Parsley is probably the herb I use the most in my cooking. I add it to soups and stews, I snip it into fresh lettuce or quinoa salads, I whip it into salad dressings, and I stir it into pasta dishes. I regularly have a few plants growing at a time. Not only do I plant parsley in my raised beds, I also sneak it into my ornamental containers for some fragrant foliage. Here, I’ve gathered some parsley growing tips to help you produce a bountiful harvest.
Besides the flavour, what I like about parsley is it’s a biennial. I don’t have to worry about the plant spontaneously flowering (ahem, I’m looking at you cilantro), diminishing flavour and harvests. The first year you grow parsley, the plant will live through the winter (note it could die off depending on where it’s been planted and the weather conditions), and then flower in the spring. At that point there will be less leaves to harvest and the plant’s leaves may not be as flavourful. At that point you’ll want to add more parsley to the garden.
There are two main types of parsley: curly and flat leaf. I grow both types and they taste pretty similar. Curly parsley used to be that ornamental herb that was arranged to jazz up appetizer platters or a nice piece of fish. But it deserves to be more than a sad garnish that’s relegated to the side of the plate. Curly parsley is quite flavourful and I use it just as much as I do flat leaf varieties.
Parsley growing tips for sowing seeds and planting seedlings
Parsley seeds take a long time to germinate indoors (up to six weeks) and the plants are a bit slow to develop. I highly recommend starting them under grow lights. You can sow indoors in seed starting mix about 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant seeds one and a quarter inches (3 cm) deep and 3 inches (8 cm) apart. Soil should be kept consistently moist (but not water-logged) to encourage germination. Use a mister or spray bottle to do this, so you don’t wash the seeds away.
When it’s time to plant your parsley outdoors, place seedlings about 6 inches (15 cm) apart. The roots are very delicate, so be carefully transferring seedlings from the pot to their new home in the garden.
Because I start a lot of other veggies indoors from seed, I generally purchase parsley plants from my local nurseries. Depending on the size of the pot, I often find that you can easily divide a clump into a few plants. Plant in a sunny spot that’s been amended with compost and that gets a bit of shade throughout the day. Whether you plant parsley in a pot or in the garden, make sure the soil drains well.
Grow extra parsley for swallowtail caterpillars
I grow several parsley plants at a time. One, because I use a lot, so I like to have lots of plants to cut from. Two, if the swallowtail caterpillars discover it, I’ll still have some left for myself. One year I came back from summer vacation to discover about 11 caterpillars on one poor, nearly decimated plant. I bought another to immediately put beside it so they didn’t find my other plants! And the other parsley eventually grew back.
Honestly, I don’t mind feeding these future pollinators. I feel so satisfied watching the subsequent swallowtail butterflies flit about the yard, knowing I provided crucial host plants.
Parsley growing tips for winter
I love that parsley is a cold tolerant herb. It’s hardy down to about USDA zone 4 or 5, depending on your garden’s conditions. Christmas Eve, as it lightly started to snow, I snipped some that was still thriving in the vertical raised bed on my driveway! I try to plant parsley in more protected areas of the garden where the soil is slower to freeze. Straw mulch acts as a bit of insulation, but you may also want to add a row cover as protection.
If you let your parsley plants flower in the spring (provided they’ve made it through the winter) you’ll attract beneficial insects, like predatory wasps and hoverflies.
Plant parsley with flowers as an ornamental in pots
Parsley, as well as a variety of other herbs, tends to sneak its way into a lot of my container arrangements—especially curly parsley because it adds that vibrant green crinkly texture. The foliage complements whatever flowers I have planted. And yes, I still harvest it from those pots, too.
Harvesting your parsley plant frequently will encourage fresh growth, resulting in bushier plants. Use clean herb scissors to snip the stems. Always be sure to trim from the outsides of the plant, so new shoots can grow up the middle.
I’m not as much of a fan of dried parsley (I dry other herbs, like oregano), so to preserve what I trim (if I have no use for it at the time of harvesting), I’ll freeze it into ice cubes for winter sauces. You can also bundle it tightly and roll it in a freezer bag.
Discover parsley’s tasty roots
A few years ago, while visiting a rooftop kitchen garden in Whistler, B.C., a chef on the tour pulled out a parsley plant and explained how he grated the root into various dishes. Parsley can develop a long taproot, like a skinny carrot. It has a stronger flavour than the leaves, but it’s pretty tasty!
Parsley growing tips for indoor plants
While a parsley plant that hasn’t been watered outside is a bit forgiving, I have found that indoors, you need to keep a closer eye on it. Indoor parsley craves a lot of light and needs to be watered often (when the soil is dry to the touch). Make sure your pot has drainage holes so the plant’s roots don’t sit in water. Don’t forget to harvest your plant frequently as you would outdoors. This will help stimulate new growth.