How To Grow Organic Parsley?
PARSING PARSLEY FACTS
- Growing parsley as an herb and vegetable originated around the Mediterranean Sea thousands of years ago.
- Parsley is a member of the same family as carrots. When growing parsley, be aware that the same pests afflict them similarly.
- Growing parsley for tea is recommended by Chinese and German herbologists for the controlling of high blood pressure.
WHEN TO PLANT PARSLEY
- It takes about 70 to 90 days for planting and growing parsley from the time the seeds are planted until harvesting time, depending on your climatic conditions.
- If you live in a Northerly climate, its best to plant your seeds in trays indoors, then transplant them into your garden or herb garden after the danger of frost is past.
- You’ll want to start growing parsley indoors about 6 or 8 weeks ahead of the last frost.
- In Southern climates you can seed several times throughout your growing season to achieve ongoing harvesting from April until December.
- In most climate areas in the mainland U.S., parsley can be over-wintered and harvested in the early spring.
- If you plant too early in the spring, a cold snap might cause the plant to bolt (go to seed) early.
WHERE TO PLANT PARSLEY
- Parsley prefers at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily, and does well with some shade as long as it gets the sun it needs.
- In warmer climates, some afternoon shade is preferable.
- Parsley actually does best in cooler climate areas, and grows best in rich, moist, but well-drained soil.
PREPARING YOUR SOIL
- While parsley grows best in a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, it will tolerate well pH levels between 5.3 and 7.3.
- Parsley needs a good supply of nitrogen (N) to grow green, quickly, and produce flowers and seeds.
- Phosphorus (P) in your soil encourages strong roots and rapid growth in parsley.
- Potassium, or Potash (K), aids in fighting disease, photosynthesis, and building of protein in parsley.
- All of these nutrients are organically available in compost, composted manure, bone meal, and blood meal among others.
- Check the pH level of your soil with a tester. If you need to make it more alkaline, add lime. To make it more acidic, add sulfur.
- To prepare your ground for planting parsley, layer about 2 to 4 inches of composted manure and/or compost (you can also add bone meal and blood meal) where your rows will be and till it into the soil to about 6 inches deep.
- Rake the row areas until smooth, remove any stick or rocks or other debris, and break up any dirt clods.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SEED VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA
- One of the best varieties available is called “Triple Curly.” It has a good aroma and taste.
- Triple Curly grows to about a 6 inch by 6 inch cluster. It does well in both cooler and warmer climate areas.
- Triple Curly is often used as an edible border around flower beds.
SEEDS AND GERMINATION
- Parsley seeds are good for about 2 years after you’ve purchased or harvested them.
- Parsley seeds are slow germinators.
- It helps to soak your seeds for about 24 hours before you put them in the ground or in planting trays.
- Once you plant your seeds, the optimum soil temperature range is between 50° and 85°F.
- The seeds will, of course, germinate more quickly if the soil is warmer and the seeds are more fresh. Germination can take anywhere from 2 to 5 weeks.
- If you’re planting directly to your garden, the main thing you’ll need to do is make sure your soil stays moist. All other parameters should be the same.
SAVING YOUR SEEDS
- If you want to save your parsley seeds, overwinter a few plants. Parsley can survive very cold temps, but just to be sure, mulch them over the winter with 12 inches or so of barley straw or similar.
- In the spring, your parsley will flower, then go to seed.
- Make sure you plant only one variety (either “flat” or “curly”) as they will cross-pollinate.
- When the flowerheads turn brown and dry, shake them into a bowl or bucket and collect as many seeds as you need or are available.
STARTING PARSLEY INDOORS
- The easiest way to plant parsley is in trays with seed cells. If you’re only planting a few plants, small cartons or even styrofoam egg cartons will suffice.
- Seed trays are best though because you can purchase them with covers to keep the moisture from escaping as rapidly (remove the cover once the seedlings emerge).
- Use a sterile potting soil mix to prevent your plants from succumbing to disease.
- Plant several seeds per cell or pot as parsley may have a low germination rate, especially if your seeds are a little older.
- Cover your seeds with about a quarter inch of soil, then place under grow lights (fluorescent lights will work if placed very close (2 or 3 inches) above the plants.
- Move the lighting up as the plants grow, but remain within a couple inches to stimulate the seedlings to develop sturdy stems.
- Water regularly with highly diluted fish emulsion or similar (at about 1 to 2 tablespoons per gallon of water). Don’t overwater.
- If you want to grow parsley in containers, a gallon size pot, at least 8 inches deep, works well per individual plant.
- Plant 4 to 5 seeds per container to make sure you get one good plant.
- For growing parsley in containers indoors, make sure you place them in a bright, sunny room. If your parsley leans toward a light source (like a window), move it closer to the light source.
TRANSPLANTING PARSLEY TO YOUR GARDEN
- Once your seedlings have at least 2 “true leaves,” and are 2 to 3 inches tall, begin moving them out of doors during the daylight hours for a week or so, then leave them outdoors for a week in the trays or pots.
