Days to germination: 15 to 30 days
Days to harvest: 70 to 80 days when starting from seed
Light requirements: Full sun or partial shade
Water requirements: Regularly and frequently
Soil: Rich but well-drained
Container: Very suitable, even indoors
Make no mistake, parsley can be used for much more than just a little green garnish on the side of your plate.
Parsley has quite a bit of vitamins C, K and A, and it can even be used as a breath freshener if you chew a couple of fresh sprigs after eating. As an herb, it’s used with meat, chicken, fish and various kinds of bread stuffing. You can add the fresh leaves to salads and dressings, too.
The plant is a biennial, meaning it has a 2-year life cycle. The second year is when it flowers, and usually doesn’t produce much of an herb crop. Some gardeners will dig up their plants after one year and plant new seeds, but if you let it grow to flowering, it will self-seed and provide you with new parsley plants without much effort on your part.
It can withstand cold winters up to zone 3, and heat to zone 9. If you live in an area even colder, parsley can still be grown outdoors as an annual or just kept indoors in a pot.
Starting from Seed
Because it can take up to a month just to get the seeds to germinate, most people start their seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost date.
Start several seeds in a tall 4-inch pot rather than in individual little seedling trays. Parsley has a long taproot so it will outgrow the little pots in no time. Sow more than you need, and thin out to 1 plant per pot once they finally begin to sprout. Keep your pots in the sun where it is warm, and don’t let the potting soil dry out.
If you are going to grow your parsley in containers, you should just plant your seeds directly into their final pots to save them the stress of transplanting.
A week or more after your last frost date, you can plant out your seedlings. There should be 10 to 14 inches between your seedlings, in a fairly sunny location. They will grow just fine with a bit of afternoon shading too.
Loosen the soil first with a thorough digging, at least 12 inches down. Your seedlings roots will grow downwards very quickly so well-prepared soil is important.
Once growing, you want to water your parsley plants often enough that the soil doesn’t completely dry out.
If you are growing parsley in poorer soil, you will want to apply fertilizer every 2 months through the summer.
At the end of the first year, your plants will die back in the winter and regrow again in the spring. While you may get some parsley leaves in the second year, the plant tends to go to flower and seed quite quickly which will ruin any herb harvesting. You can dig up your plants in the late fall and just start with new seed the next spring, or allow your plants to finish their cycle.
Your second year plants will produce seeds for you, but also attract some beneficial insects to your garden with their flowers.
Parsley grows very well in containers, and can also do well when grown indoors. Each plant should be in a pot approximately 6 to 10 inches across, and 18 inches deep to accommodate the deep roots of the plant.
Pots should have an extra layer of gravel or stones in the bottom to maximize drainage.
Your plants will still follow the 2-year flowering cycle if you grown them indoors, meaning you will get flowers the second year but few edible leaves.
Pests and Diseases
Like most herbs, parsley isn’t overly troubled by insects pests though you may have to watch for the parsley worm. It’s a large black and green caterpillar, and the larvae of the swallowtail butterfly. Unfortunately, if you have these lovely butterflies in your garden, your parsley can be at risk in the early summer when their eggs hatch.
They can destroy your plants in a matter of hours, and can be a real problem in numbers. The butterflies are also attracted to easier-to-grow dill, so you might want to have a few dill bushes growing nearby as a distraction for the insects.
If you see them on your parsley, pick them off by hand and spray the plant with a natural pesticide. Wait several days after spraying to do any leaf harvesting, and wash your parsley well before use.
For any thrips. mites or aphids, just knock them off with a spritz of water each day to keep them from taking over the plant. They are relatively harmless as long as you don’t let them get out of control.
Harvesting and Storage
You can start to harvest parsley leaves as soon as the plant produces leaves large enough for use. Usually a month after you’ve put your plants outside. Use scissors to snip away leaves and stems at the outside of the plant first.
Parsley can handle a few frosts without damage to the leaves, so there is no immediate rush to pick the remaining leaves in the late fall.
If you’ve allowed your plants to grow for their second year, you may get an extra harvest by digging up the root. It’s not the most common way to use parsley but the thick root can be cooked much like a carrot or parsnip.
Fresh parsley stores well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks if you keep it moist in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. To keep your crop longer, you can either freeze or dry. You can freeze whole parsley leaves, or chop them up first. Freezing in an ice cube tray works great for chopped parsley. If you want to dry parsley, do it at a low temperature or it will lose its flavor. Either air dry, or use a low-heat dehydrator.