The parsnip is a useful and tasty root vegetable. It takes a long time to grow but is generally fairly easy to grow successfully in the garden. It is hardy and not only survives cold weather but is made sweeter and more delicious by going through a few frosts. Sown in the spring, they can be left in the ground until you are ready to use them in autumn and winter.

Growing parsnips:

Parsnips grow best in well dug and fertile soil with good drainage. It is best to sow seeds direct in April or even May. Though many seed packets will suggest that the seeds should be sown earlier, it is better to wait until the soil has warmed and spring has arrived before planting. Do not give up on your seeds too soon – parsnips take 30 days, sometimes even more, to appear as germination is very slow. Some gardeners suggest that it is a good idea to plant fast growing radishes at the same time as your parsnips to mark where they are. The fast growing radishes will be out of the way almost as soon as your parsnips appear.

Choose a still day to plant your parsnip seeds – seeds are thin and papery and can easily blow away. It is easiest to plant parsnips in rows – this makes weeding easier with this slow-grower and also allows you to understand where seedlings will come up, as germination can sometimes be patchy. Make a drill and scatter seeds along the line, covering lightly. If you are sowing more than one row, these should be around 30cm apart.

Make sure that you do weed carefully – parsnips do not like competition – and make sure you do not let the germinating seeds or young seedlings dry out. If you have a problem with cats or birds digging up and disturbing the seeds then it may be necessary for you to protect the area with chicken wire.

Parsnips can sometimes fall prey to the dreaded carrot fly. If this occurs unfortunately there is no remedy. Prevention is the only option so if you know that there are carrot fly in the area it might be a good idea to cover your parsnips and/ or baffle the flies with companion plants with strong smells to prevent an attack.

Do not try to pull up parsnips. They will need to be dug out since roots are too strong to yank out by hand. Leave parsnips until you need them. They taste better after they have been subjected to some frost.

Why grow parsnips in the garden?

Parsnips are great for winter use since they can be left in the ground until they are needed. This means that you can have a tasty crop to see you through the leaner winter months. Imagine going outside, wrapped up against the cold, to fetch a few parsnips for your Christmas dinner.

Parsnips, if left in the ground to flower the following year, parsnip flowers left to seed will attract a range of beneficial predatory insects to your garden. They can be especially useful when left under fruit trees.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Pastinaca sativa