If you’re planting an edible garden this year, be sure to include parsley in your plans. This easy care herb grows happily for gardening beginners and experts and will provide fresh flavor for the kitchen for months to come.
Parsley is a no-fuss garden herb. Just plant it in full sun to part shade and give it regular water. It will thrive in garden soil or containers on the porch. Fertilize every 4-6 weeks to encourage lush leaf production. Keep in mind that parsley has a long tap root (like a carrot) and will not be happy if transplanted more than once.
Avoid purchasing parsley plants or sowing parsley seed before temperatures begin to rise in early spring. If a plant is exposed to prolonged cold, it will be stimulated to begin the second year of its life cycle (even if it’s only a month or two old). The leaves will turn bitter and the end-of-life flower stalk will appear, bypassing the productive first year growth.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is the only commonly grown herb that is biennial, meaning it grows just two years. The first year it produces a bushy rosette of flavorful long stemmed dark green leaves that we harvest and enjoy. The second year the leaves lose flavor, becoming bitter, and a 2-3 foot flower stalk appears.
Because parsley grows very differently the first and second year of life, you have two options when planting it in your garden. If you plan to keep it only one year for the leaves, grow it near other showy herbs or ornamentals as an edging or border plant. But if you’re willing to let it go to flower and attract butterflies the second year, plant it in the back of your bed to accommodate the 2-3 foot flower stalk. Although second year parsley doesn’t feed us, it is enjoyed by butterflies looking for a place to get nectar and lay their eggs. That is why I encourage gardeners to keep the herb growing through the second year.
Clip and use fresh parsley anytime during the first year of growth. You can cut all the leaves at once to stimulate new growth or just snip a few leaves for immediate use. To preserve, rinse and lay flat to dry. Once the leaves are dry and crackly store them in an airtight container.
Parsley can be used in many foods. It helps blend the flavors of other herbs together in dishes. Add a pinch of parsley leaves and some black pepper to scrambled eggs. If you’ve never used herbs in cooking, try adding parsley to potatoes or rice as a first step. I think of it as a starter herb in the kitchen, especially when you cook for picky eaters. Once they get used to seeing parsley on their food you can start adding other herbs.
When shopping for parsley in nurseries, you’ll find two varieties – curly and flat-leafed. Both provide flavor but cooking experts prefer the darker flat-leafed (a.k.a. Italian) parsley for its pungent flavor. At the grocer’s, don’t get parsley confused with Chinese parsley, which is another name for cilantro.