- Using a garden trowel or similar, carefully remove the parsley with roots and soil intact from the tray cells and insert into your previously prepared ground.
- Plant the parsley 4 to 8 inches apart in rows that are spaced 30 to 36 inches apart in an area that gets full sun. Afternoon shade is OK in southern or tropical climates.
- Parsley likes in a cool climate but do provide some shade if growing parsley in a tropical or very warm area.
- Water the plants immediately after transplanting to ensure the roots getting a solid start. The soil should be moist for parsley at all times and about 6 inches down.
PLANTING PARSLEY SEEDS IN YOUR GARDEN
- You can seed parsley when soil temps reach around 50°F, but preferably no sooner than 2 weeks before your last predicted frost.
- Parsley is a cold-hardy plant, but seedlings should be protected from frost.
- Mark your rows at 30 to 36 inches apart and drag a small stick or pencil down the row where you’re about to plant your seeds.
- Plant your seeds by placing them approximately one inch apart in the indentation you just made.
- Cover them with about 1/4 inch of soil and lightly pack the soil down to remove air pockets around the seeds.
- Make sure the soil is either fairly moist when planting your seeds or that you water it just after you’ve planted the seeds.
- Once your seedlings emerge (2 to 5 weeks depending on temperatures) and are about 3 inches tall, thin your plants to about 8 to 10 inches apart.
SUCCESSFULLY GROWING PARSLEY IN YOUR GARDEN
- If a flower stalk appears on your parsley, pinch it off.
- Parsley is a biennial plant, but it’s a good idea to add seeds or have an alternating parsley bed to keep fresh plants growing.
- Parsley will self-seed, but as it isn’t dependable, you’re still best to seed new seeds annually.
- If you’ve prepared your parsley bed properly by following our recommendations for preparing the soil, you shouldn’t need to fertilize your parsley during the growing season.
- If your plants begin to look a little lighter green indicating a shortage of nitrogen, you can water your plants with a dilution of fish emulsion and water (a couple tablespoons per gallon).
- Jenny’s Tip – When you’re growing parsley, spray your plants every couple of weeks with a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer. We highly recommend Organic Garden Miracle™. OGM™ naturally stimulates your garden plants to produce more plant sugar in the photosynthesis process. That in turn creates a more robust plant, more produce from your garden, and better and sweeter flavor. And they have a really good warranty!
WEEDING AND MULCHING
- A 2 or 3 inch of mulch – barley straw or grass clippings – to help to retain soil moisture and control weeds.
- It’s a good idea to make sure your parsley has little competition from weeds.
- Hand pull weeds that are within a couple inches of your parsley, or snip them off when the plants are small.
PARSLEY WATER REQUIREMENTS
- Parsley needs about one to two inches of water weekly in order to soak the soil at least 6 inches down.
- You can use drip irrigation or overhead watering. If you’re using overhead watering, it’s a best practice to water early in the day to reduce the risk of fungi diseases in your plants.
- If your summer weather is hot and dry, you may need to water more frequently.
- If parsley runs completely out of moisture, it will die immediately. Over-watering will drown the roots.
COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS
- Parsley grows well with asparagus, carrots, chives, onions, roses, and tomatoes.
- Parsley helps repel diseases and insects that bother tomatoes and roses.
- Make a parsley tea and spray your asparagus with it to repel asparagus beetles.
- Parsley is a good deterrent to carrot flies.
- Make a tea from chopped chives to combat downy and powdery mildews in your parsley patch. Or plant it near your parsley to improve its flavor.
- Onions will repel most insects from the areas in which other plants reside, from aphids and weevils to moles and rust flies.
- Although I haven’t tried this personally, some gardeners insist that planting parsley at the bases of their rose bushes enhances their roses’ fragrance.
- Mint and parsley are said to not play well together; again, I have no experience with this except with catmint, and I didn’t see any issues there, but I have read that mint roots can overpower parsley roots.
WHEN TO HARVEST PARSLEY
- Once your parsley starts producing leaf stems with three branches, you can start removing a stem or two.
- The plants should be about 6 inches tall at this point; start by removing selected lower stems.
- “Pruning” your parsley will also encourage it to grow more stems and faster.
- Don’t prune the tops of the parsley plant or you’ll inhibit growth.
- Second year parsley, if it survives the winter, is typically more bitter than first year plants.
PARSLEY STORAGE & PRESERVATION
- Parsley will store well in a Zip Lock-type bag in your fridge for around 2 weeks.
- You can also dry parsley for use in soups or tea at a later date by hanging bunches upside down in a dark, warm, dry place.
- Another quick drying method is to place your leaves on a pan in a warm oven for a few minutes at around 100 to 110°F.
- You can also freeze fresh parsley in Zip Lock-type bags or sealed plastic containers. If you’re using this in soups, use immediately on removing it from the freezer.
- You can’t use frozen parsley anywhere except cooking that we know of.
PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO PESTS
- The carrot rust fly is a perennial issue in parsley gardens. This fly is about 1/5 of an inch long and is green or black with yellow “hair,” head, and legs.
