How to grow parsley
All you need to know about growing, harvesting and storing parsley, in this useful Grow Guide.
Native to the Mediterranean, parsley (Petrosilenum crispum) is a rich source of vitamin C and iron, and is said to cure bad breath and cleanse the skin. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it lives for two years, growing leaves in the first year, then flowering in the second, before setting seed. For this reason parsley is treated as an annual and it's best to sow seed each year.
Easy to grow, even in part shade, parsley can be grown in containers or borders, and freshly picked leaves will depth and flavour to your cooking. Of the two types of parsley sold in supermarkets – curly parsley and flat leaf parsley – flat leaf parsley leaves have a stronger flavour and are more often used to add flavour. Curly parsley has a milder taste.
According to an old English folk tale, parsley grows best in a household where the wife wears the trousers. Whether you choose to grow parsley for mythical or feminist reasons, or for its culinary and medicinal properties, it's a great addition to your herb collection.
How to grow parsley
Grow curled and flat leaf parsley in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. Growing parsley in pots is also very easy. Harvest the leaves as and when you need to. Sow seed every few weeks for a successional harvest.
More on growing parsley:
- Thyme, parsley and chive herb pot
- Eight shade-loving herbs to grow
- Seven projects for a winter greenhouse
Find out how to grow parsley in our Grow Guide.
How to sow parsley seeds
Sow parsley seeds directly into well-prepared soil, in rows 1cm deep and 30cm apart. Lightly cover the seeds and water in well. Parsley is slow to germinate and it can take up to six weeks for seedlings to appear. When seedlings are large enough, thin them to 15cm apart.
More like this
Alternatively, if you have less space available, fill a pot with seed compost and sow seeds thinly, covering with a light layer of compost and watering in. Make sure the compost does not dry out. Seeds can take six weeks to germinate and should be thinned out and potted on when big enough. When moving to a larger pot, use a mix of garden and soil-based compost, to prevent the young plants from drying out.
Sow batches of seeds a few weeks apart so you have a continuous supply of parsley.
Watch this clip from Gardeners' World to find out what conditions parsley needs, how far apart to space the plants, and how to harvest the leaves:
How to care for parsley
A parsley herb plant needs plenty of water, particularly during dry weather, and benefits from the occasional feed of general seaweed fertiliser to boost leafy growth. Cut back any yellowing foliage.
Is parsley a perennial? No, it won't come back every year. It's a biennial, so if you want to delay your plant setting seed deadhead any flowers that appear. After a biennial has flowered and set seed it will die. However, if you want to save seed, allow the odd parsley flower and wait until the seed has turned brown before collecting it.
Parsley will die down over winter if it's planted in the ground. If you want to keep plants going, provide winter protection by placing a cloche over your plants. Alternatively, pot up your parsley and move plants into a greenhouse or bring them indoors and place on a sunny windowsill.
How to harvest parsley
Pick parsley as you need it. If you cut the stems at the base, parsley will regrow. Harvesting by cutting the stems, rather than just picking the leaves from the top, will also help create a bushier plant. You may want to grow several plants so that you can harvest from one while another is left to produce new growth. You should get a harvest from parsley right through summer into autumn.
How to store parsley
Parsley leaves can be dried and stored, but the flavour is less intense. With parsley plants so easy to grow and maintain, it makes sense to use a fresh supply. In terms of flavour, it's better to chop parsley finely in a food processor and freeze if you do want to store for later use. You can pot up plants at the end of the season and bring them indoors for leaves throughout winter.
Cooking with parsley
Parsley can be added to a wide range of recipes from soups and stews to omelettes and Middle Eastern salads like tabbouleh. It's used in creamy sauces, pestos and salsas, as well as a garnish for fish dishes or as part of a herby salad. It's best finely chopped. The stems are also full of flavour and can be chopped finely and added to dishes such as gremolata or spaghetti vongole.
Pests and diseases
Parsley is in the carrot family and therefore can be prone to some of the pests that affect carrots such as carrot fly. So take similar precautions, such as companion planting with garlic or onions. Also protect parsley seedlings from slugs and snails.
Advice on buying parsley
- Buying parsley seed is the cheapest way to grow this herb or you may be able to buy a pack of plug plants in the spring. To save time, you can also buy a bigger plant from the garden centre
- Another way to save time on sowing is to buy a plant from the supermarket, as these pots often contain several plants. Divide the plant and pot up the sections
- Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting.
Where to buy parsley
Parsley varieties to grow
Petroselinum crispum ‘Aphrodite’ – has good-flavoured dark green leaves with a tight curl, often used as a garnish.
Petroselinum crispum 'Titan' – a flat-leaved or French variety, with small, deep-green leaves and a strong, sweet parsley flavour
Petroselinum crispum ‘Envy’ – has dark green tightly curled leaves and is also very ornamental
Petroselinum crispum ‘Gigante Napoletano’ – as the name suggests, the leaves are large, and also very aromatic