Most people think of parsley as a pretty garnish for their steak dinners—a sprig of green to liven your plate and provide a pop of color. However, parsley is a versatile herb that can be incorporated in many different kinds of dishes for a bit of added zest. Dishes ranging from steak to soups and salads can feature parsley.
Parsley adds visual interest as well as bold flavor. In fact, parsley can bump up a dish’s flavors enough to reduce the craving for salt. It can even be made into tea, offering a potent brew packed with vitamins.
Parsley is a resilient, cold-hardy herb and can be grown in the ground, potted outdoors, or even cared for as a potted plant in a sunny window.
Types of Parsley
There are two common varieties of parsley used for cooking. Flat-leaf parsley is very flavorful and easy to work with. Curled-leaf parsley is pretty and makes more of a visual impact when used as a garnish. Much of their application boils down to personal preference. Try both before deciding which you’d like to grow.
Growing Conditions For Parsley
Parsley can grow in full or partial shade. Your soil should have a pH balance somewhere between 5.5 and 6.7. A slow-release fertilizer or compost can also be used to encourage growth. However, you should avoid overusing fertilizers such as mulch, as too much moisture can encourage disease and pests.
If you intend to grow your parsley from seeds, you’ll need to do some prep work to make sure you reap a good harvest. Parsley can take a bit more time—usually about three weeks than other herbs—-usually about three weeks—to get growing, so you’ll want to reserve plenty of time for the seeds to sprout. Before you plan how you’ll grow them, know that soaking seeds overnight aids germination.
You’ll have to plan ahead when starting parsley seeds indoors: 11 weeks before the last frost of the season. Make sure the dirt they’re in stays around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Potted seeds can be placed beneath a fluorescent light to encourage growth and help maintain a good temperature range. The lights should be kept more than four inches from the soil.
When planting your seeds outside, do so about a month prior to the last anticipated frost of the season. You’ll want to use nutrient-rich soil for growing your parsley, and place the seeds with six to eight inches between them so the plants have plenty of room to grow. Seedlings and young plants need to be watered diligently so they don’t dry out. More established plants have deeper roots and can be watered less frequently.
Care of Parsley
Once the plants have sprouted, move them to a larger pot or to a spot in your garden where they’ll get plenty of sunlight. Partial to full sunlight is ideal. Parsley grown in-ground requires weekly watering—twice a week in periods of hot, dry weather. Indoor parsley should be grown in a container with a drainage hole and watered whenever the top of the soil feels dry.
Harvesting and Storage
You will know your plants have reached adulthood and are ready to be harvested when the leaves sport three segments. Harvest parsley from the outside in, taking the more mature leaves for your use and leaving the new growth toward the interior of the plant there so it can continue growing.
Harvesting encourages plants to grow more bushy and full. Snip or pinch off the last few inches of the stem so you have a cluster of leaves each time you take some. The stem of the plant is edible, so there is no need to remove it when preparing your parsley for use—prepare and use it as you do the leaves.
If they aren’t used immediately, parsley stems can be placed with the cut ends in water. This allows them to stay fresh for a period of time after harvesting. While parsley can be kept this way at room temperature, it is recommended to keep the cuttings in the fridge for longer-lasting freshness.
Parsley stems can also be dried to be stored. Simply cut the stems at the base of the plant, and then hang them in a dry, well-ventilated, dark, warm place. Let the stems dry out completely. For storage and future use, it is easiest to crumble the dried parsley into a small jar or other airtight container.
Parsley can also be moved indoors when the temperature dips below freezing. Plants can overwinter inside quite happily if placed in a sunny window. (A south-facing window is optimal if you have one.)
Parsley Pests and Problems
Rot: Bacteria and fungus thrive in damp conditions. Soggy soil can allow these microbial pests to thrive and infect plants. If the leaves and stems of your parsley are yellowing or turning brown, rot is the likely culprit. Allowing soil to dry out between waterings can remedy these bacteria and fungus issues.
Leaf Spot: Another fungal infection, leaf spot, shows up on the leaves of parsley plants as yellow or brown discolorations. This fungus can be quite severe and can spread between plants. To prevent infection, avoid overwatering, and remove any infected matter from the garden entirely by removing unhealthy parts of the plants and throwing them away. Leaving the cuttings in the garden can perpetuate the infection and contribute to its spread.
Insects: Black swallowtail larvae love eating parsley plants. Carrot flies, celery fly larvae, and armyworms have similar appetites. Control these pests with manual removal of larvae, or use organic pesticides and pest deterrents, such as ladybugs or spiders.
Hopefully now you won’t see parsley as an unappreciated garnish and instead will use it to spice up your dishes, freshen your breath, get some antioxidants in your diet, and boost your vitamin intake. This plant provides beautiful visual interest to any garden or potting. Its resilience and low maintenance make parsley a great addition to any garden.
Kelly Jacobi is an artist, designer, student, and patio gardener who enjoys seeing her plants thrive, and adorning her walls with pieces of art created by local artists and artisans. She is currently in pursuit of a bachelor’s of art and performance and hopes to delve deeper into her art and writing upon completion of her degree.
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