A Brief Guide to Growing Parsnips in Your Own Backyard

When you are shopping for vegetables, parsnips may not be in the top of your list. However, this root vegetable is actually delicious and nutritious. In addition, it is a nice addition to your garden. Growing parsnips along with radishes, beets, tomatoes, and peppers can make your kitchen garden more useful and attractive.

Everything You Must Know about Parsnip Plants

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Parsnip or what is scientifically called Pastinaca sativa is a biennial plant that is mostly planted as an annual. It is related to parsley and also carrot. You can see it from parsnip greens that are similar to parsley and the root vegetable that is similar to carrot.

This plant is originally from Eurasia and had been used for cooking since thousands of years ago. In the U.S. parsnips can grow in hardiness zones 2 to 9. This root vegetable plant grows pretty tall. Its height is about 90 cm to 180 cm. The root of this plant also grows pretty long, between 23 and 50 cm long.

Parsnips are mainly planted for its root vegetable. This root can be harvested in 120 to 180 days. It looks like a carrot, but its color is very pale. In addition, parsnip’s taste is almost similar to carrot, but it is milder. Meanwhile, its greens are inedible and even poisonous.

In the second year, a parsnip plant cannot be harvested. The texture and taste of the taproot changes because the plant uses its energy for flowering. The flower blooms in May. They are small and yellow. In addition, they bloom in large umbels. In June, these flowers will turn to brown and die. At that time, you can collect the seeds for growing parsnips in the next spring.

Parsnip Growing Requirements

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Many gardeners are failed in growing parsnips because they don’t know the basic requirements to grow this vegetable. Aside from living in the right zone, you also need to keep these things in mind when growing this root vegetable..

1. Soil

Growing parsnips in fertile and well-drained soil is not enough. It is because the long taproot grows deep in the soil. Therefore, it is important for this root vegetable to grow in loose sandy loamy soil. In addition, the soil must have the right pH level. Experts recommend soil pH level of 5.8 to 7.0.

2. Sun

This root vegetable can be grown in full sun and part sun. Growing parsnips in full sun will be resulted in healthy plants and high quality harvest. But, parsnips do not tolerate heat very well. Therefore, if you live in an area with extra hot summer, you had better plant this vegetable in a semi shaded area.

3. Temperature

Parsnip is a cool season plant. Therefore, it prefers cool temperature during its growing season. The temperature needed to grow healthy parsnips is between 16oC and 18oC. Therefore, if your area is too cool or too hot, you have to do something to protect your plants from the nonideal temperature.

4. Water

Aside from needing plenty of organic matter, parsnips also need plenty of water. But, you must not over watering the parsnip plants. It is recommended to water the plant once a week or when the soil looks dry. Proper watering will encourage the taproot to grow deeper in order to find water. Therefore, you will have bigger parsnips.

Recommended Parsnip Varieties

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Before you start growing parsnips, it is better for you to find out the parsnip varieties that are available in stores.

1. All American

The All American variety is perfect for you who are impatient in harvesting parsnips. This cultivar can be harvested in 95 days. It is tolerant to diseases so that you will have better chance to harvest high quality parsnips. For best result, you need to grow it in loamy slightly acidic soil. It also requires light watering and partial sun.

2. Cobham marrow

This sweetest parsnip has shorter taproot compared to other cultivars. Therefore, you don’t need to perform deep-soil tilling in your garden for this plant. Cobham marrow is resistant to a certain disease and ready to harvest on the 120th day.

3. Harris model

This particular cultivar is one of the favorite cultivars among gardeners. The long taproot of Harris model is straight with white smooth skin. It takes about 130 days for the plant to produce harvest-ready parsnips. Harris model is best grown in slightly acidic loamy soil. In addition, it needs moderate watering and partial sun.

4. Hollow crown

Hollow crown grows a long taproot. Therefore, you must do deep-soil tilling before growing this type of parsnip. The seeds of this parsnip cultivar germinate slowly. In consequence, you have to be patient when growing it.

Tips on Growing Parsnips

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Parsnips are pretty sensitive. You will likely find some challenges when you are growing parsnips. However, these difficulties can be avoided with the tips below.

1. Use gloves to protect your skin

Parsnip greens contain poisonous sap. It can cause rashes and burning on your skin. However, this side effect only happen when the sap on your skin is exposed to sunlight. Therefore, it is better for you to handle this plant with care. Using a long sleeve shirt and gloves during the process of growing parsnips will protect you from the poisonous sap.

2. Plant last summer seeds

The seeds of parsnips will lose their germination ability when they are more than a year old. Therefore, you must plant last summer seeds to avoid germination failure. In order to get truly fresh seeds, you have to buy it from the best and most trusted nursery.

3. Direct sowing

It is more recommended to perform direct sowing than indirect sowing. It is because the taproots are fragile. Therefore, if you sow the seeds in seedling pots, the seedlings may suffer from transplanting stress. But, if you have no other option than performing indirect sowing, it is recommended for you to use peat pots or other biodegradable pots.

4. Best time to sow the seed

To increase the germination rate of the parsnip seeds you plant, it is important to sow them at the right time. The best time to sow these seeds is in around April or when the temperature is between 8oC and 10oC. Warm soil will speed the germination process of the parsnip seeds.

