Native to Europe, parsley is a biennial plant that is generally grown as an annual culinary herb. Growing in clumps of lacy foliage about a foot high, parsley has triangular dark green leaves that make for a good garnish or an aromatic addition to recipes. Best planted in the spring, most varieties of parsley grow fairly slowly, establishing maturity between 70 to 90 days after planting. Note that parsley is technically toxic both to people and pets due to chemical compounds found in it called furanocoumarins.
Moreover, different varieties of parsley yield different flavors, so consider how you'd like to use the herb before choosing what to plant in your garden. For example, curly parsley is a little bitter for some palettes, while flat-leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley) is more in favor with today’s cooks.
|Botanical Name||Petroselinum crispum|
|Plant Type||Herb, annual, biennial|
|Size||9–12 in. tall, 9–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral (6.0 to 7.0)|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
How to Plant Parsley
When to Plant
Seeds either can be direct-sown outdoors or started indoors. Plant them outdoors roughy three to four weeks prior to your area's last projected frost date in the spring or indoors about eight to 10 weeks prior to the last frost.
Selecting a Planting Site
The planting site should get lots of sun and have good soil drainage. Container growth is also an option. Aim to keep the area free of weeds and other vigorous growers to avoid crowding out the parsley seedlings.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Seeds should be planted only about 1/4 inch deep and between 6 and 10 inches apart. Make sure to mark the spot to remember where your seeds are to avoid disrupting them, as parsley is slow to germinate. A support structure won’t be necessary.
Parsley prefers full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, for optimal growth. However, it does appreciate some afternoon shade in hot climates.
The herb grows its best foliage in loamy soil that's rich in organic matter. The soil also should be well-draining, so the plant does not become waterlogged. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is ideal.
Parsley plants love evenly moist but not soggy soil. Your plant will benefit from at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week (either from rainfall or manual watering methods). Never allow the soil of your parsley plant to dry out. The herb does not tolerate drought well and will quickly wither and brown.
Temperature and Humidity
Parsley can withstand a wide temperature range, but it does best in temperatures between roughly 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A soil temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for germination. Parsley has no special humidity requirements.
Though not wholly necessary for its success, parsley can benefit from a bit of fertilization once or twice at the beginning of the growing season. Treat plants once a month in the spring with a balanced organic liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength; make sure to use something suitable for edible plants. Alternatively, you can amend your soil with lots of organic matter and compost to up the nutrition.
Parsley is pollinated via bees and other pollinators. Its blooms are especially attractive to black swallowtail butterflies.
Types of Parsley
Parsley comes in several cultivars, categorized into distinct groups:
- Curly (common) parsley: This group includes the standard type of parsley, which is easy to grow and attractive in the herb garden. Common varieties of curly parsley include 'Forest Green' and 'Extra Curled Dwarf', a fast-growing compact type.
- Flat-leaf parsley: This group includes varieties that have flat leaves and grow relatively tall—up to 36 inches. It tends to be more flavorful than curly parsley. A popular cultivar is 'Titan', which is a compact plant with deep green serrated leaves.
- Italian flat-leaf parsley: These parsley varieties have a slightly peppery taste. A favorite cultivar is 'Giant of Italy', which has especially large leaves.
- Japanese parsley: These are native to Japan and China and are evergreen herbs with a bitter flavor. They have strong stems that can be eaten like celery.
Parsley vs. Cilantro
Parsley and cilantro might look alike at first glance. But parsley leaves are more triangular while cilantro leaves are rounded. And parsley leaves can be curly while cilantro leaves are generally flat. Plus, the herbs’ flavors are distinct.
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. Take from the outer leaves, letting the inner leaves continue to mature. You can harvest as needed, but try not to remove more than one-third of the leaves at a time.
Fresh leaf stems stored in a container of water will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. You also can cut and dry parsley leaves. Hang the leaves upside-down in a warm, shaded spot with good air flow to allow them to dry out. Then, crumble them into an airtight container for storage.
How to Grow Parsley in Pots
Growing parsley in pots is a good option if you don’t have garden space for it—or if you want to keep fresh herbs available over the winter. A container that’s at least 8 inches wide and deep will suffice, and it should have ample drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good container material, as it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy, and make sure the container gets lots of sun. Use grow lights indoors if sufficient natural light is not available.
No pruning beyond periodic harvesting is necessary for parsley. However, you should trim off any broken stems that drag on the ground to avoid introducing pests and diseases to the plant.
Parsley is typically grown from seed or nursery starts. It is possible to propagate via cuttings, though the method isn’t always successful. But it is an inexpensive way to create a new plant and one way to use up excess parsley stems you won’t consume. Here’s how:
- On a healthy, mature plant, find a stem that’s at least 6 inches long. Use sterile scissors or pruners to cut the stem at its base. Remove leaves on the lower half of the cutting.
- Plant the cutting in a container of moist soilless potting mix. Using a biodegradable peat container is best, so you won’t have to disturb the new roots when transplanting.
- Put the container in bright, indirect sun, and keep the soil moist. It can take a few weeks for roots to form. When they do, you’ll feel resistance as you gently tug on the stem.
How to Grow Parsley From Seed
Starting parsley from seed is a slow endeavor. It can take two to four weeks for the seeds to germinate, and there's often a fairly low success rate. Stratify the seeds before planting by chilling them in the refrigerator and then soaking them overnight in warm water. This can promote successful germination. Seed-grown plants are typically ready to harvest 12 to 14 weeks after planting.
Potting and Repotting Parsley
A loose, well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix is ideal for parsley. One that’s formulated for herbs is often a good choice. As parsley doesn’t like its roots disturbed, it’s best to plant it in a container that will fit its mature size right from the start. That way, you can avoid having to repot. If you’re starting seeds indoors, use biodegradable peat pots that can go directly into the ground or a larger container.
If left to overwinter in warm climates, parsley will continue to grow and flower in its second year. But the taste will become bitter after its first year, which is why many gardeners treat it as an annual.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Parsley doesn't have any serious pest or disease issues. But it can be prone to fungal diseases, including septoria leaf spot, leaf blights, powdery mildew, and damping off. Starting with quality, disease-free seeds and allowing the plants access to good air circulation can help prevent the onset and spread of disease.
The biggest pest problem for parsley is the caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly. Parsley is a host plant for these butterflies, and the caterpillars will hatch and munch on the leaves, doing considerable damage. However, because these butterflies are so welcome in the garden, it is recommended that you don't kill the caterpillars. They will mature soon enough and leave your plants alone.
Is parsley easy to grow?
Parsley is slow to start but easy to grow when given enough light, nutrients, and moisture.
How long does it take to grow parsley?
In general, parsley varieties are ready to harvest between 70 and 90 days after planting.
Does parsley come back every year?
Parsley is technically a biennial, completing its life cycle in two growing seasons. But most gardeners grow it as an annual because it loses its flavor in its second year.