Parsley is a lush plant growing up to a foot high in a beautiful rosette of green foliage. Try growing 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 colourful annuals, like yellow pansies or bright pink petunias. Curled parsley has a more ruffled appearance than flat-leafed parsley, but both are equally lush. Whichever variety you choose, make sure it's a Bonnie Plant® so you'll have Bonnie's 100 years of experience providing plants for home gardeners behind you.
Quick Guide to Growing Parsley
- Plant parsley in spring once the ground is workable. The edible green foliage is great to grow on its own, but is also a wonderful complement to flower beds and window boxes.
- Space parsley plants 6 to 8 inches apart in an area with full sun and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.7. Offer partial shade if growing in warm climates.
- Before planting, ensure your native soil is packed with nutrients by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- These leafy herbs enjoy consistent moisture, so check soil regularly and water when the top inch becomes dry.
- Promote prolific leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Harvest parsley stems by cutting them at the base once they're large enough to use. Never cut more than one-third of the plant at a single time.
Soil, Planting, and Care for Growing Parsley
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.
Set plants in full sun or partial shade, and rich, moist soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.7. Improve the quality of the soil by mixing in some aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose In-Ground Soil with the top layer of existing soil before planting. Or, if you prefer to grow parsley in pots, fill them with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix. It also contains nutrient-filled aged compost, but is lighter and fluffier than in-ground soil—just right for pots.
Rich, nutrient-filled soil will form a strong foundation for growing, but you'll get even better results if you replenish those nutrients throughout the growing season by feeding parsley with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition. Not only does it feed your plants, but it also feeds the valuable microbes in the soil that help those plants take up all the nutrition they need.
Keep the soil moist by watering thoroughly whenever the top inch is dry. To help keep roots cool and moist, mulch 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.
To grow parsley year-round no matter where you live, you can also grow it indoors, either in pots in a sunny window or in a water-based (aka hydroponic) growing system. A unit like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System is a great choice—it's simple to use (even if you've never grown in water before), provides the plant with a truly nurturing growing environment, and has a sleek, modern look.
Troubleshooting when Growing 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.
How to Harvest and Store Parsley
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.
How to Use Parsley in the Kitchen
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 flavour. Parsley is also a chief ingredient in bouquet garni.
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.