Parsley, a versatile and easy-to-grow herb, has been tossed to the side for decades without much thought. Many diners consider it to be nothing more than a garnish added as decoration on a plate of food. Yet, parsley is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and flavonoid antioxidants. This herb adds flavor galore to all types of culinary creations. On top of that, the bright-green parsley plant is an attractive addition to flower, vegetable, and herb gardens.
The easiest way to start growing parsley is direct seeding. Keep in mind that this plant is slower to germinate than other herbs, usually taking between 21 and 28 days, so don’t get discouraged. Plant outdoors three to four weeks before the last frost, one-eighth to one-fourth inch deep, one to two inches apart, directly into well-composted, loamy soil or in deep pots. Pre-chill seeds in the refrigerator, then soak overnight in warm water before planting to speed up the germination.
If you’re growing parsley solely for cooking and seasoning purposes, start with six plants. If you plan to preserve parsley, make space for at least 10 to 20. Once you see that your seeds have evolved into little plants, they’ll need more space to grow. Thin out these two-to-three inch seedlings so they’re six to nine inches apart. Parsley plants tend to sprawl, growing to heights of up to three feet and spreading to a width of two feet, depending on the variety.
Parsley grows well in the areas of your yard or garden that receive full sun. Morning sun is especially important. They’ll also thrive in areas with partial afternoon shade. If you’ve decided to grow it indoors, place potted parsley on window sills that get lots of sun throughout the day. Parsley plants are fairly hardy and fare well in zones 5 to 9. They can handle a bit of frost, but not severely hot weather. In areas with hotter summers, plant parsley seeds outdoors in the fall and allow them to grow through the winter months.
Because of its deep root system, it’s important to water parsley very well once a week. Don’t wait for the soil to dry out between waterings. Keep it mulched and moist, but not soggy. Parsley prefers a soil with good drainage. While it creates ideal growing conditions for the plant, this type of soil also dries out more quickly, especially in hotter, drier weather, and arid environments.
Caterpillars, especially striped parsley worm caterpillars that evolve into swallowtail butterflies, love munching on parsley. Some gardeners prefer to help out the butterfly populations and plant extra parsley so there’s plenty to go around. Keep an eye out for whiteflies that lay eggs on the undersides of leaves — examine new growth regularly for signs. Insecticidal soaps work well to rid your garden of whiteflies. This pest tends to die off in the winter in hardiness zones 7 and colder.
When growing parsley, you won’t need to be on the alert for a long list of diseases. Wet, heavy soil leads to crown rot, a soil-borne fungal disease that can survive indefinitely in soil. Applying a fungicide and practicing crop rotation helps avoid the problem. Yellow specks or spots may indicate leaf blight or leaf spot fungus. Good air circulation and morning watering prevent these issues.
Parsley requires no complicated special care routines, but it does need to be fed two to three times each season. Liquid seaweed extracts work well. Parsley blooms with petite, cream-colored, lacy flower clusters, usually in its second year of growth, often in the mid-summer. Like the rest of the plant, the flowers are edible, providing a lightly sweet, lemony. Pinching off the flowers before they go to seed allows the plant to focus its energy toward seed and foliage production, which makes the parsley grow more vigorously.
Parsley can grow easily from cuttings. You can even start a home parsley crop from bunches you purchase at a local grocery store or farmers’ market. Cut three to five-inch sections just below the leaf node. Be sure to remove all leaves growing on the lower two-thirds of the cut stem. You can place this cut section in a small jar of water or stick it in perlite or moist sand. You will soon see signs of a developing root and can plant it in well-drained soil.
Harvest parsley leaves once the plant reaches six inches tall and before it blooms, usually about 70 to 90 days after you’ve sown the seeds. Get in the habit of cutting stems on the outside of the plant first. It will reward this harvest method with healthy new growth from its center throughout the season. Avoid cutting from the tops of parsley plants — this stunts growth. You can continue harvesting from parsley plants until you see seed stalks emerging, a sign that they’ve completed their life cycle for the season.
Explore the different varieties of parsley available to determine which one best suits your needs. But no matter which type you choose, you’ll be getting a healthy dose of vitamins A, K, and C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants. For people seeking ways to lower salt levels, parsley is a great substitute.