There are at least two really great reasons to plant parsley. One is for your own enjoyment as a culinary herb. The other is for the benefit of the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly. It also has some medicinal uses.
Parsley is one of a huge family of flowering plants called Umbellifers that include more than 3700 species. You may recognized some of them as caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, and lovage.
It is a biennial plant, which means it lives for two years. In the second year, its bright green, feather-like leaves become flowers and seeds, so most gardeners grow it as an annual and replant it every year.
This popular herb adds flavor to sauces, salads, and soups. You may have noticed that it also lessens the need for salt. Not only is parsley the perfect garnish, it’s also good for you; it’s rich in iron and vitamins A and C.
Varieties For North Texas
Marshall Grain offers Flat Leaf and Curly Leaf parsley varieties. Flat leaf varieties, including Italian parsley, generally have a stronger flavor, while the Curly Leaf varieties are best for fancy garnishes.
When to Plant
Parsley is the perfect indoor herb. Grow it all year round in a sunny window, as it never gets too big and doesn’t insist on flowering the first year. You can also use a grow light or heat mat to help the seedlings grow. Make sure it remains at least two inches above the leaves at all times. Marshall Grain offers both grow lights and heat mats, as well as other seed starting supplies in our seed department.
Transplanting parsley is not recommended. It grows best when temperatures are mild, so get the most bang for your buck, your outdoor plants should be directly sown from seed into the ground beginning in the fall. The optimum germination temperature for parsley seeds is between 60 – 80 degrees F. And it stands up well to even very cold North Texas winters — down to about 10 degrees F, which means you can continue to enjoy it all the way into the following spring and beyond.
If you want an outdoor garden, you can help your parsley through the hot North Texas summer by planting it in a spot where it receives only 3 – 5 hours of morning sun daily. Water generously!
Check out our Vegetable Planting Guide for North Texas for other edibles you can start in the fall.
A Slow Starter
Keep in mind that it takes parsley three to four weeks to sprout. You can improve your germination rate and plant development by soaking the seeds overnight in Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed or other root stimulator product before planting.
Parsley seeds are very small. There’s no need to cover them with soil. Simply sprinkle them on top of the soil. Once planted, avoid disturbing them. Instead, keep them moist by misting them with water. Once seeds have sprouted, thin them down to only one or two plants per pot or per inch.
Although this herb tolerates poor soil and drainage, it’s always preferable to plant in rich, well-drained soil. Freshen the planting area with an organic compost such as Soil Mender’s Yum Yum Mix, Back to Nature Composted Chicken Manure, or Black Kow composted cow manure.
Note: Never use raw manure. It will burn your plants.
Companion planting serves many functions in the garden, from enhancing flavor to repelling pests and attracting beneficial insects. Parsley is believed to encourage the growth of the plants around it — especially asparagus, corn, and tomatoes. Don’t plant parsley with mint or lettuce. Parsley is very slow growing and can be overrun by the fast-spreading mint. Parsley can cause your lettuce to bolt prematurely.
Care and Maintenance
Once established, mulch your plants with a layer of organic mulch. Parsley requires little maintenance other than watering and occasional weeding.
During the first year, you should remove any flower stalks that appear to keep it from going to seed prematurely. Also, pick the dead and faded leaves time to time to keep your plant in shape.
Water parsley regularly and evenly to keep the soil slightly moist but not overly wet all the time. Never allow the soil to dry out completely and avoid overwatering!
Apply either dry or liquid nitrogen fertilizer, such as Blood Meal, once a month or so to keep your plants going strong.
Pests and Diseases
Leaf spot and root rot are the most common diseases that attack parsley. Both are encouraged by over watering, so avoid waterlogging the soil. If leaf spots do appear, treat it with Neem oil, sulfur, or other organic fungicide. (Always follow the label directions.)
Slugs and snails are potential pests, and are easily prevented with Sluggo or Sluggo Plus snail bait. Sluggo is a proven organic pesticide that works only on pest slugs and snails. Sluggo Plus kills a few additional pests, including sow bugs, but will not harm friendly insects or caterpillars.
Butterfly Host Plant
Speaking of caterpillars . . . before you put out any pesticide in your garden, remember that parsley is a favorite plant of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly. But it’s not the adult butterfly that feeds on the plant — it is the larvae!
If you are lucky, you will see Black Swallowtails will fluttering around your garden. They are there to lay their eggs, which hatch into green and black striped caterpillars. Some people call these “parsley worms” and consider them to be pests because the larvae will consume large amounts of parsley as they grow and prepare to transform into their adult stage. Black Swallowtails also lay their eggs on other members of the Umbellifers family, such as dill, carrots, and fennel.
If you hope to have a butterfly garden, do not use any pesticides on your parsley. Even organic controls like Neem oil, Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt), and Dipel Dust will quickly kill swallowtail caterpillars along with pests such as cutworms and aphids.
As soon as your parsley stems have three segments of leaves, they are ready to be harvested. Gather sprigs as needed in the kitchen. For optimal flavor, pick parsley early in the day when the plant’s oil is strongest. Cut leaves from the outer portions of the plant whenever you need them. Leave the inner portions of the plant to mature.
Parsley is best used while fresh. It can be frozen until ready for use but a better option is to put the leaf stalks in water and keep them in the refrigerator.
It’s also better to freeze parsley rather than drying, as this may cause the herb to lose some of its flavor.
To dry parsley, cut it at the base and hang it in a well-ventilated, shady, and warm place. Once it’s completely dry, crumble it up and store it in an airtight container. Gather stems for drying in early summer.
Saving Your Seeds
Once the tops (seed heads) and seeds have turned brown, cut them off the stalks. Try to do this before the seeds fall off of the plant. Dry the seed heads by placing them on a cloth in a well-ventilated place. Once dry, rub them to remove any remaining seeds that haven’t already fallen onto the cloth. Ripe seeds should be a dark brown. Parsley seeds can be stored in a cool, dark, dry location for two to three years.
Parsley has been touted as a cure for everything from flatulence to baldness, and insect bites to arthritis. Unfortunately, none of these remedies have been confirmed through clinical trials. But everyone agrees that it excels in the kitchen as a culinary delight.
Below are a few recipes bound to wake up your tastebuds and your green thumb.
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