How to Plant, Grow and Care For Parsley
Are you thinking of adding parsley to your garden this season? This lovely herb can make a wonderful indoor or outdoor plant. In this article, gardening expert Logan Hailey looks at everything you need to know to grow parsley in your herb garden, including maintenance and care needs.
If you want to grow parsley in your garden, you’ll be glad to know that it is remarkably easy to cultivate this herb. From pesto to chimichurri to tabbouleh, parsley is an essential kitchen herb that tastes best fresh. This fragrant and resilient herb is easy to grow and only requires one planting for a whole season of harvests.
Parsley is a biennial most commonly grown as a “cut and come again” annual. It can withstand temperatures from 10°F to 90°, so it easily overwinters in mild regions. Even better, the flat-topped flowers are magnets for beneficial insects and buzzing bees in your garden.
Let’s dig into everything you need to know about how to grow parsley with minimum effort.
Parsley Plant Overview
Plant Type Herb Plant
Family Apiaceae (Umbellifers)
Plant Genus Petroselinum
Plant Species crispum
Hardiness Zone 2-11
Planting Season Early spring or fall
Plant Maintenance Low Plant
Fertility Needs Low
Companion Plants All vegetables
Soil Type Well-drained loam
Plant Spacing 8-12”
Watering Needs Medium
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Lifespan Biennial grown as annual
Pests Aphids, carrot rust fly, etc
Diseases Apium Virus Y, Downy Mildew, etc
Parsley is a biennial culinary herb most commonly grown as an annual. As a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), this herb is known for its aromatic dark green leaves used in cuisines worldwide.
The plants grow as stout rosettes that reach 12-20” tall and generally produce greenish-yellow umbel flowers in their second year.
The four main types of parsley are:
- Flat-leaved, or Italian parsley
- Curly-leaved parsley
- Turnip-rooted, or Hamburg parsley
This herb is related to fennel, dill, anise, celery, coriander (cilantro), carrots, and parsnips. It shares many of the same care requirements but can also be colonized by the same pests and diseases. This herb thrives in full sun to partial shade in loamy soils with good drainage.
History and Cultivation
For thousands of years, parsley has been cultivated for its flavorful leaves worldwide. Botanically known as Petroselinum crispum, parsley got its name from the Greek words “petra,” which means rock, and “selinin,” which means celery.
The plant is a close relative of celery that was historically found growing wild on rock walls. Modern parsley comes in dozens of flavors, leaf shapes, and growth habits adaptable to almost any garden.
Where Does Parsley Originate?
Parsley likely originated in the Mediterranean but has spread throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It is a key ingredient in various cuisines, from Indian chutneys to Argentinian chimichurri to Nigerian stews to Italian pestos.
Ancient Greeks superstitiously covered their tombs in parsley wreaths, while Romans used it at weddings to ward off evil spirits.
Now it is used as a food ingredient, garnish, condiment, flavoring, and fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The herb also plays important roles in the garden as a pollinator plant and habitat for beneficial insects.
Starting this herb in your garden requires some patience, but the plant will reward you with an abundance of aromatic leaves almost year-round. The best way to propagate it is by direct-sowing in your garden or a windowsill pot.
Like many of its carrot-family relatives, parsley has a deep taproot that does not respond well to transplanting. However, transplanting is not impossible. The plants are also fairly easy to replicate by cuttings rooted in water.
Starting parsley from seed is not for the impatient. Plants grown from seed won’t be ready to harvest until 12 to 14 weeks after sowing. This slow endeavor can have a low success rate if you don’t care for seeds properly.
Luckily, cold stratification can improve your chances of maximizing your herb planting. To stratify seeds, sow them in a cell tray with moistened seed starting mix, cover with a piece of cling film, and place in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Be sure to check the tray occasionally to ensure the soil is still damp to the touch. Cold stratifying mimics how the seeds would overwinter in the wild, promoting a higher germination rate.
Seeds take 14-30 days to germinate and require continuously moist soil. Fortunately, once you get past the seedling stage, parsley is a very easy plant to grow.
Direct Sowing Parsley
- Prepare a bed with loose, deep soil that is rich in compost or organic matter.
- Use a broadfork or spade to improve drainage and aeration.
- Seed parsley in early to mid-spring after the danger of frost has passed.
- Plant parsley seeds about ¼ to ½” deep at a rate of 3 seeds per inch.
