Parsnips are Very Easy to Grow

Parsnips: what an under-rated and neglected vegetable! Parsnips have to be one of the easiest things to grow in the cooler parts of Europe, Asia and North America.

They have a long, slow growing season from about March to December. Apart form keeping them reasonably weed free and defending them from rabbits, there is almost nothing to do after they first go in.

So, for a great addition to your organic vegetable plot, give them a try if you haven't already discovered their benefits.

Easy methods for growing parsnips

Here's how to grow parsnips.

The planting method I prefer – because it’s easy! – is the starter plug method. The advantage is there’s no thinning to be done.

Start them off in February or March, (northern hemisphere).

  • Take a tray of small plugs (also known as a multi-cell tray) and fill it with potting compost. Tap it down to settle the contents. Put one or two seeds in each cell.
  • Use fresh seed as parsnip seed does not keep very well.
  • Cover the seeds with a little more compost and use your finger, or the butt end of a trowel or other small tool, to gently press the soil down so that there is a good contact between the soil and seed.
  • Make sure that the compost is moist but not soggy - the seeds will rot in soggy conditions.
  • It’s best to cover the trays to start with so that the soil does not dry out too fast. Check regularly, preferably every day, that the soil is moist and water as necessary.
  • Capillary matting is helpful but you will still need to check!
  • Germination can be very slow - even as much as three weeks.
  • Put your seed trays somewhere cool but not icy. An unheated greenhouse is ideal, or a shelf in a garage or shed by a window. You may need to turn the trays to take advantage of the light.

Planting out your parsnip seedlings

When the parsnip seedlings look strong, about an inch high, you can plant them out in the ground. Don't plant them on freshly manured soil. They do far better on soil which was manured for a previous crop.

Make sure that the ground is not too cold or saturated. Parsnips are quite tolerant but general planting out rules still apply. Choose a mild day in March or April.

You can harden them off first by leaving them outside for some hours each day for a week or so. This will make them more used to colder conditions.

Prepare the ground in the usual way, hoeing out any weeds that have sprouted since it was first prepared. It is important that the ground is well cultivated as the roots tend to fork if the conditions are too stony and tough.

Here's how to plant them out:

  • First, give your seedlings a final watering to prepare them for planting out.
  • Mark out lines about 10 – 12 inches apart with a hoe or the edge of a rake. If you are fastidious about neat lines you might want to use pegs and string.
  • Next, make a small hole for each pair of seedlings. A dibber, or a pointed stick, or a trowel can all be used to push a small hole in the earth. If the soil is at all dry, water each hole.
  • Push the seedlings out of the tray with the point of a pencil or a small stick. Alternatively, you can tease them out from above with a pointed stick. Be careful not to damage the stems. If you need to grasp the seedlings at all, hold them by the leaves, not the stem.
  • If there are two or even three seedlings together in a cell, don't separate them. As they grow they will push away from each other.
  • Place the seedlings in the hole with their roots comfortably spread over the soil. If the root ball stays in one piece, you don’t need to spread it – it’s already in contact with the potting compost which will give it a great start. (The root ball is more likely to stay together if you water the seedlings not long before planting.)
  • Ease the soil back around the seedlings and firm down the soil. If you made the holes very soggy with water you might need to return again to firm the plants down after they have had a few minutes to drain excess water away.
  • Take great care when handling your seedlings. Always hold them by the leaves or by the root ball, not the stems.

The lines you drew in the soil to start give a slight valley for water to run into if you should need to water your crop again.

Now all you need to do is keep an eye on them, tidy around with a hoe from time to time and wait…

Growing parsnips straight into soil

Planting parsnips in cells can lead to roots becoming entwined - especially if the ground is also a bit hard and stony. This is the main disadvantage to planting them first in cells.

You can plant them straight into the earth in a line - or even broadcast them to occupy a wider area. It is important to do your preparation. The soil should be well tilled and not compacted or water-logged.

Just create a nice, clear seed bed and sow the seeds thinly in lines. The dip should be around 1/2 an inch deep. Leave two or three inches between each seed. Sow your seeds on a day when the soil is moist and starting to warm up in springtime. Firm back the soil and water if needed.

When the seedlings are an inch or two high, thin them out carefully to reduce crowding. They will need to be from 4 - 6 inches apart as they mature in order to find enough room. You can use later thinnings as small tender vegetables.

Parsnip soup

Parsnips make great soup. They are also excellent roasted - just put them in with the spuds. Alternatively, par-boil them first for the best results. They can also be used in stews and baked dishes.

Please see The Vegetable Soup Recipe Page for a parsnip and lemon soup recipe which works well. 


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