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Planting Parsnips

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Parsnip roots can be used in soups, stews, and side dishes. (Learn more about cooking and serving parsnips, click here.)

The parsnip is a root crop that can be planted in spring and autumn in all regions and winter in mild-winter regions. Parsnips require 95 to 120 days to mature and reach harvest. The parsnip root is most tasty after it has come through freezing temperatures.

Planting Calendar. Parsnips require as many as 120 days to reach maturity and harvest. Freezing weather make parsnips taste sweeter as the root’s starch converts to sugar.

Spring planting. Sow parsnips 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Germination is slow in temperatures below 45°F (12°C). Spring planted parsnips will come to harvest after the first frost in autumn or leave crop in the ground until needed. In cold regions, sow parsnips in mid spring.

Autumn and winter planting. Sow parsnips in autumn or winter in warm-winter regions. These plants will mature more slowly and will likely come to harvest the following autumn or winter. (Tips on planting the autumn garden, click here.)

Place. Parsnips prefer full sun but will grow in partial shade. Parsnips require more than three months to reach harvest; interplant faster maturing crops such as lettuce and spinach between parsnips.

Soil. Parsnips grow best in rich, well-drained soil. Deeply work the soil to at least 12 inches (30 cm) removing any rocks, dirt clods, or roots from the planting bed which will cause parsnip roots to split and fork. Add garden compost and well-aged manure into the planting bed. Fresh manure can also cause parsnip roots to fork. Parsnips grow best in a soil with a pH of about 6.5; if the soil is more acidic add lime. In hard or stony soil, use a crowbar or dibbler to make holes 6 inches deep; fill the holes with good soil and sow 2 to 3 parsnip seeds.

Spacing. Sow parsnip seed ½ to 1 inch deep. Soak seed in warm water for 8 hours to increase germination. Thin parsnip seedlings to 6 inches (15 cm) apart in wide beds or blocks. Space rows 12 to18 inches apart. Thinning will allow for full root development of the remaining plants; cut seedlings off at ground level to avoid disturbing the remaining seedlings.

Container growing. Parsnips require adequate space for root growth; they are not a good choice for container growing.

Water. Keep the soil around parsnips moist but not wet. Reduce watering as parsnips approach harvest; too much moisture late in their season will cause the roots to crack. Mulch parsnips to keep the soil cool in hot weather; mulch heavily to protect parsnips if the ground is likely to freeze in winter.

Feed. Add plenty of compost to the planting bed before sowing. Add compost to the garden at midseason as well.

Suggested varieties. Hollow Crown Improved (95 days); All American (105 days); Harris Model (120 days).

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