Learn About Parsley
How to Sow
Parsley may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, directly sown, or planted as a potted plant.
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow parsley seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit
- Sow seeds ¼ inches deep in seed-starting formula.
- Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days.
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
- Sow seeds when all danger of frost has passed in spring. In frost-free areas, sow from fall to early spring.
- Sow seeds thinly and cover with ¼ inch of fine soil.
- Firm soil and keep moist.
- Seeds emerge in 14-21 days.
- Thin to 6 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches high.
Planting in the Garden:
- Select a location in full sun with rich, well-drained soil.
- Parsley is superb as a border plant or as an underplanting for roses, and grows easily in containers.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
- Set the plants 10-12 inches apart.
- Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
- Use the plant tag as a location marker.
- Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Fertilize as needed with an all purpose fertilizer.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- You can remove any flowering stalks that may appear to increase leaf production.
- If you let one or two plants go to seed, parsley will often self-sow. Parsley is a biennial, and will not bloom until the second season. Parsley is cold tolerant and may be harvested after frost.
- Harvest the outer leaves by cutting them at the base of the leafstalk. Harvest leaves as needed.
- Sprigs are delicious in salads and make an excellent accent for vegetables and potatoes. Chewing on a fresh leaf can freshen your breath.
- Fresh parsley may be stored in zip lock bags in the fridge for a week. Fresh leaves freeze well in ice cubes or sealed zip lock bags, and may also be dried. It can be used in vinegars as well, or made into parsley herbed butter.
Common Pests and Problems
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Cercospora Leaf Blight: Small flecks which develop a yellowish halo appear on the leaves and turn brown and coalesce. They cause the leaves to wither and die. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and destroy all plant debris. Rotate crops.
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Powdery Mildew occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Septoria leaf spot: Small, angular, gray-brown spots appear on leaves. Spots have defined red margins. Black fruiting bodies may be visible. Leaves will eventually become chlorotic or necrotic. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops, avoid overhead watering. Plant to allow for good air circulation and keep weed free. Remove and destroy affected foliage.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Armyworm: Holes in leaves can be singular or clumped together. Leaves can become skeletonized. Egg clusters may be evident on foliage with a cottony or fuzzy appearance. Young larvae are pale green and adults are darker with a light line along the sideand pink underside. Burpee Recommends: Introduce natural enemies to the area.
Cutworms: These insects cut off the seedlings at the soil level. Burpee Recommends: Place a paper cup collar (use a coffee cup with the bottom cut out) around the base of the plant. They are usually mostly a problem with young seedlings. You can also control by handpicking and controlling weeds, where they lay their eggs.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Parsley Worms: These colorful yellowish-greenish caterpillars with dotted black stripes can grow 2 inches long, will turn into black swallowtail butterflies. They feed on the foliage of parsley, carrots and dill. Burpee Recommends: Handpick. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations. There is no need to destroy all of these worms as they do not do a great deal of damage, and they turn into important pollinators for your garden.
Can I grow parsley indoors? Yes if you have a sunny location, you can grow parsley indoors. Parsley is also great for containers, adding interesting textures to mixed plantings.
How can I use parsley as a companion plant? Parsley can deter beetles from asparagus patches. It can also help tomatoes by deterring insects and improving the flavor.
Is parsley an annual or perennial? Parsley is a biennial. It is grown as an annual in most gardens because it is grown for the foliage which may be harvested the first year. It can tolerate frost, but tends to become more bitter the second year.
Why does my parsley taste bitter? The second year parsley will produce a flower stalk and at that time the foliage can taste bitter. You can keep the plant blooming to save the seed, but otherwise remove it at this time.
When should I add parsley to my cooking? Parsley is a delicate herb and should only be added at the end of cooking, in the last minute or two, or used as a garnish.