Parsnips are cool-weather biennials grown as an annual. Parsnips taste best if brought to harvest in cool weather.
Sow parsnip seed directly in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. In warm-winter regions, parsnips can be planted in autumn.
Description. Parsnip is a creamy white root that grows from 4 to 9 inches (10-22cm) long, similar to a carrot in appearance and tasty like a celery heart. The parsnip is a biennial grown as an annual. A rosette of celery-like leaves grows from the top of the fleshy root.
Parsnips Yield. Plant 10 parsnips per household member.
Site. Parsnips prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Grow parsnips in soil that has been turned to 12 inches (30cm) deep where all lumps and rocks have been removed so that roots do not split and fork. Parsnip prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Prepare planting beds two to three months in advance adding well-aged compost. Add manure only if it is aged; manure too fresh will cause root crops to fork.
Parsnips Planting Time. Parsnips require a long, cool growing season where the average temperature is between 45°F and 65°F (7-18°C). Parsnips will tolerate cold and freezing temperatures at both the start and end of their growing time. Sow parsnip seed directly in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. In warm-winter regions, parsnips can be planted in autumn.
Planting and Spacing Parsnips. Sow parsnip seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inch (2.5cm) apart in wide rows; thin seedlings to 3 to 4 inches (7-25cm) apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart. Thin seedlings after they develop two true leaves; cut off thinned seedlings at soil level to avoid disturbing remaining seedlings. Thinning is important; parsnips require adequate space for root development.
Companion plants. Beets, carrots, rutabagas, and root vegetables. Avoid planting with cabbage family crops, tomatoes, and tomatillos.
Container Growing Parsnips. Parsnips can be grown in containers but require at least 18 inches (45cm) of root space.
Caring for Parsnips
Water and Feeding Parsnips. Parsnips require moist but not wet soil for uninterrupted root development. As roots approach maturity, reduce watering to avoid cracking. Prepare planting beds with aged compost. Side dress plants at midseason with aged compost. Add aged-manure to planting beds in advance of planting.
Parsnips Care. Keep planting beds weed-free to avoid competition for light, water, and nutrients. Cultivate shallowly to avoid damaging roots. Where the ground may freeze, add 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm) of straw or mulch above plants before the first snow; harvest roots as needed in winter. In warm regions, mulch to regulate soil temperature; roots will grow short if the soil temperature is too high.
Parsnips Pests. Parsnips are generally not bothered by pests. Root maggots may be troublesome; discourage flies from laying eggs near the plants by putting a 3 to 4 inch (7-10cm) square of plastic around each plant.
Parsnips Diseases. Parsnips have no serious disease problems.
Harvesting and Storing Parsnips
Parsnips Harvest. Parsnips reach maturity 100 to 130 days after sowing. Lift parsnips with a spading fork being careful not to damage roots. Roots can stay in the garden through the winter if the ground does not freeze. Cold temperatures will increase the sweetness of roots. Dig roots before the ground freezes and becomes unworkable. Complete the harvest before the return of warm weather or roots will become pithy.
Storing and Preserving Parsnips. Store parsnips in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in a cold, moist place for 2 to 6 months.
Parsnip Varieties to Grow
Parsnips Varieties. ‘All American’ (105 days); ‘Cobham Improved Marrow’ (120 days); ‘Gladiator’ (110 days); ‘Harris Early Model’ (100-120 days); ‘Hollow Crown Improved’ (95-135 days); ‘Lancer’ (120 days); ‘Student’ (110 days); ‘Tender and True’ (102 days).
Common name. Parsnip
Botanical name. Pastinaca sativa
More tips: How to Harvest and Store Parsnips.