If there's one under-appreciated herb out there, it's parsley. For many, their only encounter with parsley is the curly, bitter sprig on the side of their plate at restaurants. Native to Europe, parsley is a very attractive plant that is generally grown as a culinary herb but often wasted as a garnish or plate decoration. Considering it adds more freshness than flavor to dishes, it is best used fresh and added at the end of cooking, giving home cooks all the more reason to grow their own.
Best planted early spring through summer, most varietals of parsley will grow fairly slowly, establishing maturity between 70 to 90 days after planting. Germination rates are considerably lower for parsley than for some other cooking herbs, so it's a good idea to always plant more seeds than you think you'll want.
Different varietals of parsley yield different flavors, so consider how you'd like to use the herb before choosing what to plant in your garden. Curly-leaved parsley is a little bitter for some palettes, while flat-leaved parsley (also known as Italian parsley) is more in favor with today’s cooks.
|Botanical Name||Petroselinum crispum|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
There really isn't much maintenance required to grow parsley—enough water and some good soil (or fertilizer) and you should be fine. Another perk of growing parsley is the plant's small footprint. It really doesn't require much space at all, so it's a great option for almost all gardeners, whether you have a huge plot of land, a small container, or just a windowsill. Plus, with the ability to grow parsley indoors or outdoors, you can make sure your kitchen is fully stocked with the versatile herb all year long.
Parsley plants are adaptable to a variety of conditions and will grow well in environments that range from full sun to partial shade. If your grow area is especially hot, afternoon shade is appreciated—though ultimately, the plants should get at least eight hours of sunlight a day.
Since parsley is grown for its leaves, it likes soil rich in organic matter. Soil should be moist but well-draining so that the plant does not become waterlogged. If growing in pots or containers, consider planting your parsley in a clay or terracotta vessel, which will help to wick excess moisture from the soil. Additionally, parsley does best in a mixture with a soil pH somewhere in the neutral to mildly acidic range between 6.0 and 7.0.
Parsley plants love to be consistently moist, and 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 thrive in a wide range of temperature requirements, so long as it's grown properly within its USDA hardiness zone. That being said, the plant will do best with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a particularly hot area during the summer, make sure to afford your plant a bit of additional shade or water to help supplement in the warmer temperatures. Additionally, parsley has no special humidity requirements.
Though not wholly necessary for its success, parsley plants can benefit from a bit of fertilization once or twice during the beginning of their growing season. Treat the plants once a month in the spring with a well-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.
How to Grow Parsley From Seed
Starting parsley from seed is a slow endeavor—it can take several weeks for the seeds to germinate, and even then, they don't always do so successfully. Stratify the seeds before planting by pre-chilling them in the refrigerator and then soaking them overnight in warm water, which can help speed up the process slightly result in more successful germination. Seed-grown plants are typically ready to harvest within 12 to 14 weeks after planting.
Although it can be difficult to start parsley from seed, established seedlings are quick growers. Plant seedlings indoors about six weeks before the last frost date or direct sow them outdoors once the ground can be worked and the risk of frost has passed. Rows can be planted about 10 to 12 inches apart, barely covering the seed with soil. In addition to being a great companion plant to flowers and vegetables, parsley is sometimes recommended as an edging plant or an accent foliage plant. While it can be a very attractive addition, be aware that it is also popular with some small animals, such as rabbits and groundhogs.
Parsley can also be grown fairly well in pots, which is a great option for container gardeners or those hoping to grow the herb indoors. Keep in mind, parsley has a taproot, which can get fairly long—because of this, mature plants will need a large pot to grow successfully.
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 the stems from the plant as needed, but try not to remove more than one-third 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.
Common Pests and Diseases
Parsley can be prone to a handful of fungal diseases, including septoria leaf spot, a couple of leaf blights, powdery mildew, and damping off. Starting with good quality, disease-free seeds and allowing the plants access to good air circulation can help limit the onset and spread of disease.
The biggest pest problem for 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.