Parsley - An Easy Growing, Under Appreciated Herb

parsley growing

The Spruce / Kara Riley

For years, our only encounter with parsley was that curly, bitter sprig on the side of our plate in restaurants. Although parsley is a very attractive plant, it is generally grown as a culinary herb and often wasted as a garnish or plate decoration. It is is a leafy herb that adds more freshness than flavor to dishes. As such, it is best used fresh and added at the end of cooking—all the more reason to grow your own.

Curly leaved parsley is a little bitter for some palettes and the flat-leaved, or Italian parsley is more in favor with today’s cooks. Both are easy to grow in the garden.

Botanical Names for Parsley

  • Curly-leaved: Petroselinum (var. crispum)
  • Flat-leaved: Petroselinum (var. filicinum)

Sun Exposure

Parsley plants are pretty adaptable. They will grow well in either full sun or partial shade

Mature Plant Size

Parsley plant's mature size depends on the variety you are growing and how much you cut it to harvest. In general, expect your plants to top out at:

  • Height: 12 -18 inches (30 - 45cm).
  • Width: 9 - 12 inches (22 - 30cm)

Days to Harvest

Parsley seed can be very slow to germinate. There's an old saying that the seed has to go to hell and back again 9 times before it sprouts. Expect germination within 21 - 28 days. Seed grown plants are ready to harvest in 12 - 14 weeks. Seedlings can be harvest-ready in as little as 3 weeks.

USDA Hardiness Zones

All types of parsley are biennials, but unless you are saving seed, they are grown as annuals. Although they tend to survive winter, even in cold climates, they almost immediately go to seed and become too bitter to eat.

closeup of parsley

The Spruce / Kara Riley

pinching parsley

The Spruce / Kara Riley

overhead view of parsley plant

The Spruce / Kara Riley

Harvesting Parsley

You can begin harvesting parsley when it is about 6 inches tall and relatively bushy. Harvest whole stems, from the base of the plant, to encourage more growth. Cut as needed, but try not to remove more than 1/3 of the leaves at a time.

You can cut and dry any leaves remaining at the end of the season or leave the plants in the ground and try to get more use from the plants the following spring. Although parsley is biennial, most people find the leaves too bitter the second year and the flower stalks will grow and go to seed surprisingly fast. However, they may hold you over until your new crop is mature enough to harvest.

Parsley Varieties to Grow in Your Garden

Parsley is generally designated as either Flat-leaf (sometimes called Italian) or Curly (sometimes called moss). Most chefs think the flat-leaf types are more flavorful and curly parsley is relegated to the side of the plate. Try both. If you have a savory tooth, you might just find curly parsley preferable.

Parsley Growing Tips

Soil: Since parsley is grown for its leaves, it likes soil rich in organic matter. It does best in a soil pH somewhere in the neutral range of 6.0 - 7.0.

Planting: Starting parsley from seed is a slow endeavor. It can take several weeks for the seeds to germinate. Stratifying the seed by pre-chilling them in the refrigerator and then soaking the seed overnight in warm water, before planting, helps speed the process slightly and gives better germination results. Although it can be difficult to start from seed, established seedlings are quick growers.

Seed can be started indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost date or direct sown outdoors, once the ground can be worked. Plant in rich, loamy soil with good drainage.

Sow rows about 10 - 12 inches apart, barely covering the seed. Thin plants to every 6 inches, once they are about 1 - 3 ft.tall.

Containers: Parsley can be grown fairly well in pots, however, parsley has a taproot that can get fairly long and a mature plant can easily reach 2 - 3 ft. in height and 1 - 2 ft. in width, so a large pot is needed.

As an Ornamental Plant: Parsley is sometimes recommended as an edging plant or an accent foliage plant. While parsley is very attractive, be aware that it is also popular with some small animals, such as rabbits and groundhogs.

Caring for Parsley Plants

There really isn't much maintenance required to grow parsley. A little water and good soil or some monthly fertilizer and you should be fine. Keep harvesting and the plant will keep sending out new leaves.

Pests and Problems of Parsley Plants

Parsley can be prone to a handful of fungal diseases, including Septoria leaf spot, a couple of leaf blights, powdery mildew, and damping off. Start with good quality, disease-free seed and allow the plants to have access to good air circulation, to limit spread.

The biggest pest problem of parsley is the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. It is a host plant for these butterflies and the caterpillars will hatch and munch on the leaves, doing considerable damage. However since these butterflies are so welcome in the garden, it is recommended you don't do anything to kill the caterpillars. They will mature soon enough and leave your plants alone.