Growing Parsley

Use parsley to edge beds in your garden and landscape.

Parsley makes a great edging for gardens and even flower beds.

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. 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 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 & Flower 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.

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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.