- Space rows 12-18” apart.
- Keep the soil continuously moist (but never soggy) for 2-4 weeks.
- Once emerged, thin the parsley plants to 8-12” apart.
Pro Tip: Use a soil thermometer probe to ensure the soil temperature is at least 70°F for optimal germination.
If you want to try your hand at transplanting, sow 15-20% extra to account for any losses due to taproot disturbance. The benefits of transplanting include an earlier start to spring and quicker germination thanks to warmer soil temperatures. However, parsley has fragile roots and so you should minimize the disturbance as much as possible.
To start parsley inside and transplant in your garden:
- Start seeds indoors 6-10 weeks before your average last frost date.
- Fill 2” pots or small plug trays with a high-quality seed starter mix.
- Sow 1-2 parsley seeds per cell at a depth of ¼ to ½”.
- Lightly cover with a layer of vermiculite or finely sieved compost.
- Place in a warm, sunny windowsill or greenhouse.
- Optionally, use grow lights and germination heating pads.
- Keep trays continuously moist. Do not let the soil dry out!
- Wait 3-5 weeks for seedlings to emerge, then thin to 1 plant per cell.
- When seedlings reach 4-6” tall, harden off the plants outdoors.
- Transplant into the garden 8-12” apart.
- Take special care not to disrupt the taproots.
If you have an established plant or even a bundle of parsley from the store, you can easily propagate it by rooting stems in water.
To take cuttings:
- Find a stem at least 6” long on a mature, healthy plant.
- Use sanitized scissors or pruners to cut the stem off at the base.
- Place the cutting in a jar of water without submerging the leaves.
- Alternatively, you can root the cutting in moist potting mix.
- Keep the jar in bright, indirect sun.
- Wait 2-4 weeks for roots to begin forming.
- If rooting in water, you will notice several white root hairs.
- If rooting in soil, you will feel a slight resistance if you gently tug on the stem.
- When there are 4 robust roots, carefully transplant the cutting to a larger pot or a raised bed with loamy soil.
It is highly recommended that beginner gardeners start their parsley patch with robust seedlings purchased from a local nursery or garden store. An established plant will make it much easier to
However, transplanting parsley can be tricky because of its deep taproot. After all, parsley is a carrot relative to a root zone similar to a parsnip or carrot.
How to Transplant
Whether you purchased an established seedling or grew parsley in your own cell trays, the transplanting process can make or break your planting of this herb.
After the chance of frost has passed, it’s time to transplant parsley into the garden. Some gardeners in mild climates can plant 2-4 weeks before the last frost date.
First, make a planting hole about two times the size of your parsley’s root zone. Ensure that the surrounding soil is loamy, well-drained, and rich in compost.
When transplanting, remember to:
- Harden off plants for a few days before planting so they can acclimate.
- Check that the root zone has fully filled the container before transplanting.
- Very gently loosen the plant from the pot and keep a firm hold on the base of the stem.
- Avoid rootbound plants.
- Never push or force the root into the soil.
- Thoroughly loosen the planting hole in advance.
- Plant so the central stem and growing tip remain above the soil surface.
- Avoid burying it any deeper than it was in the pot.
- Tuck in the plant with soil, but don’t compact the dirt.
- Thoroughly water-in transplants.
- Diluted kelp solution can help alleviate transplant shock.
Pro Tip: Never transplant seedlings in peak daylight. The harsh sun and warmth can be tough on newly planted baby plants. The best time to plant is in the morning or evening when the sun is lower in the sky and the temperatures are cooler.
Signs of Transplant Shock
When a parsley plant’s taproot is disturbed, the plant can get stressed out and display symptoms of transplant shock, including:
- Wilting or drooping
- Yellow leaves
- Falling leaves
- Collapsed plants
How to Fix It
Ensure that newly transplanted herb has ample water. This is the most vulnerable time of the plant’s life and the soil should not dry out. You can use shredded straw mulch to retain moisture around the base of the plant.
Handle young plants very carefully to avoid damaging the taproot. If you accidentally shove the roots into a hole, do your best to nurture the plant with plenty of water while it recovers. A layer of row fabric can help protect it from the harsh sun or cold nights.
How to Grow Parsley
Once you’ve mastered the seeding and planting phase, parsley is remarkably easy to grow. This lowkey herb only asks for regular water and rich soil.
