How to Grow Parsnip


Once thought of as just a winter standby, parsnips are now available from summer onwards as a baby vegetable. In a small garden or even in containers it is possible to grow a quick crop of small parsnips. With more space, parsnip is an easy winter crop — you simply leave it in the ground until you want it.

You can also try some other, more unusual, root crops such as Hamburg parsley, salsify and scorzonera. These are easy to grow and worth trying as novelties.

Parsnips do best on deeply dug, fertile soil with a pH of about 6.5 (just on the acid side). Ideally they should follow a previous crop that has been well-manured rather than have the manure added now. Fork in a small amount of a general fertilizer. Long-rooted types hate stony, heavy or compacted soil, so try a shorter-rooted variety like ‘Avonresister’.

How to grow giant parsnips

You may have seen these at garden shows. If you want to have a go, you have to cheat. To increase the depth of fine, stone-free soil, you need a container, such as a plastic dustbin, with the bottom cut out. Loosen the underlying soil as deeply as you can. Then fill the container with good sandy or loamy soil. You can add well-rotted garden compost, but not fresh manure – some gardeners use a crowbar to make several long, tapered holes and fill these with fine soil. Sow two seeds, about 30cm apart. Keep the container well-watered and feed with a liquid fertilizer later in the summer to keep the plants growing strongly. In the autumn, carefully ease out the root, trying to keep the fine tap root intact. If grown well, giant parsnips should not be woody and will be edible.

Parsnip seed loses its viability rapidly. Always buy fresh seed each year – do not save surplus seed. Once the packet has been opened, re-seal it and store it in a cool, dry place if you intend to make further sowings of, for example, baby parsnips.

March

Postpone sowing until April unless the site is particularly favourable. What you can do this month is dig the ground deeply to loosen the compacted soil. Like carrots, parsnips need a deep, well-worked soil.

Sow the seed directly into the ground – starting the seed off in pots usually results in forked roots. Parsnip seed is slow and erratic to germinate, so there is no real advantage in starting too soon, as early sowings into cold, wet ground are likely to be disappointing.

April

In the vegetable plot, sow into seed drills 1cm deep and 30cm apart. The seed is attached to a light membrane and is easily blown about. Sow a couple of seeds at 15-cm intervals, to limit the amount of thinning later. If more than one plant comes up at each position, thin out all but the strongest. You can now buy seed tapes in which the seed has been pre-spaced and sandwiched between thin paper ribbons. All you do is lay the tape down in the seed drill.

The seedlings are slow to appear, so sow a quick-growing crop such as radish in the same drill, as a marker. The radishes will be out of the way before the parsnips need the space. For baby parsnips, space the rows 15cm apart and aim for one plant every 5cm.

May-June

As they are slow-growing, parsnips cannot compete with weeds early in the season. Hoe between the rows regularly to keep weeds under control. Further sowing can be made through the summer for a succession of baby parsnips. Water well until the young plants are established.

July-August

Parsnips growing in the ground do not need regular watering, but make sure that the soil does not dry out in very hot weather. If necessary, water to re-moisten the soil to a good depth. Heavy watering or rain following a drought, however, will cause the roots to split.

Baby parsnips in beds and pots will need watering. Harvest when the top of the root is between 2.5cm and 5cm wide. Use a hand fork to ease them out.

September

Continue to harvest baby parsnips. The largest roots of winter parsnips can also be lifted before the tops have died off. Although frost is said to enhance the flavor, you can lift them before the first frosts if you wish.

October

Once the tops have died down, the roots can be lifted for storing under cover. They can also be left where they are and will keep in good condition until spring. In very cold areas, cover the row with straw to stop the ground freezing solid.

Harvesting

The flavor of the roots is likely to be better if they are left in the ground until needed. However, once the ground has frozen they are hard to harvest, so you may prefer to lift them beforehand and store the roots indoors in boxes of sand. Use a garden fork to ease the roots out of the ground.

Aim to finish digging them up by late winter, before they start to re-grow. Parsnips, like carrots, are biennials and will throw up flowering shoots in the spring.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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