Parsnip Plant Profile

Parsnip plants
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It's even easier to grow parsnips than to grow their close cousin, carrots. Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) look like colorless carrots, but with their own complex, sweetly spicy earthiness. Parsnips are native to the Mediterranean region and have been a popular European food since at least the ancient Romans. The early English settlers brought parsnips with them to America, but they have been overshadowed by both carrots and potatoes.

However, they grow well in most areas, although they require a long growing season. Because bit of frost will sweeten their flavor, the best time to plant parsnips is in the middle of fall. Once fully matured, parsnips can grow to be anywhere from 30 to 70 inches in length.

Botanical NamePastinaca sativa
Common NamesParsnip
Plant TypeRoot vegetable
Mature Size30–70 inches tall
Sun ExposureFull sun, but will tolerate partial shade
Soil TypeLoose, fertile, loamy soil 
Soil pH6–7
Bloom TimeJune to mid-July
Flower ColorWhite and beige
Hardiness Zones2–9
Native AreaEurasia
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
parsnips on a cloth
 

How to Grow Parsnips

Parsnips are grown predominately for their long taproots, which look like pale carrots. Unlike a few other types of veggies, parsnips can be tricky to plant. In some cases, they can take about 120 days to fully mature. To start, sow the seeds into healthy soil, and once the seeds start to sprout growth, keep an eye on them. Because they take such a long time to mature, you really only get one shot at planting them correctly.

For the first weeks after you sow the weeds, you may not see much growth, and that's totally normal. However, during this time, make sure there aren't any weeds around, as those will inhibit your parsnips' ability to thrive in the garden. Once the leaves start to poke through the soil, you can start to relax and let the plants grow pretty much on their own.

Light

Though parsnips prefer full, bright sunlight, they can definitely tolerate partial shade.

Soil

Ideal soil conditions are deep, rich, and loamy. Also, try to make sure there are no rocks in the soil because they can break the roots.

Water

Parsnips love water and lots of it. Watering encourages strong and consistent root growth. When you go to water your parsnips, give them a good drink, but try to water them slowly rather than drenching them within a few seconds. Water your parsnips every 10 or so days.

Temperature and Humidity

Soil temperatures of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 95% humidity are best for strong growth.

Fertilizer

If you start the growing process in April, use an all-purpose fertilizer in mid-June. Parsnips require a lot of nitrogen, but only a little bit of phosphorous and potassium.

Varieties of Parsnips

  • All American are very sweet and fine-grained with a small core.
  • Hollow Crown are a mild honey flavor, uniform roots with few side roots.
  • Harris Model appear earlier in the season with tender flesh and no hollow crown.
  • The Student are a large roots with a mild, nuttiness. They have a long season of about 180 days.

Harvesting

Parsnips require the entire growing season to mature, about four months. They are usually harvested in late fall when the tops are about two inches tall. Most varieties will reach 8–12 inches long. To ensure you get the whole root, loosen the soil with a fork before harvesting. Parsnips store for a long time.

You can leave your parsnips in the ground to harvest throughout winter (if the soil is not frozen) and in the early spring. They sweeten toward spring, as the plants get ready to begin growing again. However once the tops re-sprout, the flavor starts to go downhill and the roots get tough and fibrous.

Common Pests/Diseases

Carrot flies lay their eggs on the soil near plants and larvae burrow into the roots. Don't plant near carrots or celery and consider planting some onions nearby. Celery flies leave shrivel and give your plants small brown blisters. It won't harm the roots, but remove the leaves to get rid of the maggots. Wireworms will make small regular holes.

Canker is a plant disease that causes dark patches on the root's shoulders. It mostly affects injured roots. Leaf spot also causes small brown spots on leaves, but they won't affect the roots.

Article Sources
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  1. Growing Parsnips. USU Extension Website