Plant in full sunshine to partial shade. In hotter climates, the herb will appreciate the dappled shade of taller veggies like tomatoes or cucumbers.
Parsley is not nearly as drought-tolerant as other Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme, or oregano. Once established, it needs about 1-2” of rain or irrigation per week. The soil needs to be moist but never waterlogged.
Usually, you can get away with watering once or twice a week with a soaker hose or drip line. When you stick your finger in the soil near the plant’s base, it should feel damp at least 2 inches down.
- If your skin comes out clean from the soil, it is too dry.
- If it feels soggy or muddy, let the soil dry out before watering again.
Potted plants may require watering 2-3 times a week or every other day in hot, dry weather. A plant in a larger pot with more compost can typically go for longer periods without water.
You can reduce the plant’s irrigation needs by mulching with straw or shredded leaves.
Parsley thrives in the same loamy, rich soil as most vegetable crops. It loves well-drained soil with lots of compost or organic matter. The higher the organic matter content, the easier it will be to keep parsley hydrated and happy.
A pH range of around 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal. Before planting, thoroughly loosen your garden bed with a broadfork or shovel. Be sure there is no hardpan or compaction beneath the planting hole. Otherwise, parsley will have trouble establishing its taproot.
Climate and Temperature
Parsley is resilient across a range of temperatures but prefers mild weather between 50° and 70°F. Young plants are more fragile and benefit from a row cover shortly after germination or transplanting.
Established plants are frost-hardy into the fall, with some reports of fairing down to 15°F. Parsley is grown in USDA zones 2 through 11. It has no specific humidity needs, but it can be more prone to mildew in humid climates.
Parsley appreciates a rich compost or a slow-release all-purpose fertilizer blend. The plant is a light to moderate feeder that needs ample available minerals to thrive. Vermicompost is especially effective for growing this herb!
Avoid overfertilizing with nitrogen. High nitrogen fertilizers can make the plant grow super quickly but may cause droopy, weak stems. Too much fertilizer can also alter the flavor of the herb’s leaves.
Harvest and Maintenance
Regularly harvest to keep the plant bushy and healthy. When stems get taller than 8-12”, they may droop into the soil and get dirty. Harvest or cut back the longest lower stems regularly. You can also snap the stems from the base whenever you need an extra garnish.
The more you harvest the plant, the more it will grow!
Parsley comes in a surprising diversity of shapes, sizes, and flavors. As we mentioned in the intro, there are 4 main types of parsley. Within each subgroup, there are dozens of different seed varieties available.
- Flat leaf (Italian) is the most common culinary parsley.
- Curly (moss) parsley
- Hamburg (parsley root)
- Japanese (technically a different species, Cryptotaenia japonica)
Each type has slightly different uses and growth patterns in the garden. Use this chart to determine which is best for you:
|Parsley Type||Used for||Appearance||Flavor Profile||Plant Specs|
|Flat leaf parsley (Italian)||Flavoring, soups, salads, tabbouleh, pesto, chimichurri, sauces, meats, etc.||Bright green flattened leaves with serrated (toothed) edges||Most flavorful, strong herbal taste is slightly peppery but not spicy||Bushy growth up to 36” tall|
|Curly parsley (moss or French parsley)||Garnishes, cooking, or dried parsley||Dark green ruffled or crinkled leaves||Milder than flat-leaf and less intense herbal notes||Compact upright bush is great for containers and small areas|
|Hamburg (parsley root)||Grown for long taproots used in cooking stews and soups; leaves can be harvested but are tougher||Long, straight, white roots||Add fresh parsley flavor and parsnip-like texture||Roots harvested at 5-8” long and above-ground plant grows to 18”; trip tops before harvesting|
|Japanese parsley||Soups, sushi rolls, donbouri, omelets, and other traditional Japanese dishes||Heart-shaped, lightly ruffled leaves with bronze or purple stems and light pink flowers||Flavor similar to celery, sorrel, and coriander with slightly bitter notes||Grows 1-2 feet tall; the most shade-tolerant parsley; may cause dermatitis in some people|
Best Flat-Leaved (Italian) Parsley:
- ‘Giant of Italy’
- ‘Gigante Catalogno’
Best Curly-Leaved Parsley:
- ‘Forest Green’
- ‘Extra Curled Dwarf’
Best Parsley Root Variety:
- ‘Bartowich Long’
Best Japanese Parsley Variety:
- Wild Japanese Parsley (Cryptotaenia Japonica Var. Atropurpurea)
Pests and Diseases
This herb’s strong aroma and spicy flavor make it a less common target for pests. In fact, the flowers are known for attracting beneficial insects that eat pests! Nonetheless, stressed or sick plants occasionally fall victim to these bugs and diseases.
