Growing Parsley

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Use parsley to edge beds in your garden and landscape.

In the Garden

Plant flat leaf parsley with colorful flowers for a lovely garden.

Here, flat Italian parsley (foreground) pairs with yellow cosmos in a pretty herb garden.

Parsley is a lush plant growing up to a foot high in a beautiful rosette of green foliage. Use parsley plants as companions to annuals, perennials, and herbs in beds, containers, and window boxes. Plants make a nice seasonal edging and provide a striking contrast to colorful annuals, like yellow pansies or bright pink petunias. Curled parsley has a more ruffled appearance than flat-leafed parsley, but both are equally lush.

Soil, Planting, and Care

A row of curled parsley grows lush in this vegetable garden.

Curled parsley contributes fresh green color and frilly texture to a vegetable garden.

Parsley is an annual in the North, growing from spring until freezing weather. In milder climates, it is frost-proof and lives through winter. The second spring after planting, the plant blooms, goes to seed, and then finally gives out. When you see it send up a flower stalk, it’s time to yank the plant because at this point the leaves will taste bitter.

Plant in the spring (or in fall in zones 7 and warmer). Normal winters in the South and Southwest provide wonderful growing conditions for parsley and many gardeners use it in pots and flower beds as a green foliage filler with pansies and violas for winter. For the summer, Italian flat-leafed parsley is a bit more heat tolerant than curly parsley.

In this landscape, parsley is used as an edging to border a garden bed.

Parsley can be planted as an edible edging around a garden bed or landscape.

Set plants in full sun or partial shade, and rich, moist soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.7. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before or at planting. Keep the soil moist. Keep roots cool and moist by mulching around the plant, but don’t cover the crown of the plant or the plant will risk getting rot. In September, promote new foliage by cutting back plants set out in the spring; this is especially true for plants grown in vegetable and herb beds strictly for their harvest. Fertilize with Bonnie’s Herb & Vegetable Plant Food to boost new growth.

Troubleshooting

Black swallowtail butterflies are lovely visitors to a garden. The caterpillars love parsley, so plant some for them and wait for their arrival in summer and fall.

The caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly loves parsley.

Parsley (along with dill and fennel) is a favorite food of the brightly striped parsleyworm caterpillar, which becomes the treasured black swallowtail butterfly. Some gardeners plant enough parsley for themselves and the beautiful butterflies-to-be, which are likely to appear in late summer and fall. While parsleyworms may eat much of the plant, they won’t kill it, and giving them habitat is worth it. A serious pest, though, is the whitefly. To get rid of it, spray the undersides of the leaves thoroughly with insecticidal soap.

Harvest and Storage

Snip parsley stems near the ground and take the outside leaves first.

Harvest parsley by taking the larger, outer leaves first.

Gather parsley stems and leaves as needed. Harvest parsley by cutting the leafy stems from the base of the plant—this will also serve to make the plant grow back bushier. Freeze parsley for winter use; although it is easily dried, it does not keep its flavor well.

Uses

A container of parsley and rosemary should last through the winter in most garden regions.

Parsley and rosemary are two of the most cold-hardy herbs. Plant them together for a winter-ready display.

Parsley pairs well with meat and egg dishes, potato and pasta dishes, vegetables, rice, salads, and soups, as well as cottage cheese and herb butters. Add chopped parsley to a dish near the end of the cooking process or sprinkle it on vegetables or salads immediately before serving to keep the fresh flavor. Parsley is also a chief ingredient in bouquet garni.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

Is parsley for seasoning or just a garnish?

Parsley makes a wonderful seasoning. The flat-leaved Italian parsley is thought to have superior flavor, while the curly parsley has more ornamental appeal. The flavor of parsley is delicate, but it adds an herbal freshness to foods such as tabbouleh, herbal butter, potatoes, and even parsley pesto. Also, consider using parsley as a breath freshener or palate cleanser between courses.

I have caterpillars on my parsley. What can I use to kill them and still be able to eat the parsley?

The most common caterpillars on parsley, as well as dill and fennel, are the colorful larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly. These plants are host plants, providing nourishment for the juvenile form of an elegant adult. First, you should consider leaving them alone. As soon as they move on to the next step in metamorphosis, the pupae, you can cut off damaged leaves and fertilize your plant, and it should recover. If that isn’t acceptable, try moving the caterpillars to an alternate plant such as Queen Anne’s lace, which is commonly seen on roadsides and along the fence lines of old fields. Just cut the leaves on which the caterpillars are feeding, place them at the base of the new host plant, and wish them well.

My parsley lasted all winter, but now it looks terrible. I thought it was a perennial. What can I do?

Parsley is a biennial, not a perennial. What that means is that it grows into a plant one season, and after winter’s cold temperatures, it blooms, sets seeds, and dies. The better idea may be to replant in spring, letting it grow all summer and winter. Then, next spring, don’t wait for it to bloom. Just pull it out and replace it. However, if you need a low-growing green winter filler with pansies, parsley is an excellent choice.

Instead of being dark green, my parsley is covered with tiny white dots. What is happening?

Your parsley is probably hosting a pest called whitefly, which is the perfect name for it. Use your hand with your fingers outstretched to shake the foliage of parsley. Do you see little white flies take flight around the plant? If so, you need to spray the plant with insecticidal soap, paying special attention to the undersides of the leaves. Follow the directions on the label to find out how long you need to wait before picking and eating your parsley.

19 thoughts on “Growing Parsley

  1. I accidentally trimmed cuttings from the center of my parsley plant. Now it’s growing thick and tall like a tree branch. What can I do?

