Parsley is an herb with a bright and fresh flavor that makes a perfect addition to salads, soups, sauces, and stuffing. It’s healthy as well as flavorful with a high amount of vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron.
Easy to grow, parsley is a great addition to any herb garden. It’s one of the earliest herbs you can get started in the spring, and you’ll be able to harvest from your plants very quickly.
Here’s a complete guide on how to grow and harvest parsley plant.
All About Parsley
Parsley is a biennial plant that’s mostly grown as an annual. It won’t send up flowers during its first year of growth, which means that you don’t have to worry about plants bolting and losing their flavor.
If you want to grow parsley as a culinary herb, it’s best to treat it as an annual and plant it new every spring. However, if you want to collect seeds from your plants, parsley can be overwintered in USDA hardiness zones 5-9.
The leaves of this herb are divided and serrated, typically into three sections. They can be flat or curly depending on the variety, and the flat kind closely resembles cilantro leaves.
Parsley was once used mainly as a garnish, but thankfully its powerful flavor and health benefits were rediscovered. It’s a great herb to use both fresh and cooked.
Parsley leaves have a bright and fresh flavor with a slight spicy or peppery aroma. You can chew them fresh to clean up your breath, and they add excellent flavor to dishes when added at the end of cooking.
In the second year, parsley plants send up white or yellow-green umbels (flower stalks that resemble umbrellas).
There are two main varieties of parsley: flat-leaf or Italian (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum) and curly-leaf (P. crispum var. crispum).
Here’s a quick look at the differences between the two, plus a few cultivars you can grow:
- Flat leaf or Italian parsley– This is the type that closely resembles cilantro. Both the plants and leaves of flat leaf tend to be larger than the curly variety. The leaves have a stronger flavor and tend to be favored for cooking. They are also easier to work with in the kitchen since they don’t curl. Plant size is 12-18 inches tall.
- Curled leaf– This variety is more compact than flat leaf and has smaller, finely cut leaves. It’s sometimes used ornamentally because of its appearance. The leaves still have good flavor but are less strong than flat-leaf. The curly leaves are a bit trickier to wash and chop but can still be used fresh and in recipes.
Curly parsley has an almost ornamental look and is more compact than flat-leaf. It has good flavor, although not as strong as the other variety.
- ‘Giant of Italy’ or ‘Italian Giant’– A flat leaf cultivar with large, dark green leaves that have a very rich flavor. Plants also grow large and bushy.
- ‘Moss Curled’– Curled cultivar with very ruffled leaves. Plants are compact and grow 8-12 inches tall.
- ‘Extra Curled’– Another curled variety with very finely cut, almost ornamental leaves. Plants are compact.
How to Grow Parsley Plant
Parsley is easy to grow from seed either indoors or outdoors. If you don’t want to bother with seeds yourself, you can also pick up transplants from your local garden center or nursery in the spring.
Growing from Seed Indoors
Getting a head start on your parsley by starting seeds indoors is a good idea, since plants grow best in the cool weather of spring.
Seeds can be slow to germinate and often have spotty germination, so plant more seeds than you need to be sure you get enough plants. Start seed indoors 8-10 weeks before your last average frost date.
To improve germination rates, soak parsley seeds overnight or for up to 24 hours in warm water. You can do this by getting a paper towel wet with warm water and wrapping your seeds up in it. Place the towel with the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it so that the moisture stays in.
When your seeds are done soaking, fill up seed starting trays or cell packs with a soilless seed mix. Sow one seed per cell at a depth of about ¼ inch. Water seeds well and cover trays with plastic domes if you have them.
Your parsley seeds will start to germinate sporadically after 14-21 days. Be patient and make sure the soil stays moist but not soggy while you wait.
Once seedlings emerge, remove the plastic covers and place your trays under grow lights or by a sunny window. Using fluorescent lights for 14-16 hours a day will give you the best results. Just keep the lights a few inches above your seedlings, moving them up as they grow.
Harden off your plants about a week before planting them outside by taking them out during the day and bringing them back in at night.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
Parsley can also be planted by seed right in your garden, although plants will be a little behind those started indoors.
You can sow the seeds as early as 3-4 weeks before the last average frost in your area. They can handle cold and frost and need extra time, since the plants are slow to get started.
Parsley plants like to grow in cool weather and can take a few light frosts. Getting seeds started as early as you can in spring will give your plants time to grow before the weather gets too hot.
Prepare an area in your garden ahead of time by weeding, getting rid of rocks, and loosening the top few inches of soil. You can also mix some homemade compost into your soil to improve fertility and give your plants a better start.
Once you have an area ready, sow seeds about ¼ deep. Water them in and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out in the coming weeks.
Seedlings should start popping up in 2-3 weeks. If you have a long stretch of cold weather, they may take even longer to germinate. Once your seedlings are a few inches tall, thin them out to a spacing of 6-8 inches.
The best time to plant your parsley seedlings outside is in early to mid spring to take advantage of the cool weather. They can take light frosts, so plan to plant close to your last average frost date or after.
Parsley grows well in either full sun or partial shade, which makes it a very adaptable plant. It will do best in fertile soil, so either mix some compost into your garden or grow it in potting soil with a slow release fertilizer.
You can grow parsley either out in your garden or in containers. It also grows pretty well indoors, although the leaves might not be as flavorful.
