How to Grow Parsnip in Containers (Beginner’s Guide)

Parsnip is one of those root crops that can be grown in a huge field, small garden, or a 3-gallon container on your balcony.

This crop doesn’t need a lot of space to thrive, which makes it good for tiny gardens (or those without the space for growing crops).

Container planting also provides several benefits, such as added portability to optimize yield.

Let’s dive in and learn all about container planting parsnip.

Should you plant in a container?

Container grown parsnips.
Parsnip can be grown in containers and has several pros to it.

Growing parsnips in pots is just as easy as growing parsnips in your garden.

The thing to keep in mind about any container-grown plant is that it takes a bit more care compared to direct sowing.

This is because when you add water, fertilizer, or other additives to your parsnip in a container, it’s a lot easier to dramatically change the overall soil metrics with just a tiny dosage.

Compared to planting in your garden, there’s less room for mistakes when you plant in a pot.

But for those that don’t have a lot of space to grow plants, container planting is a good choice!

Benefits of container growing?

The main benefit is that it saves space in your garden.

It also allows for portability, so you can move it around if it gets too hot or cold.

Or to give it more/less sun exposure. If you have a small yard and don’t have time for a traditional crop garden, then a container can do the job even on your balcony.

Isn’t that nice? It doesn’t need a whole field to grow.

Parsnips grow in limited space. If you don’t have a garden, you can grow it on your apartment balcony or patio.

Since it’s in a container, you can also move it around to optimize growth.

Plus, you can bring it indoors when it’s very cold outside so it doesn’t get killed.

The benefit is the container. It offers you a space-saving way to grow crops that normally would require a plot of garden space.

Is it easy to grow in pots?

Yes, parsnip is extremely easy to grow in pots. If you can get it to germinate, the rest of the process is simple.

It’s just as simple as growing in the garden. Since parsnip doesn’t take up a lot of space, it’s the perfect plant for apartments without gardens.

How to grow parsnips in pots

This section covers the steps to sowing seeds. If you’re doing a transplant, you can just carefully transfer it to the pot of your choice.

Read on for the necessary soil requirements, watering, sunlight, plant food, compost, mulching, etc. Also, see this guide for complete parsnip care.

Check your USDA hardiness zone

You need to be in the right hardiness zone if you plan to grow them without a headache. Parsnip grows in USDA zones 2-9.

If you’re in a slightly colder zone, it’s still possible to grow them by using a layer of mulch to help protect the plants from temperature swings.

Starting from seed

Start by getting a packet of parsnip seeds.

I suggest buying something that was collected as recently as possible because parsnip seeds tend to go sterilized very quickly. Anything older than a year should be disposed of.

Seeds must be sourced from a quality nursery with use-by dates. Or else you’re risking your success.

Parsnips should be planted when the outdoor temperatures are nice and cool. They should be between 40-60F ideally.

But never higher than 80F. Hot weather slows down growth and also makes them taste extremely bitter.

When germinating seeds, keep the soil between 60-70F. Sow when the danger of frost is completely gone.

Or you can get a head start indoors by sowing before the last frost date. This is useful if you’re planting in a lower zone, such as 2-5.

For higher zones, sow outdoors in early fall. This will result in a harvest in late winter or early spring. Sow in September and harvest in February.

Use soil that’s loose and not clumpy. Remove any rocks, twigs, sticks, etc. The parsnip extends its long roots deep into the soil.

Anything that’s in the way will block it. Use potting soil that’s soft, loose, and loamy. Aim for a pH around 6.8.

Use limestone to help bring the pH to the acidic side. Parsnip doesn’t grow well in hard soil like clay or rocky soils, so avoid those.

Using tough soil will end up with twisted or warped roots. You don’t want that. Since you’re planting in a container, you control 100% of the soil contents. That’s one of the benefits of growing parsnip in a container.

The soil should be well-draining. Any buildup of water or nutrients will damage or stunt your parsnip’s growth. 

The soil should be commercial grade or you can mix topsoil with manure/compost and peat moss.

Feel free to experiment, especially if you’ve been doing this for a while. Keep 1-2 inches at the top of the container to allow for expansion or if you need to add mulch later on.

Consider adding some rocks or pebbles at the base of the planter. This can help prevent clumping and drain well.

Get your seeds ready. Poke 0.5” holes in the soil. Space 5” apart. Put 2-3 seeds in each hole.

You’ll be thinning each plant, so don’t worry about crowding for now. Parsnips have a low germination rate anyway, so don’t expect the seeds to all grow.

Water generously the first time. Keep them moist, but never wet. Keep temperatures stable and place the container in direct sunlight.

When sown correctly, you should expect to see the first signs of seedlings in 2-3 weeks.

Parsnip germinates slowly compared to other rooted crops like carrots.

Then when the seedlings are 4-5 inches. If multiple seedlings come out of the same hole, keep the tallest, strongest one.

Trim it carefully because you don’t want to damage the nearby seedlings who may have entwined roots.

You should only have one parsnip per 5 inches when you’re done thinning. Pinch or twist each weaker plant only.

