One root per plant
No Christmas dinner would be complete without a side order of parsnips. The flavoursome roots are delicious roasted but can also be added to soups and stews. They’re easy to grow although they take a long time to mature – seeds sown in spring won’t yield roots until autumn.
Parsnips are a rich source of vitamin C, which helps to maintain healthy teeth and gums. They’re high in dietary fibre to reduce cholesterol and aid digestion.
How to grow parsnips
Sow parsnip seed direct in the soil in spring in well-prepared, weed-free soil. Keep young seedlings watered in dry conditions and weed the area regularly. Parsnips are ready to harvest from autumn. For the sweetest parsnips, don’t harvest until after the first frosts. They can be kept in the ground until you’re ready to eat them.
More on growing parsnips:
- How to grow parsnips from seed
- Grow your own Christmas dinner
- How to make the most of a small veg plot
Sowing parsnip seeds
Parsnips do best in an open sunny site with free-draining, well-worked soil with no stones. Overly fertile soil can cause the roots to fork, so sow them where you haven’t dug in any compost or manure in the last year.
Sow seeds directly into the soil from mid-spring, after the soil has warmed up. Parsnip seed can be tricky to germinate. Always use fresh seed and be patient – they can take up to three weeks to sprout.
Watch Monty Don sow parsnip seeds in this video clip from Gardeners’ World
Caring for parsnip plants
Parsnips have a very long growing season. However, once the plants have established, they more or less look after themselves. They don’t need extra watering, except in really dry conditions – a good watering every two-three weeks should be fine. They don’t need feeding. Keep the area around them weed free to prevent seedlings being smothered. In early summer, plants may be given a boost by mulching between the rows with compost.
The roots will reach full size by autumn, so you can start pulling up fresh parsnips as required from September onwards. Loosen the soil around the roots before lifting. Parsnips taste sweeter the longer they’re left in the ground, particularly after a hard frost.
Cooking with parsnips
Parsnips are great roasted, mashed or added to soups and stews. Browse the range of parsnip recipes suggested by our friends at Olive Magazine.
The best way to store parsnips is to leave them in the ground until you want to eat them. However they can also be kept in a clamp of sand for up to four months. Alternative, chop, par-boil and freeze them.
Growing parsnips – problem-solving
The biggest enemy of parsnips is the carrot fly. The larvae of these small, black flies feed on the developing parsnip roots. Prevention is the best method of dealing with this pest. Put up 60cm barriers around your bed of parsnips, or cover your crop with horticultural fleece. Also, avoid crushing any foliage when you’re thinning out, as the scent will attract flies.
Parsnip canker is an orangey-brown rot that appears at the top of the root. It’s caused by drought or over rich soil, so regular watering will help. To prevent this grow canker-resistant varieties, and improve soil drainage.
Try sowing parsnip seeds mixed with annual flowers, which can help to deter carrot fly.
Parsnip varieties to grow
- ‘Albion’ RHS AGM – a canker-resistant variety, producing long, smooth, white-skinned, roots with sweet flavour and good texture. The roots store well
- ‘White Gem’ – a reliable, sweet-flavoured variety with good canker resistance
- ‘Archer’ RHS AGM – good yields and flavour, this is a good canker resistant variety
- ‘Palace’ RHS AGM – another high yielding variety, with good canker resistance
- ‘Gladiator’ RHS AGM – good flavour and especially suited to heavy soils