Dig holes that are slightly wider than the root balls of your plants. Spacing should be from 6-10 inches, depending on variety.
Put one seedling in each hole and fill back in with soil to just cover the top of the root ball. Water your new seedlings well.
Growing in Containers
Parsley grows very well in a container garden. You can grow it in pots that are easily accessible from your kitchen to make it easy to harvest for cooking.
The pots do not need to be large but should be at least 6 inches deep and wide. It can also be grown indoors, especially over the winter, but the leaves will likely not grow as large or flavorful as outdoor grown parsley.
Use a good quality potting mix that is rich in organic material or has a slow release fertilizer added in. Choose containers with drainage holes, or drill your own before planting.
Pots may need some extra protection during extremely cold weather and will need watered more often during hot weather. Otherwise, growing in containers is a very convenient way to have your own herb garden.
Parsley Plant Care
Overall, parsley is a very low maintenance plant. It will grow pretty happily until extremely hot weather comes, at which point plants might start to fade.
You won’t need to do much for your parsley plants other than keep them watered during dry spells and harvest often to keep your plants producing.
Mulching around plants and keeping them well watered can help them withstand hot weather better, but plan to get most of your harvesting done before the heat of summer. If you leave plants be, you might also notice them come back to life when temperatures cool down in the fall.
The biggest care tip for parsley, like so many other herbs, is to harvest from it often. This sends a message to the plants to keep producing more leaves and to bush out.
If you want your plants to overwinter outside, mulch around them heavily before temperatures start dropping dramatically. In milder regions, parsley will overwinter with no problem.
Keep in mind that parsley will flower in its second year, and leaves may be less flavorful. Cut off flower heads when they appear to keep leaves from turning bitter, but leave some on at the end of the season to feed the birds.
Parsley is a good companion plant, especially for vegetables, because it helps to repel certain pests. Grow it near asparagus, sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers to help these crops. It may also benefit carrots, peas, and Brassicas.
Parsley is a good companion plant because it contains volatile and aromatic compounds that repel pesky insects. Tomatoes, peppers, and asparagus particularly benefit from being near parsley.
If you are growing carrots, parsnips, celery, or other members of the Apiaceae family for seed, avoid planting parsley nearby to prevent cross-pollination. If you don’t plan to let any of the plants go to seed, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Pests and Problems
Parsley plant usually isn’t affected by any serious diseases, although fungal conditions can occur in damp conditions. You can avoid this by planting in well-drained soil and spacing plants properly.
Occasionally, carrot flies or whiteflies will bother parsley. If this happens, avoid planting parsley near related plants like carrots that will draw the pests in. They can be controlled with an organic insecticidal spray.
The other “pest” of parsley is the black swallowtail caterpillar, which is also known as the parsley worm caterpillar. These little critters can do a lot of damage to your parsley, but you should not kill them, since they will later turn into beneficial swallowtail butterflies.
Instead, plant more parsley in your garden next year so that you have enough to share with the caterpillars!
Let these cute caterpillars munch on your plants, even though it means you’ll miss out on some leaves. Next year, they’ll turn into beautiful swallowtail butterflies.
How to Harvest Parsley
When to Harvest
Parsley fully matures in 70 to 90 days, but you can start harvesting once stems develop three segments. You can also just look for plants to start bushing out and growing multiple stems before you pick any.
For a large harvest, let plants get big and bushy. During the first year, plants won’t flower, so you don’t have to worry about getting your harvest in before this happens. However, leaves start fading in hot weather, and you’ll get the best tasting ones before this happens.
Harvest your parsley by picking outer stems and letting the inner ones keep growing. Cut stems off at the base and pick the leaves off once you get inside.
Only take a few stems from each plant while they’re small. Larger plants can take a much harder harvest, but try to leave at least ½ of the plant intact so that it can regrow itself quickly.
At the end of the season, you can cut your parsley plants back to the ground to get the rest of the good leaves.
Parsley has the most flavor when it’s fresh. You can dry it to keep short term, but it will start losing flavor after just a month or two. Freezing is another option.
Fresh parsley will always have the best flavor. Unlike other herbs, it doesn’t retain its flavor very well when dried, but you can have more success with freezing it.
To keep harvested parsley fresh for longer, you can store the stems in a jar of water in your refrigerator. You can also wrap the stems and leaves in a damp paper towel and store it all in a plastic bag in your fridge.
Of course, one of the main benefits of growing parsley is that you can just cut the amount you need when you need it.
To dry parsley, rinse the stems and leaves off in cool water after harvesting. Let them dry on a towel for an hour or two to get rid of excess moisture.
Hang up the stems in bunches or lay them flat on a tray to fully dry. Keep them somewhere dark and warm with good ventilation. Your herbs should fully dry in 1-3 weeks and can then be stored in airtight containers.
Freezing helps retain the flavor of parsley better than drying, although its texture will be lost.
You can freeze leaves on the stem, whole, or chopped. Just wash and dry them before placing in freezer safe bags or containers. You can also make your parsley into something flavorful like pesto and freeze batches of it.
However you choose to store it, you’ll probably agree that fresh is best and want to grow it again next year! You can also work on making a whole herb garden by adding other plants like lemon balm, basil, and oregano.