is a biennial plant, which means that it takes two years to complete its life cycle. The herb grows edible foliage the first year, and then goes to seed the second year and dies.
Parsley is grown as an annual in the north. It can tolerate some frosts, but is killed by freezing temperatures. In milder climates, the herb can survive winter, and continue to grow when the weather warms. You may be able to harvest a few fresh leaves in early spring, but once the plant sends up a flower stalk, the leaves will taste bitter.
Parsley prefers growing in rich loose soil in full sun to partial shade. Choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Enrich the soil before planting with finished compost, and feed parsley several times with liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season to increase leaf production.
Keep the soil evenly moist by watering thoroughly whenever the top inch is dry. Add a 3-inch layer of mulch around the plant to keep the roots cool and conserve moisture. Avoid smothering the plant by leaving several inches of space between the mulch and plant.
The second year, the parsley plants will send up flower stalks, bloom, and go to seed. The blossoms attract beneficial wasps, hoverflies, and pollinators to the garden. Save the seeds for replanting, or let parsley self sow.
Parsley can be started from seeds or purchased seedlings from the garden center.
How to Start Parsley from Seed
The quality of parsley seeds decreases over time. For the best results, purchase fresh parsley seeds each year. Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area, or sow outside 3 to 4 weeks before the last predicted frost date. Parsley seeds take a long time to sprout. To help speed up germination, soak seeds in warm water for up to 24-hours before planting.
To start seeds inside, fill a tray with good-quality seed starting mix and sprinkle the soaked seeds on top of soil. Cover the seeds with 1/8-inch of soil and mist with water. Cover with a humidity dome and place the tray in a warm location. Seeds will take 2 to 4 weeks to germinate. After they sprout, place the tray under lights.
Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden or in a container once the plant reaches 4-inches tall. Space 12 to 20 inches apart, depending on variety. Protect new transplants from frost. Once established, parsley can withstand a light frost. Water regularly and do not allow the plants to dry out completely.
To direct sow parsley outdoors, scatter the soaked seeds on top of the prepared soil 3 to 4 weeks before the last predicted frost date. Cool weather and light frost do not hurt parsley. Thin the plants after germination so they are spaced about 12 to 20 inches apart. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate and become established. Water young plants regularly until they are fully-grown.
Growing in Containers
Parsley has a long taproot. Grow parsley in containers that are at least 12-inches deep and equally wide.
Fill the pot with a good quality, all-purpose potting mix. Transplant parsley seedlings into the container, and place in an area that receives at least of 6 hours of full sun daily. Keep the soil moist but not soggy until the plant becomes established, and then water twice a week when the soil surface feels dry. Feed monthly with a liquid plant food, such as fish emulsion to keep the foliage healthy.
How to Harvest Parsley
Harvest parsley frequently to encourage new growth. Cut outer stalks from the base of the plant and trim off leaves as needed. The plant will produce more foliage from the center.
In climates with mild winters, parsley may continue to grow during the winter months. The flavor will be slightly harsh when compared to the summer harvest, but the parsley flavor will still be there. You may be able to harvest a few fresh leaves in early spring, but once the plant sends up a flower stalk, the leaves will taste bitter.
Harvest parsley roots in the fall before the ground freezes. The flavor is improved by frost, so you can leave them in the ground for light frosts, but harvest after the first killing frost. Harvest by digging up the plants with a garden fork, and shake off the soil. Enjoy the roots right away, store in the refrigerator, or preserve for later.