Parsley plant care: watering, pruning, yellow leaves & more
Parsley can grow in almost any garden, but when caring for this herb there are a few things you need to consider. Here is our guide to cutting, watering and fertilising parsley.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), which originates from the Mediterranean, is a herb that has been used in cooking and medicine since as far back as the Middle Ages. Below you will find all there is to know about parsley plant care.
How to prune parsley
In theory, it is possible to harvest parsley at any time. When cutting parsley, make sure to use scissors or a knife to cut off only each leaf together with its stem. If you prune or even slightly cut the heart of the parsley plant, it will not be able to produce new leaves.
Also, be careful not to cut off too many leaves when harvesting, so that the herb can still photosynthesise and recover from the cut. When all these things are kept in mind, there is nothing stopping your parsley plant from growing a fresh supply of leaves again and again.
How often to water parsley
In the main growing season, from sowing in the spring until flowering the next year, you should water your parsley regularly. Parsley is a relatively thirsty plant, especially compared to other Mediterranean herbs. How often to water parsley depends on your climate. In general, parsley prefers moist soil. However, the herb does not tolerate drought or over-watering: so make sure the soil in pots or in garden beds never dries out, but equally, avoid waterlogging. Also, water your young parsley plants regularly just after germination and in midsummer as they can get dehydrated quickly.
How to fertilise parsley
It is key to use the right fertiliser when feeding parsley plants. It requires medium levels of nitrogen and potassium, with just a little phosphorus. Note: Do not fertilise parsley with fresh manure which contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and is too harsh for the sensitive herb. When this natural fertiliser is used, parsley loses most of its flavour and its growth can be stunted.
Mineral nitrogen fertilisers are equally unsuitable. This is because parsley tends to store the nitrogen that is often released too quickly from these fertilisers, as nitrate and nitrite in its leaves and an excess of nitrogen in the herb when harvested can be considered harmful to health. Alternatively, coffee grounds contain just 2% nitrogen, so they are ideal for nourishing your parsley.
For parsley both in beds and pots, the ideal choice is a purely plant-based, slow-release fertiliser such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food. The nutrients in this are broken down steadily over a long period by soil organisms which make them available to the plant roots. To apply fertiliser granules such as ours, work them into the surface of the soil around the parsley after planting and then water regularly. After about two months, carry out a second application, then wait until spring the next year for a third.
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Yellowing parsley: why and how to remedy it
Parsley often displays leaf discolouration; it tends to yellow or turn red. If the parsley turns yellow, this is usually due to a molybdenum deficiency or, more likely, a magnesium deficiency. However, if the leaves turn yellow, but the leaf veins remain green, this may be an indicator that the soil is too acidic. A magnesium deficiency will become apparent early in the year if the location is not suitable. Apply lime regularly to provide a long-term remedy, while also improving the soil structure. More rarely and rather late in the summer, old leaves can turn completely pale yellow due to a lack of nitrogen. The yellow leaves of parsley are of course still edible. If, on the other hand, the parsley turns red, this is a sign of stress, such as waterlogging, nematodes or carrot fly infestation.
Your parsley is not growing: what to do
If your parsley’s growth is stunted, it may be due to a few different factors.
- If the location is too shady, too sunny or in unsuitable soil, it is worth relocating your parsley. You can read more about the ideal location in the article growing parsley.
- On depleted soils parsley hardly grows without extra nutrients. Here is how to improve soil quality.
- If a nutrient deficiency could be the reason, treat with a fast-acting, liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food.
- If there is waterlogging in the pot, repot your herb into a new planter with a drainage hole and a drainage layer to remedy the situation.
- Pests and diseases in garden beds can be controlled naturally by companion planting and mixed cultivation.
Overwintering adult plants is not a problem, because the parsley is hardy. No winter protection is required, but the plant does not form fresh leaves in the cold season. However, for parsley in pots there is a risk that the plant will freeze through together with the soil. So, it is best to choose a place as frost-free as possible and protect the plants in case of severe frost. Even hardy parsley cannot withstand this. Parsley in particularly small pots are best overwintered indoors, in a cool, and bright spot on the windowsill of an unheated room. If you want to continue to have a supply of fresh parsley for cooking in the winter, you can cultivate it in a pot on a bright, warm windowsill.
By the way: Although parsley is an annual, it can still be harvested until flowering in the second year and the second generation of parsley emerges.
How to care for potted parsley
Care is also important for parsley in a pot. Repotting is important if you buy a pot of dense parsley plants or sow them yourself. When you buy potted parsley, the pot is often too small to provide enough soil for the culinary herbs to flower the following year. So, transplant herbs with a dense root ball into a larger container. To do this, fill the new pot about one-third full with pre-fertilised soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. This compost has good water retention while providing a loose, permeable structure that your parsley roots will benefit from. Add some extra slow-release fertiliser, then loosen the root ball of the parsley from the old pot and place it in the new container. Fill it up with soil and lightly press everything down. Straight after repotting, water the parsley and place it in a location with bright, but not full sun.
Tip: Parsley is usually cultivated as a culinary herb for just one year, as it forms flowers during its 2nd year of growth. If you buy or sow new parsley the following year, avoid reusing soil. This is because parsley is highly incompatible with itself, as well as other plants in the umbellifer family, such as carrots. So the herb would not thrive and may even become diseased in this contaminated soil.
Parsley comes in a wide range of varieties. Here are some of the best parsley varieties for growing in pots and beds.