Want to grow some parsnip in your garden? This is your guide!
Parsnip is often not talked about because of its popular cousins like radish, onions, or potatoes.
But it deserves a place in your veggie garden!
You’ll find that this crop is soo easy to grow you’ll wonder why you never grew it in the first place.
Let’s dive in and learn how to grow, care for, and harvest this unique little root crop in your own backyard.
Quick care guide: Parsnip
|Scientific name||Pastinaca sativa|
|Other names||Chirivía, Panais, Parsnip Herb, Pastenade, Pastinacae Herba, Pastinacae Radix, Grand Chervis, Racine-Blanche, Parsnip Root|
|Soil type||Organic, rich, fertile, well-draining, soft, loose|
|Soil pH||6.0-6.8 (acidic)|
|Sunlight requirement||Full sun|
|Colors||Green, white, yellow|
|Max height||3 feet|
|Max width||1 foot|
|Ideal temperature range||60-70F|
|Watering requirements||1-2 inches per week|
|Days until germination||2-3 weeks|
|Days until harvest||90-120 days|
|Days until bloom||2 years|
|Speed of growth||Slow|
|Hardiness zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|Plant depth||0.25 inches|
|Plant spacing||6 inches|
|Plant with||Radish, lettuce, bush beans, peas, tomatoes, rosemary, onion, garlic, pepper|
|Don’t plant with||Carrots, celery, dill, fennel|
|Common pests||Aphids, leaf miners, Botrytis, gray mold, Fusarium, root rot, mildew, fungus|
|Common diseases||Leaf spot, downy mildew, powdery mildew|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Care level||Low (very easy)|
|Uses||Stews, soups, baked, decor|
Before you plant
Note that parsnips contain a sticky sap on the crop that may irritate your skin. Or even burn.
Use gardening gloves when handling, tending or harvesting these crops. Use long-sleeved clothing.
Don’t underestimate the power of the sap!
Exercise all safety precautions before working with parsnips, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Parsnips are a root crop that’s used to garnish or flavor soups, stews, and more.
They can be eaten on their own after being roasted, or even baked into a variety of delicacies.
Sadly, parsnips just aren’t as popular as other root crops like carrots, which makes them a bit less favorable on the dinner table.
But once you try some home harvested parsnips, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier. They’re amazing. Put in some olive oil, or roast them in small strips.
Dash some salt and you’ve got yourself some parsnip fries.
What does it taste like?
Parsnips have a generally neutral taste.
They’re slightly sweet or bitter, depending on when you harvest and the type of parsnips you’re growing.
Regardless, this makes them easy to add to dishes for some nice flavor or texture that other root crops simply don’t have.
Why would I grow it?
You’re missing out by not growing it. I suggest buying a bunch at the grocery on your next haul and then using it to garnish your soups.
You’ll find the flavor gentle enough to easily get used to. It’s also extremely easy to grow and doesn’t need your attention every day.
It’s a simple vegetable to grow in your garden for some quick sprouts. It also doesn’t need a ton of space so it’s perfect for tiny gardens.
Is it easy to grow?
Parsnip is easy to grow, but hard to germinate.
If you get your seeds to sprout, you’ve already done the majority of the work.
Once you get the seedlings going, it’s just easy-peasy from there.
Give it water, provide ample sunlight, and harvest on time. That’s all there is to it.
Is parsnip an annual or perennial?
Parsnips are biennials, which means they produce every two years. But they’re grown as annuals for most gardeners.
This means you need to replant them each year, but you can save the seeds.
This way, you don’t have to keep buying them.
Types of parsnip
Here are some of the most popular parsnip varieties you’ll find in the home garden.
This should set you off on choosing some of the proven ones that are favored by the people.
This is a full sun parsnip that takes about 120 days to harvest. It’s a lengthy one at 12-inch roots, so be sure you provide ample soil that provides plenty of space for the roots to develop.
Heirloom variety from England. Needs good soil that’s acidic. Harvested in fall and thrives against the cold. If you want something different, this is worth a try.
The Harris Model is the most popular parsnip in the home garden. It’s silky smooth with straight roots. It’s ready in about 130 days and will grow up to 16 inches in length.
Sweet with a preference for partial sun with regard watering. Doesn’t tolerate the cold well.
Quick growing parsnip that’s tender, sweet, and nutty. Ready in less than 100 days. Tolerant to fungal issues and ready in the late fall. Partial sun preferred.
A lengthy rooted parsnip. Sweet texture that will get sweeter over time. 30 inch roots. Takes up to 125 days to harvest.
Grows best in partial sun with moderate watering.