- The main problem with this fly is that it lays eggs in the crowns of plants which hatch into yellow-white larvae that attacks the roots of carrots, celery, parsley, and parsnips.
- This leads to root rot and death in your garden plants.
- Rotating your crops may help, or planting later after the maggots have starved to death.
- Row covers are another option to keep the flies out of these vegetables.
- You could also sprinkle powdered wormwood or rock phosphate on your plants to discourage the carrot flies from laying their eggs on the plants.
- Flea beetles are another garden pest that attack parsley (among other garden produce).
- These tiny beetles chew holes in leaves and stems of seedling which is when they’re most vulnerable, and can weaken or kill the plants.
- Row covers are effective if they’re completely sealed with dirt or sandbags.
- Check under your row covers to make sure you beat the beetles to your plants and to make sure the weeds aren’t choking your plants either.
- Proper nutrition and watering also helps your plants resist flea beetles.
- One effective remedy for these beetles is powdering your plants with diatomaceous earth.
- Food grade diatomaceous earth, which is composed of powdered fossilized algae, possesses razor sharp edges which are innocuous to most animals but fatal to insects.
- When insects such as slugs, thrips, fly maggots, aphids, grubs, caterpillars, or mites ingest diatomaceous earth, it punctures their guts and they die from dehydration.
- For most insects, controlling weeds is also very important. Removing weeds and debris from your garden destroys their habitat.
- The parsley worm is another pest that needs controlled. Initially its brown and white, then changes to green, yellow, and black (just to confuse you!).
- If this worm is bothered, it will emit an annoyingly sweet odor and put out a couple of orange horns.
- The adult butterfly is one of the most beautiful butterflies in our area; it is known commonly as the swallowtail butterfly. It has black wings and yellow, blue, and orange markings on them with a wingspan of around 3 inches.
- It lays single white eggs on the plants that it targets (namely, parsley).
- For gardeners, the most effective way to control parsley worms is to hand pick them in the morning.
- There is also an organic dust or spray known simply as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that is a very effective insecticide.
- Bt is harmless to humans and animals, but it will destroy beneficial insects, which is why, unless you have a serious infestations we prefer hand-picking or diatomaceous earth.
- Leaf Hoppers are a fourth pest that suck the sap out of your plants leaves, leaving them curled, stunted, and weak.
- The symptoms are warty, pronounced leaf veins, kinked petioles, rolled leaves that look cupped or ball-like, brittle, masses of hair-like growths on the taproots.
- As with the previous pests, if you’ve got a heavy infestation of leaf hoppers, dust your parsley with diatomaceous earth to control them.
- The final pest we’ll talk about here is the redbanded leaf roller, a 3/4 inch long caterpillar that’s light green and yellow.
- The adult moth is small (1/2 inch wingspan), mostly white, with a red band on the upper wings.
- The moth lays lots of eggs on the fruit, leaves, or bark of plants in large groups.
- Once the eggs hatch, the larvae (caterpillar) eats the leaves or fruit (depending on the time of season), then spins a tight web that pulls the leaf inwards; hence the name “leaf roller.”
- The caterpillar or larvae feeds on the leaves early in the season and spins fine webs.
- Introducing trichogramma wasps or other parasitic predators is very effective against leaf rollers.
- Hand-picking leaf rollers works if your infestation isn’t too serious; you can pinch the leaves off and destroy them.
- As previously mentioned, diatomaceous earth is effective against caterpillars.
- A mixture of tobacco dust and organic rotenone or pyrethrum is also effective; apply a dusting, then repeat in thirty minutes. The first dusting chases them out and the second dusting kills them.
- Damping off is a disease caused by fungi that often rots your seeds or your pre-emergent seedlings.
- It can also affect seedlings that have already come up, causing them to shoot up rapidly then collapse and die.
- Using sterilized containers and potting mixes will usually prevent damping off.
- Don’t over-water your seeds/seedlings, and don’t plant the seeds too close together.
- Another fungal disease, septoria leaf spot, begin as small, darkish lesions on your plant’s leaves. If left unchecked, it will eventually kill your plant(s).
- To avoid leaf spots, buy good quality seeds. Don’t save seed from plants that have been infected.
- Drip irrigation will prevent most fungal diseases, but a lot of us don’t have or can’t afford to set up a drip system, so water early in the day to avoid fungal disease like leaf spots.
- Remove any affected leaves and destroy them to prevent further spread of septoria.
- You can also make an organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your parsley leaves to effectively control fungal diseases.
- Root and crown rot are caused by a soil-dwelling fungi. It attacks parsley at the base of the plant first, then spreads to the crown and rots the entire plant.
- This malady typically strikes in the winter if you have a warm spell, so remove as much debris and leaves from around the base of the plant as you can.
- If this fungi strikes, make sure you don’t replant parsley for at least an entire gardening season in that area.
- Remove and destroy all affected plants.
- If you catch it early, use the home-made organic spray mentioned in the previous section on septoria leaf spot.