Parsnips have a sweet and earthy flavour and texture, which people love to include both in their gardens and cooking activities. They have truly become a staple in many UK dishes and recipes. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, this guide will walk you through the process of growing parsnips from seed to harvest to your plate. Dive in to discover the best months for sowing and harvesting, expert tips on caring for your plants, and solutions to common problems and pests.
Table of Contents
Recommended Parsnip Varieties
Choosing the right variety can make all the difference when growing parsnips. Here are some our top parsnip picks:
- ‘All-American’: Boasting tapered, 10-12-inch white roots, this variety is known for its high sugar content and excellent storage capabilities.
- ‘Harris Model’: These smooth, tapered, 10-inch white roots are free of side roots, making them a gardener’s favourite.
- ‘Hollow Crown’: With mild, 12-inch white, fine-grain roots, the flavour of this variety notably improves after a frost.
- ‘Kral Russian’: An heirloom variety, it’s characterised by its beet-shaped root, making it ideal for shallow or heavy soil.
With these parsnip varieties added to your garden, allotment, or domestic polytunnels, you are bound to achieve great results.
How to Grow Parsnips
Now that you have collated your parsnip seeds, you can begin growing them. After all, many often question how long do parsnips take to grow. To do this, follow these in-depth tips:
Sowing Parsnip Seeds
Begin by sowing parsnip seeds directly into well-prepared, weed-free soil during spring. This ensures they get a good start.
Preparing the Soil for Parsnips
For optimal growth, parsnips require an open, sunny location with well-aerated, stone-free soil. It’s essential to avoid overly fertile patches, as this can lead to forking roots. If you’re wondering how to grow parsnips in the best conditions, ensure you choose a spot where no compost or manure was added in the previous year.
The Right Time to Sow
Parsnip seeds have a reputation for being difficult when it comes to germination. To increase your chances of success, always use fresh seeds. Old or leftover seeds from the previous year might not be as viable.
The ideal time for sowing parsnip seeds is between April and June, once the soil is warm and fertile. They require temperatures around 12©C (52©F) to sprout.
Consider using cloches to warm the soil. However, avoid sowing in cold or damp conditions, as the seeds are prone to rotting.
Choosing the Perfect Spot
The right location is important for parsnip growing. Select a sunny spot with deep, stone-free soil that’s been well-cultivated. A light, well-drained, fertile ground is what parsnips crave.
Growing Parsnips in Containers: Yay or Nay?
While container gardening is a popular choice for many vegetables, parsnips are a different story. Their long roots demand deeper soil than most containers provide. If you’re keen on experimenting, look for exceptionally deep containers or even consider repurposing an old compost bin. Just ensure it has adequate drainage by drilling holes at the bottom. But remember, traditional ground sowing is always the best method for when to harvest parsnips with the most flavour and size.
Growing Parsnips in Polytunnels
Using commercial polytunnels for growing parsnips can lead to some unique results. In the controlled temperature environment of a polytunnel, parsnip seedlings can become prosperous, often reaching lengths of 20-25cm. However, once transplanted, these seedlings tend to adjust and stabilise.
Many gardeners prefer direct sowing of parsnips in raised beds, avoiding the transplanting process altogether. Yet, growing parsnips in biodegradable pots within a polytunnel can work just as well. This method ensures minimal root disturbance during transplantation.
Using polytunnels for parsnip growing is beneficial especially during colder months, due to the warmer conditions inside the device. This can result in taller stalks, sometimes reaching up to 25cm. Over time, these shoots will yellow, wither, and be replaced by the more familiar, robust parsnip foliage.
If you do not yet have a polytunnel erected in your garden, allotment, or other green spaces, then do not worry, because we can help with that! Opt for our construction services to get your polytunnel built quickly and effectively.
Planting Your Parsnips
Once your parsnip seeds have been sown effectively, you can start learning how to plant parsnips. To ensure that your parsnips are planted for efficient growth, consider these tips:
- Soil Prep: Avoid planting in areas where sod was present the previous season. Excessive nitrogen can lead to lush top growth but underdeveloped roots. A soil test can be beneficial to ensure optimal conditions.
- Seed Selection: Always opt for fresh seeds. Parsnip seeds have a short shelf life, and older seeds might not germinate well.
- Sowing: Directly sow seeds in the garden. Plant them 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart, with rows spaced 18-24 inches apart. A pro tip: Intersperse radish seeds among the parsnip seeds. Radishes grow quickly, marking the row and making it easier for parsnip seedlings to emerge.
- Germination: Parsnips take their time. Typically, seedlings emerge in 2-3 weeks, but it can be longer in cooler soils. To expedite germination, maintain soil moisture. Another method involves pressing seeds onto moist paper towels or cotton pads, waiting for roots to appear, and then sowing them directly.
Caring for Parsnip Plants
Once established, parsnips are relatively low-maintenance:
Watering: Parsnips don’t demand frequent watering. In dry conditions, water them every two to three weeks.
Feeding: They thrive without additional feeding. Just ensure the surrounding area is weed-free to prevent competition.
Mulching: Boost their growth in early summer by mulching between rows using compost.
By the time autumn rolls around, your parsnip roots should have fully matured, allowing you to begin harvesting as needed from September onwards. To make the process easier, it’s a good practice to loosen the soil around the roots before pulling them out.