A short, stubby parsnip that grows up to 8 inch roots. This is a compact parsnip so it doesn’t need that much space in your yard. If you like sweet parsnip, this is it. It’s one of the sweetest parsnip types out there with a garden-to-table time of 120 days.
How to propagate parsnip
Parsnip is grown from seed for the majority of purposes.
Although some articles have found that parsnip can be regrown from a partial piece of the crop.
Parsnips are relatively annoying to grow from seed because their seeds have low germination rates.
So out of the entire seed packet, you won’t get them all to sprout. This is where being patient comes in.
Parsnip seeds also can only be stored for a set period before their germ rates plummet. If you’re buying seeds, make sure you buy from a nursery that has a good reputation.
They can be pricey, but after one season you’ll have your own seeds to plant.
The first thing is timing.
Don’t plant them too early when the soil is too cold. Temperatures should be warming up, generally around early May.
Plant a month after the start of spring. If you plant too early, the seeds may end up doing nothing and you’ll get those low germ rates. If your temperatures are fluctuating, what you can do is plant in succession.
Plant your first batch of parsnips, then plant another batch a week later. This will maximize your chances of planting at the right time.
You’ll also get repeated harvests throughout the season. The ideal temperature range is above 50F. Warmer soil will help the germination time speed up quickly.
You should sow as soon as the soil is workable because of its lengthy growing season.
Parsnips grow in zones 4-8. Choose a location with full sun, low winds, and good draining soil. Place 2-3 seeds every 1 inch apart. Plant 0.25” deep.
Each batch will need to be thinned, so don’t worry about getting it exact for now. Remember that parsnip has poor germination rates so they won’t all sprout regardless.
The soil will determine the quality of your crop.
Choose soil that’s rich in organics, loamy, and well-draining. Don’t use clumpy soil that’s tough. This will make the parsnips smaller and end up with twisted roots.
Don’t use seed starters with root crops.
Because the space provided is so limited, this often results in some twisted roots from the start. Ensure that your soil plot outside provides plenty of space for the roots to grow.
Remove any dirt clumps, hard soil, or rocks that may be obstructing the space for the roots to develop.
Thin when the seedlings are 3 inches tall or so.
They should have adequate space between each plant- about 3 inches each. This will allow their roots to develop without competing for resources.
The roots of parsnip are extremely fragile, so avoid touching them if possible.
You can thin by cutting off the tops of the ones you don’t want. Pulling may damage neighboring plant roots.
Keep your plant bed free of weeds during this time. The weeds will out-compete young parsnips and they’ll grow smaller, or misshapen.
Keep the soil moist, but never wet. Aim for 1-2 inches of water per week.
If it rains, don’t water that week.
If it’s dry, water a bit more. It’s a balancing act and shouldn’t be some kind of exact science.
Do you soak seeds before planting?
Some people like to soak their seeds before planting because it improves the germination rate.
If you plan to do this, use a paper towel and wet it, then place the seeds between the folded towel.
Take the wet paper towel and place it inside a food container with a seal. This is preferred over just tossing the seeds into water.
How to germinate seeds quickly
Parsnip germination is a common issue for people. Everything from slow germ rates to poor seedling quality to simply not germinating.
They’re all common problems with this root crop.
To increase your germination rate, sow directly into your garden.
Other than using wet paper towels and wrapping your seeds, you can place the container somewhere warm and sunny. This can help induce heat and encourage quicker germination.
You should check on the seeds every now and then because the sunlight plus moisture can make them grow fungus or rot.
If it’s too wet, this is bad. If it’s too dry, the seeds won’t germinate.
The easiest way to speed up germination is to plant early using wet paper towels indoors when the soil outside is still cold.
This way, they can begin their lengthy germination journey then be transplanted later when the soil warms up and is workable.
The right time to move them outside is when you see the tiny white roots sprout from the seeds.
What if they don’t germinate?
If they don’t germinate, you shouldn’t be surprised.
They’re known for it. If they don’t germinate, just start over.
Or don’t plan only a single batch at a single time.
Plant in succession so you have multiple batches all trying to germinate. This will help maximize your chances of germination.
Seeds that have been in storage for extended periods will have very low germination rates.
Throw these out. Always plant with freshly purchased seeds that were harvested the prior season.
During the germination period, parsnips will take their sweet time to become… well, sweet.
If your dirt has other plants competing for nutrients like weeds, the weeds will beat the parsnips. Remove any other plants from the area so that the parsnips can get all the nutrients they need.
Keep weeds out of the area until they grow. When parsnips start taking off, the weeds are less of an issue.
So you don’t need to worry as much over weedy plants popping out of the dirt.
How to grow parsnip
Here are some general guidelines to growing parsnip.
Depending on the type you’re growing, steps may vary slightly.
However, you can use these as a rule of thumb so you know what you’re for. It’s very easy to grow and shouldn’t be rocket science.
Parsnip grows in USDA hardiness zones 4-8.
If you’re within this zone, you should plant early in the season to get a head start.
Succession plant every week. If you’re outside of this zone, adjust accordingly.
- Warmer zones can get away with partial shade.
- Cooler zones may need some mulch or other protection to prevent the winter from killing off your crops.
Use loose soil that’s well-draining. It should be rich with organic matter, but NOT clumpy or filled with debris like rocks, sticks, or clumpy dirt.
The roots of parsnip will end up twisted, short, or weirdly shaped if there are hard objects in the way of its growth.
Don’t use clay or hard soils because it makes it hard for the roots to develop.
Use a 3inch layer of organic compost to help increase soil fertility.
Parsnip likes soil that’s slightly acidic with a pH of 6.0-6.8.
If your soil is too alkaline, use lime to bring the pH down.
While pH doesn’t make or break your harvest, it can help encourage proper growth.
When sowing directly from seed, space each seed just a few inches apart.
Thin to 6″ keeping the strongest, most virulent parsnip seedlings.
These root crops don’t really need that much space in the garden to flourish, so they can do fine in a tiny garden.
But you need to make sure that they have at least 24″ of soil deep for their roots to grow. This matters more than soil spacing for each individual plant.
Sow seeds at approximately a quarter inch deep. Provide plenty of space for the roots to thrive.
Keep the soil moist, but never wet.
Parsnips need consistent moisture during the entire growing season until harvest.
They need it to develop healthy long roots, just like carrots or radishes. The roots will continue to drink the water, so keep the soil saturated.
Use a soil meter if needed so you can gauge the exact soil saturation with water. It’s hard to use the top few inches of soil as a water gauge because the roots are so deep in the soil.
This is why a soil meter works out more efficiently for telling if it’s time for water or not.
Don’t forget to account for dry spells, rain, etc. You need to adjust your watering regimen.
Water deeply to encourage strong roots.
Soaking can be done once in a while using a soaker hose, water ball, or drip irrigation. Water deeply, but less frequently.
If you notice that your plants have weak roots or ones that don’t go deep, water less or mulch the soil. The soil also needs to drain well.
Mulching helps peruse the water so you don’t have to water as often.
It also prevents temperature swings, kills weeds, and adds organic nutrients.
Add 1-2 inches of mulch if your zone is prone to crazy swings in temps.
When the roots develop, the roots should be hilled with soil. If the root shoulders are green, this is a sign that more soil is needed in that area.
Fertilizing isn’t necessary with parsnips if the original plot of soil you used is rich in organic matter.
If not, you can supplement with some basic plant fertilizer during the growing season. Use as directed.
If you see lots of growth on the parsnip tops, but not the roots, this may be due to excess nitrogen in your soil profile. Use balanced plant food.
Test your soil with a test kit to get exact numbers.
Parsnip prefers cool-temperatures that flourishes between 60-70F. If temperatures are too hot, it can fork the crop or dry it up.
If your region is hot, use partial sun or artificial shade to help bring the temperatures down.
Humidity doesn’t really matter for this crop, but it should always be moist around the soil line. Excess moisture may cause rot or fungal issues.
Plant in full sun. Parsnip is a full sun crop and needs constant sunlight with moist soil to properly develop those long roots.
The longer the roots, the more yield per crop you’ll get.
If your area is especially sunny and hot during the summers, partial sun can be utilized.
Otherwise, for those in zones 4-8, full sun is ideal. Aim for 6-8 hours of afternoon light.
There’s no pruning needed unless you suspect that there’s a pest infestation. If so, prune all infested foliage.
Parsnips take up to 120 days to become harvest ready.
This varies depending on the type of cultivar, growing conditions, and moisture.
You’ll know when to harvest by the root size. They should be at least 1” in diameter.
When the fall approaches, let the crops stay in the soil for the first few touches of frost.
The cold exposure will help the crop transform the starch into sugar. If your parsnip isn’t sweet, this could be why. Let it sit in the cold for a few weeks to make it sweeter.
If you plan to harvest the seeds, leave them in the soil during the winter.
Use a row cover or mulch to help insulate them from the cold.
Cover the tops completely with a few inches of mulch to encourage flowering and then seed harvesting.
Note that if the parsnip top develops, it’s no longer edible. The roots will get woody and have zero appeal for culinary purposes.
Parsnip can be stored for quite some time after your harvest.
Wash them down and then trim the foliage down to 1-2 inches. Put them in a sealed container wrapped in a wet paper towel. Place them in the fridge for storage.
They’re good for up to a month or so. Keep temperatures between 30-35F.
Parsnips are biennials, so you’ll have to let them flower in their second year if you plan on collecting the seeds.
During the winter, you can put some mulch to help shield your parsnip from temperature flux.
2-3 inches of mulch on top of the tops will protect it from extreme frost until the next season.
This is necessary if you want to harvest the seeds from the flowers.
Otherwise, if you’re just growing them to harvest that season, then gently pluck them from the soil for use or store them until you need them.
Most gardeners grow them for the next season only because of their low germination rates and biennial yield.
It’s possible to grow parsnips in raised plant beds, large containers, or pots.
While you should always plant go for direct soil sowing when possible, some people have limited space in their garden.
Container planting also can allow you to move your plants around and adjust as needed.
If you plan to grow parsnip in a pot, use one that’s at least 24 inches deep. They have deep roots so they need enough space to fully develop. Otherwise, the roots will be small or misshaped.
The width of the pot doesn’t matter as much- it just depends on how many you want to plant together in a container.
The rule of thumb is 8 parsnips per 36 inches diameter. This should provide enough space for the crop to develop without competing for resources.
Remember that container planting is precise.
The environment is completely controlled by what you put in. It requires more water, less plant food, and needs excellent soil quality.
Can you start off in pots?
Yes, you can start off parsnip in pots or even starter kits. Move them to the garden ASAP because if you don’t, the roots will warp.
If you plan to keep them in pots, then use a pot deep and wide enough to accommodate as many you as want to plant.
Then you don’t need to move them later and risk plant shock.
What about raised beds?
Raised beds work excellently for crops. The soil drains well and they provide ample space.
The thing to keep in mind is that the depth of the soil bed should be deep enough for the parsnip’s lengthy roots.
Toilet paper rolls
Some people like to start off their parsnip using toilet paper rolls. It’s a genius idea and works well when properly executed.
Here’s a video that shows you how to do it:
They go well together because they don’t compete for resources in the soil.
If you like radish, it’s one of the best companion plants to grow with parsnip. The radish can be planted in between each parsnip to help void fill.
It also keeps the soil loose so that the parsnip can thrive.
What not to plant with parsnip
You should also avoid planting excessive amounts of parsnip in the same plot.
Parsnip is vulnerable to some pests like leaf miners, aphids, and carrot rust flies.
These are usually brought on by overwatering or overfeeding. If you suspect any infested plant, remove it from your garden.
Parsnip is vulnerable to leaf spot, powdery mildew, and root rot. This usually comes from overwatering or feeding excessively. Prune your plants regularly. Don’t overwater. Use drip irrigation if possible.
Stagnant water that pools is the worst for your plants. This is why the fungal or mold issues arise.
You eat it, of course. Bake parsnip fries. Use it in stews or soups. There are plenty of parsnip recipes you can find online.
Some of my favorites are:
- Garlic butter roaster parsnips
- Parsnip creamy soup
- Parsnip chips!
Caring for parsnips
This section contains tips to get the most yield out of your crop.
How long do they take to grow?
Parsnip takes about a total of 120 days to grow, but some earlier varieties may only take 90 days or so.
Total time to harvest depends on local soil quality, water availability, and cultivar type. Parsnip is considered a slow-growing root crop.
If your roots are forking, this may be due to rocks, hard soil, or poor growing conditions. Forked roots are twisted, knotted, or stunted.
While you can eat them with no problem, they can be awkward to peel and downright ugly.
However, try reducing fertilizing, using proper soil prep, and ensure that the soil is well worked. The soil conditions determine the root quality!
Will parsnip grow in shade?
Parsnip will tolerate partial shade. Full sun is ideal for the biggest roots.
But if you’re in a warmer zone, partial sun or partial shade can be done.
Don’t overwater if you’re planting in partial shade.
Can you get multiple harvests out of parsnip?
This is unlikely because it takes parsnip the entire season to fully become harvest ready.
If you want harvests all season, try succession planting instead.
Each parsnip plant will only produce a single harvest.
Pair that with the low germ rate and this results in why parsnip is a single harvest plant. It’s not possible to get two harvests out of it.
Enjoy your parsnip!
Now that you see how easy it is to grow parsnip, you can add this edible crop to your garden!
Use it in soups, stews, or make parsnip fries with it. Its sweet, unique taste with crunchy texture makes it almost a delicacy.
Have you grown parsnip before? Do you have any tips to share with other readers?
Post your comments below and let us know.
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.