If you sow the seeds in early spring, they will rot. It is because the cold temperature will damage them. Therefore, you should measure the temperature of the soil using a certain thermometer. As a result, you can get the temperature right.

5. Work your soil properly

Since this plant can grow a long taproot, you need to work your soil properly at the beginning of growing parsnips. First, you have to till the soil deeply, especially if you choose a cultivar with a very long taproot.

Deep-till soil will allow the taproot to grow long. It will also help the root to absorb water and nutrient easier. In addition, you must remove all the stones and rocks in the soil. If you don’t do it, your parsnips will be misshapen. It will also cause smaller parsnips.

6. Choose the right cultivars

If you choose the right cultivar to plant, you will likely be successful in growing parsnips. To get the right cultivar, you should think about how resistant it is to disease. Choosing a cultivar which is resistant to disease is the best option.

In addition, you should consider the length of the tap root. If you don’t have enough time and energy to till the soil deeply, you can choose one with shorter taproot. It is also a good choice for you who want to grow parsnips in containers. But, if you want to plant bigger parsnips, you can opt for cultivars with longer and bigger taproots.

Growing Parsnips from Seeds

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Parsnips can only be planted from seeds. However, there are two methods of growing parsnips which can be performed.

1. Direct planting

If the soil in your garden is loose, rich in organic matter, and does not contain many stones or pebbles, direct planting is your best option in growing parsnips. In order to do it, you can follow these steps.

2. Preparing the planting site

It is essential to prepare the planting site properly. First of all, you need to choose a location with full sun or partial sun. After that, you need to work the soil so that it meets the requirement of growing parsnips. One of them is loosening the soil in the planting location to a depth of 30 cm to 40 cm deep.

In addition, you need to mix the soil with compost or aged manure. To make sure that the soil has good drainage, it is a good idea for you to create a raised bed to grow parsnips. Moreover, you must remember to work the soil so that it has the right acidity level.

3. Planting the seeds

Next, you can start planting the seeds. Because of the low germination rate of the parsnips seeds, it is recommended to sow the seeds closely, about 1 cm apart. In addition, you must not plant the seeds to deep, 1 cm deep is best.

The seeds take about 18 days to 21 days to germinate if the soil is warm and moist enough. Therefore, you have to be patient in looking for an eraser. While waiting for the seedlings to appear, it is important for you to check the soil for weeds regularly. And, if you find any weeds on it, pull them out immediately.

4. Caring for the plant

When the seedlings are about 2 cm tall, you need to start thinning them. The recommended space between plants is about 15 cm. However, you must perform gradual thinning instead of doing it all at once. Therefore, you can select seedlings which are truly healthy.

Moreover, you should water the parsnips properly. Keeping the soil moist is very important. But, if there is enough rainfall in a week, you can skip watering for that week. It is because the taproots may suffer from damage caused by waterlogged soil.

Another thing you must do in caring for parsnips is keeping the weeds away. Moreover, you will likely need to deal with several pests and may be a disease, i.e. parsnip canker. However, many cultivars are resistant to this disease.

5. Harvesting

Parsnips are ready to harvest when the leaves start to die. But, to get better parsnips, you can leave them in the ground and expose them to a few frost. Then, just before the soil gets hard, you can harvest these root vegetables.

Growing Parsnips in Containers

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Some of you may have a backyard with rocky or clay soil that is not suitable for growing parsnips. However, it doesn’t mean that you cannot grow this root vegetable. To solve this problem, you can grow parsnips in containers.

1. Preparation

To grow parsnips in containers, you need wide and deep containers. Choosing ones that is 0.5 m deep or 1 m deep and have drainage holes is the best option. Moreover, you also need high quality potting mix that is rich in organic matter. As an alternative, you can mix sandy loam with compost. Then, fill in the containers with the soil.

2. Planting

Sow the seeds closely, about 1 cm apart. In addition, the depth of the seeds must be no more than 0.5 cm deep. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate fully. After the seedlings are about 4 cm tall, thin the seedlings so that they are 10 cm apart.

3. Caring

Caring for the parsnip plants in containers is almost similar to caring those that are planted on the ground. You need to make sure that the plants get enough water and nutrition. Moreover, you must be prepared when certain pests attack your potted parsnips.

4. Harvesting

For potted parsnips, it is better to harvest the root vegetables right away after the leaves start to die. There is no need for you to leave them in the pots until the frost comes.

Growing Parsnips from The Tops

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To get parsnip seeds from your own garden, you can let your one or two parsnip plants live through the winter. In doing it, you need to protect the plants from the cold temperature. But, as an alternative, you can try growing parsnips from the tops to get the seeds.

  • Cut the top 1 cm of parsnips with the leaves are attached to them.
  • Place these cuts into a glass of water with the greens upward. Change the water regularly.
  • In a few days, new roots will grow and so does the new leaves.
  • Transplants the new plants after several weeks. You can transplant them in pots or directly to the ground.
  • Eventually, the new plants will reach maturity and start flowering.
  • When the yellow flowers turn to brown, you can harvest the seeds and let them dry.

Growing parsnips can be a bit challenging at the beginning. However, when the plants have established themselves, you do not need to do much to take care of them. And, when the harvest time has come, you will be able to cook this tasty and sweet root vegetable freely.

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