    • Hi Janice,
      I am not sure what you mean by trimming cuttings from the center of the parsley plant. Do you mean, you cut the middle out of the herb? How long has the parsley been growing? If it grew throughout the winter, the thick, stalky growth may the parsley going to set flowers and seeds. Parsley is a biennial. It will have beautiful foliage one season, followed by flowers and seed the next. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. i bought parsley, sweet basil, thyme, and rosemary can i plant them in a container together if so how big of a container do i need or should i try and find a spot outside for them?

    • Hi Kristyn,
      You can plant the three together outside in a large pot :) Rosemary can grow quite large, I would plant in a container at least 20 – 24 in diameter. Take a look at these cool herb combinations! -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. Legend has it that you have to be wicked to successfully grow parsley to fruition!

  4. I’ve been trying to grow parsley indoors. I’ve bought two different plants, two different times and have killed both! I have in potting mix, sunny area and used a water gauge. DEAD! I even tried misting. I have two different containers. Is my thumb that black? No problem with bugs, the plant just starts turning yellow and gone! Any ideas???

    • Hello Cookie!
      Growing Herbs Indoors can be a little tricky at first. One of the easiest ways to kill an indoor plant is to love it too much…too much water (soils that stay too wet) or not enough light. If they do not receive enough natural light from a window..supplemental light may be used. I hope this helps. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I too, am having problems with black spots on the underside of our italian parsley leaves. The spots were definitely NOT there last night (we used some parsley in our dinner), but they were there at noon today. The entire plant seems to be affected. We also have some yellowing leaves (perhaps too much water, the plant is also big enough that it needs to be transplanted). We’ve had this plant for about two months, purchased from our grocery store. Its done very well up until now, has probably tripled in size since we bought it. The spots are very small, perhaps 3-4 to a leaf, depending on how big the leaf is. Is it worth trying to transplant at this point? I do have a photo I can email you. I’m finding a lot of info on whiteflies, but not much on these spots.

    • HI Jessica,
      A picture would be GREAT! Please do email a photo to our Ask an Expert site. Too much water will result in yellowing leaves. If you are growing in containers, use a good quality potting mix and water when the top inch or so of soil has dried. Parsley is harder to transplant as it matures so be careful and try to disturb the root system as little as possible when you take it outoors. If the parsley has been inside the last two months, acclimate it to the outdoors first. Take it outside a couple of hours one day. Gradually adjust the time the parsley is outdoors until you transplant.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. My indoor parsley plant has little black spots on the leaves that can be rubbed off. What is it?

    • Hi Liz,
      I’m not familiar with what you describe. Oftentimes indoor plants are plagued by whiteflies, but that isn’t what you see. Could it be as simple as dried soil bits on the leaves? It could be any number of things, from caterpillar frass to simply soil. We need more information to help you figure this out. If you would like to submit a photo, you can send it to our Ask An Expert link and we’ll get back with you. In addition to our article on parsley, you might find this Arkansas Cooperative Extension document helpful. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  7. My parsley has been getting covered in white splotches / spots on the leaves. The older the leaves get, the more splotchy. There doesn’t seem to be any root issues and there is no mold. I mix some Bonnie’s herb and vegetable fertilizer in the water but it is a pot that has grown a lot of herbs with the same soil (during the summer there was basil and dill and cilantro in the same soil). I think it is a deficiency but I am not sure what to give it to help. I moved the pot indoors for the winter but I am using adequate grow lights and a fan. It doesn’t look like a burn. Any ideas?

    • Hi Julie,
      It sounds like you are having problems with whiteflies, which are a serious pest of parsley. The key to whitefly control is not a specific insecticide; the key is persistence. Many systemic insecticides will kill the whitefly. Insecticidal soap, neem oil, horticultural oil, permethrin, bifenthrin and lambda-cyhalothrin are deadly to the whitefly. Getting the insecticide in contact with the insect involves some agility and perseverance. It is critical to direct your spray upwards under the leaves.

      Natural enemies of whitefly include small birds, spiders, lacewings, hoverflies, ground beetles, mirid bugs and damsel bugs. The adults and larvae of some ladybugs also feed on whiteflies. Habitat, such as a border of perennial plants, needs to be available all year round as a refuge for these predators. Here’s a link on whiteflies from the Clemson Extension Service. Does this sound like what you are seeing? If you look closely, they might not be spots, but live pests! If this is not what you are seeing, please send a photo to Ask An Expert for proper identification. Otherwise, we are just guessing. Happy to help. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Nicholas,
      If you have “grow lights” or those that replicate sunlight, you can grow parsley indoors. Oftentimes gardeners try on a seemingly sunny windowsill but it doesn’t get enough *direct* sunlight. Or, if you have a very bright sunroom, it would be happy there. You may enjoy this article on growing herbs indoors. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  8. I plant my parsley seedlings in a big round pot, it is growing for a few weeks, I water them two times a week, every two weeks a bit of fertilizer. But still, after a few weeks the plants are dying, start with yellow leaves, and then die completely. what did I do wrong. This is the same for the past few years, and every spring I plant parsley again. Please help me.

    • Does your pot have drainage holes in the bottom? Yellowing leaves can be a sign of too much water. If the soil is very moist, wait for a few days for it to dry slightly (up to your knuckle inserted in soil) before watering again. Make sure the water is allowed to flow out of the bottom of the pot and that it is in a sunny spot, at least 5-6 hours per day. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

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