Typically, parsnips reach maturity in about 16 weeks, depending on the variety, and it’s ideal to harvest them when the roots are at least 1 inch in diameter. While a few frosts can enhance their flavour, it’s essential to harvest your parsnips before the ground becomes a frozen bed.
If you want to allow more time for your parsnips to grow, they can still be grown throughout the winter, so long as you provide plenty of mulch for protection, and then harvest them in early spring. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of the harvest season, hence we have created a useful guide on when is harvest season in the UK.
NOTE: if you notice a flower stalk developing, it’s a sign that the roots might have turned woody, affecting the texture and taste of your parsnips.
Cooking with Parsnips
As mentioned, parsnips are a great vegetable to use as an ingredient in the kitchen. Whether you’re making soup, roasting them for a side dish, or incorporating them into a main course, parsnips will elevate your dishes.
For those new to parsnip cooking, consider starting with a classic parsnip and apple soup. The combination of the two ingredients creates a tasteful blend of sweetness and depth, perfect for chilly UK evenings.
If you are interested in growing vegetables from the orient, why not try our observational guide on growing pak choi?!
After learning about growing parsnips, you should store them properly to retain their flavour and texture. The best way is by keeping them in the ground, pulling them out only when you’re ready to cook.
If you need to store them off the ground, consider clamping them in sand, where they can stay fresh for up to four months.
Problem-Solving in Parsnip Growing
Much like growing other fruit and veg, growing parsnips comes with its own set of challenges, but with the right knowledge, they’re easily managed. Carrot flies can prove to be an absolute menace to parsnips: the larvae of this fly can damage the developing roots. To prevent this, place barriers around your parsnip bed or use horticultural fleeces as a protective cover. Make sure to handle the plants gently, especially during thinning, as the scent of crushed foliage can attract these pests. If you feel you need to protect your crops from larger pests such as birds or pets, use fruit cages to prevent any damage on your plant.
Another common issue is parsnip canker, identifiable by an orange-brown rot at the root’s top. This problem arises from drought or overly fertile soil. Regular watering and ensuring well-drained soil can provoke this. If you’re in an area prone to canker, opt for canker-resistant varieties to further reduce the risk.
Of course, another common problem which could arise whilst growing parsnips is the presence of weeds. In which case, follow our tips on how to get rid of weeds.
We have also constructed a reliable table below which can help you to label and identify these pesky parsnip pests:
|Pest / Disease||Variety||Signs / Symptoms||Prevention Methods|
|Aphids||Insect||Miscoloured leaves (yellow).|
|Plant companion plants.|
Use water spray.Place banana or orange peels around plant.
Wipe leaves with washing up liquid and wash off every 2-3 days.
|Canker||Fungus||Dark coloured textures appear on crown or shoulder of foot (red, brown, black or purple).|
Green halos on leaves with orange-brown spots
|Opt for resistant parsnip varieties.|
Cover exposed root.
|Carrot rust flies||Insect||Wilted plants.|
Rust coloured excrement on roots.
|Add row covers.|
Destroy crop remains.
|Leaf miners||Insect||Blistered leaves – caused by larvae.||Remove affected leaves.|
Use weeding methods.
Add row covers.
Other Parsnips To Grow
In addition to our earlier recommendations, here are some additional parsnips that you could consider growing, particularly ones that are resistant to the above pests and problems:
‘Albion’ RHS AGM: This variety is known for its resistance to canker. It boasts long, smooth, white roots that have a delightful sweet taste and pleasant texture. Plus, these roots store exceptionally well.
- ‘White Gem’: A dependable choice, the ‘White Gem’ offers a sweet flavour and is also resistant to canker.
- ‘Archer’ RHS AGM: This variety stands out for its impressive yields and taste. It’s also notable for its canker resistance.
- ‘Palace’ RHS AGM: A high-yielding variety, ‘Palace’ is another excellent choice for those looking to avoid canker issues.
- ‘Gladiator’ RHS AGM: Perfect for those with heavy soils, the ‘Gladiator’ is celebrated for its rich flavour.
Enhance Your Parsnip Growing Experience
Growing parsnips requires understanding soil preparation, care, and the right harvesting time. With these essentials in place, both beginners and experienced gardeners can achieve a successful parsnip growing experience. Dive into the process, and soon, you’ll enjoy the fruits (or rather, roots) of your labour.
If you enjoyed this growing guide, we have a vast amount of other articles for you to dive into about other familiar or unfamiliar fruits and veg for you to grow, including our advice on what is amaranth.
What month do you plant parsnips?
Parsnips are typically sown in early spring, from April to June, once the soil has started to warm up. They require a long growing season, so it’s important to plant them early in the year.
How long does it take parsnips to grow?
Parsnips typically take around 120-180 days (4-6 months) from sowing to harvest, depending on the variety and growing conditions. However, many gardeners prefer to leave them in the ground until after the first frost, as this can turn their starches into sugars, making them sweeter.
Can you grow parsnips all year?
Parsnips are biennial plants, meaning they complete their life cycle over two years. In the first year, they produce the edible root, and in the second year, they flower and set seed. While they can’t be sown and harvested all year round, they can remain in the ground throughout the winter months. In milder climates, parsnips can be left in the ground and harvested as needed throughout the winter.
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Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK