Growing food

How to Grow Parsnips – Complete Guide

Parsnips are a root crop and relatively easy to grow as long as you have viable seeds. You can plant them alongside your carrots and beets and enjoy them in a variety of different ways. Parsnips are delicious in soups and stews, and you can even make parsnip fries.

The best way to grow parsnips is from seeds. As with most root crops, they do not like to be transplanted as seedlings. Transplanting often causes the roots to not develop correctly or be severely misshapen.

Quickstart Guide to Growing Parsnips

  • Plant fresh seeds in spring once the soil temperature has reached around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
  • Choose a sunny spot to plant your parsnip seeds and sow seeds close together as some may not germinate.
  • Use the soil with a pH fairly neutral (in the range of 6.0 to 6.8).
  • Once the seeds germinate (in around 2-3 weeks), thin them out so that the space between the young seedlings is around 6 inches (15 cm).
  • Make sure you keep your seedlings well-watered but avoid overwatering, or they will rot. Using drip irrigation or a soaker hose is ideal because this gets water down to the developing roots.
  • Parsnips take around 100 days to reach maturity, so successive sowing of seeds weekly is a good idea at the beginning to extend the harvesting period.

What Temperature Ranges Do Parsnips Prefer?

Parsnips are fairly cold-tolerant and will survive in temperature ranges from 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 to 0 degrees Celsius). In fact, if parsnip is left in the ground over winter, the roots will be sweeter if they’ve been exposed to frost.

They will grow quite happily in USDA hardiness zones from 2 to 9.

What Soil Is Best For Parsnips?

Parsnips prefer deep, loamy soil that has been enriched with plenty of compost and organic matter. Their roots do get quite long, so they need nice easy soil to develop in.

If your soil is too compacted or has rocks in it, the roots will not develop nicely and will often be misshapen. You also have to ensure that your soil is well-draining because if the roots sit in water, they can easily rot before you have time to harvest them.

The pH of the soil should be fairly neutral and in the range of 6.0 to 6.8.

Should You Plant Parsnips In Sun Or Shade?

Parsnips should ideally be grown in full sun. However, they will tolerate partial shade, especially in the afternoon.

How Much Water Do Parsnips Need?

You only need to water parsnips to keep the soil moist. How often you water depends on your climatic zone and how much rainfall your area receives.

Remember that if you let the soil dry out, the roots will become tough and flavorless. Many gardeners like to cover the soil around their root crops with some nicely composted straw or hay, as this helps to keep the moisture in the soil.

Do You Need To Fertilize Parsnips?

If you’ve prepared your soil well and have added some organic compost, parsnips shouldn’t require any additional fertilizer. However, if you do want to give them a boost, you can side-dress them with some organic fertilizer in mid-summer. This will keep the plants growing strong and ready them for the colder weather.

When Do You Harvest Parsnips?

The time to harvest parsnips is when you can see the tops poking through the soil, and their diameter is around ¾ of an inch (2 cm). Another sign that your parsnips are ready to harvest is when the leaves start to die down.

Parsnips usually take around 100 days to reach maturity from when the seedlings first appear. However, some varieties have been known to take around 180 days to mature. Leaving your parsnips in the ground until you receive a hard frost will make the roots sweeter.

If your ground doesn’t freeze, you can continue to harvest your parsnips throughout the fall and winter. Just make sure that you harvest them before they develop a flower stalk, as this makes the roots tough and inedible.

Expert tip: If you’ve left your parsnips in the ground for too long, you can still salvage parts of the root. Just cut out the center core and discard. The rest of the root will still be edible.

When digging up your parsnips, take extra care not to break the roots. Use a small garden fork or trowel to loosen the soil around the plants before pulling them up.

It’s also a good idea to wear gloves when you do this because some people can have a skin reaction if they harvest parsnips while there’s dampness and when the sun is hot. This is called parsnip burn and can be quite unpleasant.

To avoid parsnip burn, wear gloves and let the ground dry a little, and avoid harvesting in the heat of the day.

How To Store Parsnips

Parsnips can be left in the ground in the cooler months and harvested as you need them. Alternatively, you can harvest them and place them in a box filled with just moist sand or coconut fiber. Store this in a cool, dry spot, such as in the shed or garage. The roots will keep for about four months if you store them like this.

Once harvested, parsnip roots will store in the produce section of your refrigerator for about two weeks. You can also freeze them quite successfully.

Just peel the roots and cut them into chunks. Then place in an airtight container or ziplock bag and pop them into the freezer. Once you’re ready to use them, take them out of the freezer and thaw them out before adding them to your soups or stews.

The freezing process does soften the roots, so roasting or turning them into chips from frozen will not produce the best results.

How To Use Parsnips

Parsnips are quite delicious when served in different ways. One of the most popular ways to use parsnips is to make soup. You can add different vegetables like carrots, onions, beans, and potatoes to make a hearty and warming vegetable soup full of nutritional goodness.

You can also make parsnip fries. Just cut each root into fingers, coat with olive oil, and season with whatever spices you want. Put these in the air fryer or roast them in the oven.

Another favorite with some people is to make creamy parsnip mash as an alternative to mashed potatoes. The flavor of the parsnips gives this mash a very distinctive taste.

When preparing your parsnips, just make sure that you remove all the leaves as these contain a chemical that can cause skin blistering when mixed with the UV rays from the sun. You don’t have to peel young parsnips, but as they get larger, it’s better to peel away the outer skin.

Importantly, parsnips are high in potassium which is good for heart function, lowers blood pressure, and keeps your kidneys functioning well.

How To Prepare Parsnips For Winter

You can leave your parsnips in the ground over winter. Just cover them with a thick mulch of straw or hay. Then, you can harvest the roots once the ground thaws out. This can be in late winter or early spring, depending on your climate.

Just make sure that you harvest them before any new green growth starts appearing, as this makes the roots fibrous and quite tough.

How To Grow Parsnips In Pots Or Containers

Like most root crops, parsnips are perfect for growing in pots or containers, even grow bags. Here’s what you should do if you want to try growing parsnips in pots:

  • Find a nice, sunny spot to place the pot that you want to use. A deeper pot is best because the roots can grow quite long.
  • Fill the pot with a good quality potting mix and add some organic fertilizer.
  • Use a pencil or dibbler to create some shallow grooves to plant seeds into.
  • Sprinkle the seed quite closely, as some might fail to germinate.
  • Cover the seeds finely with either a seed-raising mix or the potting mix that you filled the pot with and firm down.
  • Water well using a fine mist so that you don’t dislodge the seeds.
  • Keep on watering the pot until you start to see seedlings emerge. It’s important not to let the soil dry out. You can add some well-composted straw or hay on top of the soil to hold in the moisture.
  • Once the seedlings have emerged, it’s time to thin them out. Just very gently pull out the weakest seedlings to leave around 5 to 6 inches between each plant. Remember that the roots will need room to spread and grow.
  • Keep your plants well-watered and harvest when they’re ready. Only harvest what you need, as the rest can remain in the soil until you need further ones.

Are Parsnips Annuals Or Perennials?

Parsnips are biennials. This means that it takes two years for them to complete their growth cycle. However, most gardeners grow them as an annual to harvest their large white roots to use in cooking.

If left in the ground for the full two years, the plants will produce flowers and seeds. However, when this happens, the white roots will become very tough and fibrous and will be inedible.

So, unless you want to grow parsnips to harvest their seeds, it’s best to treat them as an annual. Bear in mind, too, that parsnip seeds only remain viable for one or two years.

Common Problems With Parsnips

Like most garden vegetables, there are a few pests to watch out for. However, most of the time, you’ll find that your parsnips are relatively pest-free. Here are a few pests to keep an eye on.

  • Caterpillars. These will eat the leaves reducing the plant’s ability to grow. If you see caterpillars on your parsnip leaves, just pick them off.
  • Aphids. Aphids are sap-sucking insects that will suck the goodness out of your plants. You can easily dislodge them by blasting your plants with a hose. Otherwise, you can make up a mixture of dish soap and water to spray your plants with. As a last resort, you can mix up some white oil with water and spray your plants with this.
  • Carrot Flies. The larvae of these annoying insects feed on the roots of parsnips and other root crops. They are not easy to control, but you could try some companion planting using chives, as these repel carrot flies.
  • Snail and Slugs. These garden pests love to munch on the foliage of your parsnip plants. You can use some pet-friendly snail pellets to get rid of these pests.
  • Parsnip Canker. This is a fungal disease that starts at the top of the root and works its way down. It normally only affects plants that are underwatered or have had their crown damaged. You’ll find that most commonly grown cultivars are resistant to this disease except for “Tender and True.”

Suitable Companion Plants For Parsnips

If you’re into companion planting, then you know that planting certain crops next to or near each other can have many benefits. One of the major benefits is that some companion plants help to keep pests away.

Another reason to plant certain vegetable varieties together is if they like the same conditions. This helps to make caring for your crops much easier. Here are some companion plants that like to grow with parsnips:

  • Onions and garlic. These plants will repel flea beetles, ants, and aphids.
  • Radishes. Radishes are faster growers, and you’ll be able to harvest them much sooner than your parsnips. As an added benefit, radishes also help to repel carrot fly larvae.
  • Peas and beans. These help to fix nitrogen into the soil.
  • Potatoes. Potatoes are great for breaking up the soil.
  • Carrots. Some people will say not to grow carrots and parsnips together because they share the same pests and diseases. However, both plants prefer the same growing conditions. So, if you don’t have a problem with carrot flies, these plants will happily grow side by side.

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