Growing Parsnips in Toilet Paper Rolls

Parsnips are popular root vegetables that many gardeners like to grow. Because they are root vegetables, like carrots and beets, parsnips do not like to be transplanted and have to be grown from seed to avoid distorted and forked roots.

One way that you can start your parsnips seeds early indoors before the soil has had time to warm up is to grow them in compostable containers such as toilet paper rolls. Using this method means that you can start the seeds early and then just plant them in the garden without disturbing the roots.

Here are some simple instructions on how you can grow parsnips in toilet paper rolls or other types of cardboard tubes.

Why Should You Grow Parsnips In Toilet Paper Rolls?

Parsnips, like carrots, produce one singular tap root that goes deep down into the soil. In fact, when each seed germinates, it focuses first on producing this taproot before it even starts to grow its leaves.

Therefore, if you start your parsnips seeds in seed trays, the root will already be quite long before you see evidence that the seed has germinated. If you then plant these seedlings into the ground, it’s impossible to ensure that you position the main root correctly in the soil.

Stacie / girlingearstudioCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, this will cause damage to the root and it will either become forked or majorly distorted. This voids the ultimate goal of having a nice, long, uniform root that you’re trying to achieve by growing this vegetable.

There is also the problem of ensuring that the seeds are kept constantly moist when you direct sow them straight out into the garden. It can take up to 3 weeks for parsnip seeds to germinate, so you have to be quite vigilant with your daily watering so that your seeds get the moisture that they need to germinate effectively.

Parsnip Seeds Don’t Remain Viable for Very Long

One important thing to remember with parsnip seeds is that they don’t remain viable for very long. Therefore, if you have any seeds leftover from the previous year, you might find that they’re not going to germinate. It’s really important to get fresh parsnip seeds every year if you want the best chance at success.

If you want to test your seeds for freshness, you can try pre-germinating them inside on a warm window sill. Just place some damp paper towel or cotton wadding on a saucer and press some seeds onto this. Ensure that the paper or wadding is kept constantly moist and carefully watch the seeds. If you see some tiny white roots developing, the seeds are viable.

Don’t waste these test seeds. Gently use a pair of tweezers and pick up each seed that has a tiny white root and plant it out into the garden or into your well-prepared raised bed. Make sure you use some markers so that you know where the seeds have been planted. You can cover the soil with some straw or hay to keep it warm if it’s still a bit cool outside.

You can now use the rest of the seeds in the packet to start your parsnip seedlings in their toilet paper rolls.

How To Start Parsnip Seeds In Toilet Paper Rolls

Used toilet paper rolls can be an important resource if you want to start your parsnips seeds indoors or in the greenhouse. All you have to do is place the rolls on a seedling tray and fill them with the appropriate seed-raising mix.

You then want to plant around 2 to 3 seeds into each roll and water well. Place the rolls close together so that they don’t fall over. Continue to water the mix and keep an eye out for the roots that will start to grow. If you find that more than one of the 2 or 3 seeds germinate, you can just remove the weakest ones so that you’re left with one strong seedling.

Tip: Rather than pulling out the weaker seedlings and facing the problem of disturbing the root of the good plant, just snip the weaker plants with a pair of scissors at the soil level.

As toilet paper rolls aren’t very tall, you might find that the root has already reached the bottom of the roll before you see any evidence of top growth. If you’ve placed your rolls on a seedling tray that has a loose, latticed bottom, you’ll be able to gently lift up the entire tray to see whether you can spot any roots.

If you do see some roots, even if no top growth is apparent yet, then it’s important to take those rolls and plant them out into the garden immediately. Make sure that your garden bed has been well-prepared so that the soil is loose and friable and doesn’t contain any rocks. This will allow the roots to continue growing downward without too much resistance.

A Better Alternative Is To Start Your Seeds In Longer Paper Tubes

As mentioned, toilet paper rolls are quite short, so you have to be vigilant in keeping an eye on your seeds and to put the plants into the garden to stop the taproot from hitting the bottom tray and forking.

To overcome this problem, consider using longer paper or cardboard tubes such as those that paper towels, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil come with. As these rolls are nice and long, they’ll allow plenty of room for the taproot to grow down before it reaches the bottom of the tube.

Once you’ve filled your paper tubes and put 2 to 3 seeds in each one, tie a couple of rows of string or garden twine around the outside of the tubes in each tray as this will stop them from falling over once they get wet.

If you use these longer rolls, you’ll be able to leave your seedlings a little longer before having to plant them out into the garden. In fact, you can generally wait until you see the first true leaf forming at the top of the plant. The first true leaf will generally be the third leaf that you see. The first two leaves are seed leaves or cotyledons.

To plant out your seedlings in their paper tubes, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve prepared the soil well and that you dig a hole deep enough to accommodate each tube. In general, the holes will need to be around 17 to 20 inches (43 to 50 cm) deep.

This allows you to backfill the bottom of the hole with some lovely, loose soil to accommodate the growing root. To dig the hole in the first place, consider using a bulb planter rather than a trowel, as this will make it easier to remove the soil from each hole.

Then, you want to place the tube with the seedling into the prepared hole while making sure that the top of each plant is level with the surface of the soil. Many people like to grow their parsnips in raised beds as these give you more control over the type of soil that you use.

Starting your parsnip seeds in cardboard tubes indoors means that you can start to see some growth before planting them out into the garden, and it also helps if you have seeds with poor germination rates.

If you would like to know more about growing those root vegetables, I wrote a complete guide about growing parsnips.

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