After they’ve sprouted, you’re on your way to getting some tasty parsnip. Keep them moist, but not wet. Use a soil meter for accuracy.

During periods of no rain, give them some extra water.

Water at the base of the, never the leaves. You can use your finger to check the top inch of soil for water. Don’t let it dry out between waterings. Water deeply.

Container-grown plants need more water than garden plants, but less fertilizer if you plan to use some.

One quick thing you can do is to add some mulch. This will help block weeds, retain water, and keep it safe from sudden temperature drops overnight. Remove any weeds you come across.

Fertilize about 60 days after you think. Use a balanced NPK without the excessive presence of nitrogen. Use as directed.

Excess N will result in leafy greens without any root development. NPK values of 5-5-5 are good enough. Use organic if you’re growing organic.

How deep should a container be for parsnips?

Parsnip producing pods.
Parsnip will flower so you can harvest the seeds for next season.

Parsnips will grow roots up to 12 inches in length and about 2 inches across. These are the larger ends of the spectrum.

Depending on the local soil quality, sunlight, water, and parsnip species, the length of your root will vary.

  • If you get a smaller dwarf species, then you can grow more parsnip per container.
  • If you plant a larger one, then you can grow less.

Does that make sense?

You can choose square or rectangular planters if you want to plant a lot of parsnip in a single pot. This lets them stretch out their roots without getting cramped compared to a circular planter.

What container material should I get?

This comes down to three things:

  • Functionality
  • Aesthetics
  • Price

If you only care about maximizing your parsnip yield and nothing else, then choose a stone or terracotta pot.

It helps insulate the temperatures by warming up slowly and cooling off slowly as well. If you care about looks, they look OK.

Otherwise, a plastic one will do the job. It’s cheap, easy to drill, and lightweight. But note that it cools down quicker than a porous container.

However, it’s durable so it won’t crack when it gets cold. It’s also easier to clean since dirt doesn’t get trapped inside the small holes as it does in terra cotta.

Don’t try to stuff as many parsnips into a container as you possibly can.

You’re just asking for the parsnip to compete with each other for soil nutrients, which will result in smaller yields.

Use these rules of thumb for proper container sizing:

  • Choose a container that’s at least 3 feet deep, 2 feet at the minimum
  • The width should be the same length as the depth
  • Use ceramic, stone, or terra cotta because it insulates temperature swings

Ensure there are enough drainage holes. Some containers will require you to drill them yourself.

The bigger the container you choose, the more holes you should have to ensure that they don’t get backed up over time.

Save yourself the headache and do it right from the start!

Growing parsnips in toilet rolls

Some people suggest growing your parsnip using those empty toilet paper rolls.

The idea is to fill up the tube with soil and then put the seeds on the top.

The rolls are supposed to have them grow straight by locking the root in place.

If it’s forced to grow in one direction without interruption by something in the substrate, then it should work, right?

But I’ve found the opposite to be true.

When you sow in toilet rolls, the seeds will germinate and then you move them outside.

You plant the tubes into your soil and the root should grow straight out of the bottom of the tube. The problem is that the root is long.

But the time you see the seed leaves emerge from the compost, the roots will fork.

If they touch anything hard, the roots split. Including the toilet roll tube. So this isn’t a good DIY solution.

However, if you dig deep holes for each plant, it grows without hitting anything in the way.

This can work, but it’s a lot of work. If you’re up for it and want to try to toilet roll planting, this is how you do it.

Growing parsnips in raised beds

Raised beds are excellent for parsnips since they allow for proper drainage.

Because the planters are raised, the water flows out the bottom without any impediments.

If you can afford the space for a raised bed, by all means, go for it. You get the benefit of a well-draining design but at the cost of portability.

The soil, nutrients, sunlight, mulching, and fertilizing needs are all the same. You just get more drainage in exchange for portability.

Videos about growing parsnips in containers

Here are some helpful videos that show the various ways you can grow parsnips:


How many parsnips per container?

This depends on the size of your container. If you want to maximize yield, then get a rectangular planter.

Since each parsnip needs 5” from its neighbors, you can max out the room to get the most for your investment.

Square or rectangular planters are more efficient than circular ones.

  • As a rule of thumb, a 3-gallon container can grow 1 parsnip.
  • A 5-gallon container can grow 2-3 parsnips.
  • A rectangular 10 x 5 planter can grow 5 parsnips.

Types of parsnip to grow in pots

Some dwarf varieties are perfect for container growing.

Consider the following species to compliment your planter:

  • All American
  • Hollow Crown
  • Turga
  • The Student
  • Cobham Marrow
  • Harris Model

Do some research on each one and see what kind of flavor, size, and characteristics you’re looking for.

Some varieties will be ready before others. If you’re in a lower zone, then yeah, it’s good to have right?

Further reading/references

Growing parsnips in containers are easy!

Fresh parsnip harvested from container planting.
Enjoy parsnip with other familiar veggies.

Now that you know how to grow parsnips in planters, you have no excuse to NOT grow these in your garden (or balcony).

Since they utilize so very little space, you can grow them efficiently by maxing out the available space you have.

Why are you growing parsnips? Do you have any questions? Let me know!

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