Growing parsley: sowing, companion planting & harvesting

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David
David
David

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Growing your own parsley from seed is easier than it looks. Read below to get the best tips on growing parsley to ensure a rich harvest.

Bunch of cut parsley
Parsley is one of the most popular herbs and it thrives in cooler climates [Photo: Aksana Yasiuchenia/ Shutterstock.com]

Parsley is one of the most popular culinary herbs that adds flavour to lots of delicious dishes. Find out here how all you need to know about growing parsley and what to pay attention to when it comes to location, sowing and harvesting.

Parsley origin and characteristics

Just like the closely related root parsley (Petroselium crispum ssp. tuberosum), leaf parsley (Petroselium crispum ssp. crispum) belongs to the umbelliferae family (Apiaceae). Leaf parsley originates from the Mediterranean and has been used widely as a culinary herb since the Middle Ages.

The parsley plant’s root is thin and long, though tough, hard, and not commonly eaten. Parsley leaves have two or three leaflets and grow on a long stem. It is always important to keep in mind that parsley is a biennial plant. This means that the plant will form leaves the first year of being planted but will not flower until its second year.

There are two main types of parsley: flat leaf parsley and curly parsley. While flat leaf parsley tastes more aromatic, the curly-leaved has the great advantage of looking very distinct from its poisonous relatives, such as fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium). Parsley’s dangerous lookalike can also be distinguished by the strong, unpleasant odour it releases when its leaves are rubbed together.

So, the variation in leaf shape is supposed to protect parsley eaters from this potentially fatal mistake. This is why monks in the Middle Ages devoted themselves to cultivating curly-leaved parsley, which so many of us enjoy in our kitchens and gardens. Nowadays, there are lots of varieties of both flat-leaf and curly parsley that you can grow yourself.

Planting parsley

Parsley’s unique flavour can only be enjoyed fresh. So, it is especially worthwhile to grow your own at home where you will always be able to harvest it fresh. Here is how to grow parsley, from sowing to harvesting.

When should you plant parsley?

Parsley requires a certain level of warmth to grow, so cultivation in a greenhouse or outdoors is only possible from spring to autumn. In a suitable location indoors, parsley can be cultivated all year round, but it usually grows much weaker in homes due to lower light availability.

Where to plant parsley

Parsley prefers a bright location and will wilt in shade. However, because it does not tolerate heat above 22°C, light partial shade is ideal. Parsley grows best in nutrient and humus rich soils that are loose and moist. The herb does not tolerate drought, so make sure to plant in soil that holds water well. On the other hand, waterlogging should be strictly avoided, as the roots may begin to rot and quickly kill the parsley.

When planting, choose a spot where parsley has not stood for at least three to four years, as it does not grow well after itself. Avoid planting other members of the umbellifer family such as carrot (Daucus carota), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), or parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) directly after parsley too.

Legumes such as beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) or peas (Pisum sativum) are particularly suitable as a preceding crop for parsley. The aromatic herb is not a good preceding crop for high-yielding vegetables that require a high nutrient content, because parsley leaves virtually no foliage or roots that can serve as organic fertiliser.

Radishes (Raphanus sativus var. sativus), garlic (Allium sativum) and leeks (Allium ampeloprasum), as well as kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica) are suitable successive crops. In a mixed culture, the herb does not get on well with every plant, and should also not be planted with other umbellifers. Good parsley companion plants include tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), onions (Allium cepa), garlic, radish, and cabbage plants.

Parsley in garden bed next to garlic and chives
Parsley and alliums such as chives and garlic get on well together [Photo: NeroV/ Shutterstock.com]

Sowing parsley

Sow parsley directly into garden beds from March at a depth of 1.5 to 3cm. In March the soil is often still cold, and germination takes a long time, whereas in warmer months, the seedlings emerge more quickly and germinate more reliably. In the greenhouse, parsley can be sown very late, even as late as mid-August. This way you can harvest fresh leafy greens even in November. Keep a spacing of 20 to 30cm between individual rows of parsley. Within the rows, the individual plants then only need to be a few centimetres from their neighbours. Use a fleece cover to protect tender, sensitive parsley seedlings from freezing during frosty spring nights.

Sprouting young parsley plants
Parsley seeds take up to 30 days to germinate [Photo: Perutskyi Petro/ Shutterstock.com]

Water your parsley seeds ​until germination to prevent drought. Parsley is quite slow to germinate; it needs up to 30 days at an optimal temperature of 12 to 16°C. Soak your parsley seeds in lukewarm water overnight before sowing to help speed up the sprouting process. Parsley can also be grown from seed on your own windowsill from February onwards. An alternative to sowing parsley seeds is planting young parsley plants, which are available to buy in spring and summer at nurseries or garden centres.