Is there anything aphids won’t eat!? If you notice green or white tiny bugs on the undersides of the leaves, this annoying pest has likely colonized your herb garden. Aphids can leave behind a trail of sugary sap that may attract ants to your vegetables and herbs.
Spray the plants with a strong stream of water in the morning. This should knock off any sap-sucking aphids. If this doesn’t work, you can use a diluted neem oil and water solution sprayed directly on the leaves.
Thoroughly wash the leaves after harvest to get rid of any residual neem oil flavor. While neem oil isn’t harmful to humans and can be applied up to the day of harvest, it’s often better to wait a few days to harvest after an application so the oil breaks down.
Carrot Rust Fly
These flies aren’t only a problem for carrots. The tiny white maggots of the carrot rust fly also leave dark tunnels through celery, celeriac, and parsley plants. While this may not significantly affect your parsley, it can create an unfortunate breeding ground for flies that may attack your carrots.
The flies overwinter and lay their eggs near the base of the soil. The easiest means of prevention is planting rust-fly-resistant varieties, planting later in the spring, and covering with row fabric to prevent the adults from laying eggs.
If you’ve had problems with carrot rust fly, you should also avoid planting parsley and carrots in close proximity. Remove all related weeds like Queen Anne’s Lace, which may also harbor the pest.
Spider mites are arachnid insects that build colonies on the bottoms of parsley leaves. They are very tiny and suck the sap out of the plant just like aphids do. The most common symptom is yellow leaves.
Insecticidal soap or diluted neem oil is the easiest solution. Spray directly on the spider mites in the morning. You can also spray the plant with a moderate stream of water.
These pesky caterpillars come from adult moths that lay eggs at the base of carrot-family plants. The main symptom is irregular circular holes in the leaves.
Beneficial insects attracted to nearby flowering plants can help keep armyworms in check naturally. Most gardeners remove the caterpillars by hand. You can also use the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to specifically target the worms.
Apium Virus Y Disease
Parsley, cilantro, celery, and carrots that display a mottled or mosaic leaf pattern have likely been contaminated by the Apium Virus Y. This virus causes veins to appear clear or translucent. It can also stunt the plants and distort their growth.
There is no known cure for this virus. Controlling pests is a crucial way to keep the virus at bay because it is mostly transmitted by aphids. You should also stay on top of carrot-family weeds like Poison Hemlock or Queen Anne’s Lace.
Bacterial Leaf Spot
Angular brown spots on your parsley leaves are a sure sign of this bacterial infection. The unsightly spots can quickly spread in rainy weather or garden areas irrigated overhead with sprinklers. This disease also affects related herbs in the carrot family. While Bacterial Leaf Spot is a major problem for cilantro, it isn’t quite as bad for parsley.
The easiest prevention is to irrigate parsley with drip lines or soaker hoses. Avoid damaging the plants because wounds allow the bacteria to enter the leaf. Remove and dispose of infected plant parts.
A fungus-like organism called Plasmopara petroselini can destroy an herb planting in extremely moist, warm conditions. You will notice a powdery white to greyish coating on the undersides of leaves. The top side of the leaves may appear yellow or damaged.
To control and prevent downy mildew:
- Avoid long periods of leaf wetness.
- Don’t use overhead irrigation.
- Increase plant spacing for more airflow.
- Dispose of crop debris at the end of the season.
- Avoid letting plant parts rot on the soil.
Parsley is predominantly used as a culinary herb in cuisines across the world. All parts of the plant (leaves, stems, and roots) are edible and flavorful. It can be used fresh, cooked, or dried.
The strong aroma and flower umbels are also helpful for deterring or distracting pests from other garden crops. Research shows that bags of parsley and garlic can serve as a biopesticide control in some vegetable crops.
This herb is a phenomenal companion plant for:
Avoid planting with:
Parsley’s prolific growth means you only need a few plants per household. This herb thrives in mild weather (but tolerates cold), dappled shade (in hot climates), and consistently moist soil. If you plan to grow from seed, cold stratify the seeds in the fridge for a few weeks before planting to enhance germination success.