Unlike many other herbs, parsley has a moderate to high nutrient requirement. Therefore, a pre-fertilised potting soil, like our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, is ideal.

When to transplant parsley

Transplant parsley seedlings outdoors from the beginning of April until August, whether you have grown the seedlings yourself indoors or bought young plants. This herb likes a spacing of about 10cm between individual plants. When planting parsley, take care not to damage the often still very tender and delicate roots. Add some organic fertiliser to the planting hole, do not place the young plants too deep into the soil and press the soil lightly all around. With the final watering you can flush the soil directly to the roots.

Tip: Always remove the poisonous fool’s parsley from your garden if you discover it. Not only because it could be accidentally eaten, but also because it may cross-pollinate with your parsley herbs – leading to potentially poisonous offspring that could end up on your plate.

Growing parsley in pots

Those without gardens will be pleased to know that all you really need to grow parsley is a windowsill. For this, choose a pot with good drainage to avoid waterlogging. Fill the planter with a loose potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. This compost retains water well, which is ideal for parsley. Lightly press down the soil around the parsley plants and then water well. Place your plants in a bright, partially shaded spot. Take care, especially in summer, to water parsley regularly, as it does not tolerate drought. Check out our article on parsley care for more tips.

Parsley plant in a pot
Parsley grows just as well in pots [Photo: Marie C Fields/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting and storing parsley

Always harvest parsley leaves together with the stem. With the onset of flowering, parsley loses a great deal of its flavour, so stop harvesting at this point. When harvesting, cut off individual leaf stalks carefully at the very bottom with a sharp knife or scissors. This preserves the growth centre of the plant so that it can continue to produce fresh leaves. Once the parsley begins to flower, the essential oil apiol is also increasingly produced. This can lead to contraction of the muscles of the uterus and digestive organs if consumed in excess. For this reason, you should not feed parsley to small pets, such as pregnant guinea pigs or other rodents, as it increases the risk of premature birth. However, if the animals are not pregnant, the herb is a healthy treat for furry friends.

Harvesting parsley leaves by hand
Parsley can be harvested up until flowering [Photo: Olinchuk/ Shutterstock.com]

Parsley is best harvested fresh, as it is difficult to store. If possible, cut the aromatic herb fresh and use it straight away. Parsley leaf stalks will keep for a few days if you put them in a glass with a little water. Wrapped in a damp cotton cloth, you can also store parsley in the fridge for a few days. Unfortunately, the herb loses flavour quickly and after drying, parsley all but loses its taste. By finely chopping and then freezing the leaves, however, you can preserve the flavour of harvested parsley for several months.

Note: It is also possible to harvest and save parsley seeds. Collect and dry the seeds in September, and they should germinate for about two years. Keep the seeds out of reach of children, because they contain high concentrations of the toxic apiol.

Parsley uses

Parsley is known and loved worldwide as a seasoning and garnish for hot or cold dishes. Even in India and the cold of Russia, this hardy biennial herb is grown to be used in the kitchen.

Curled leaf parsley leaves
Curly-leaved parsley makes a delicate garnish [Photo: JACK Photographer/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Because it spoils quickly, do not thaw your frozen parsley: simply add it straight to your dishes. Rather than cooking the herb in your dish, add it just before serving to preserve its delicious flavour.

Classic parsley dishes include persillade, a French marinade of garlic, vinegar, oil and chopped parsley often used to accompany meat. In Turkey and other Arab countries, tabouleh, a salad of tomato, mint and plenty of parsley, is very popular. Parsley is also an essential ingredient in Frankfurt green sauce.

Plate of tabouleh made with parsley
Parsley is used all over the world in many dishes, like tabouleh [Photo: alexzrv/ Shutterstock.com]

Parsley is also a widely used medicinal plant in herbal medicine. In addition to its digestive and immune-supporting properties, even pain from insect bites or sports injuries can be relieved with the help of this alkaline herb. Bad breath can be treated by chewing a few parsley leaves. Parsley tea is also said to have a healing effect on gout and urinary stones but should not be used during pregnancy or if you suffer from kidney disease or cardiac arrhythmias.

Parsley is an ideal choice for growing herbs in pots. Find out more about herb cultivation here.

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