Rising parsnips, the paler cousin of the carrot

Bring comfort to winter meals by growing parsnips this winter. Simply roasted on a tray, mashed into a puree, mixed into a soup or even pickled, the nutty but sweet taste of the parsnip is a hearty addition to the festive table. These long-lasting root vegetables are a great source of fresh produce in the colder months of the year.

Before there was sugar cane, parsnips were used as a sweetener! Among the more unusual uses for parsnips is Britain's fondness for making parsnip wine and as a substitute for pancetta. Parsnips go well with flavors like nutmeg or citrus and can be used in place of carrots or potatoes.

Grow these root vegetables in your vegetable garden for the winter harvest. Parsnips are a long-lasting cold weather source, sweetened by frost, and hold up well for winter storage, even in the ground! Let's take a look at how to grow and harvest this popular plant.

Good products on Amazon for growing parsnips:

Brief instructions for care

Growing parsnips can be a great way to modify your root vegetable wells. Source: anneinchicago

Common name (s) Parsnips, wild parsnips
Scientific name Pastinaca sativa
Days to harvest 100-120 days
Bright Full sun to partial shade
water Keep the soil constantly moist
floor Light, fine soil, no compacted clay, well permeable
fertilizer An application of low-nitrogen fertilizer in the off-season
Pests Carrot flies, aphids, root-knot nematodes
Diseases Parsnip cancer, Alternaria leaf rot

Everything about parsnips

Parsnip leavesParsnip leaves form in pairs on each stem. Source: wburris

Pastinaca sativa, or parsnip as it is commonly known, comes from the Mediterranean region. Parsnips grow wild in Europe and the USA, where the wild plants can cause burns. Even the green parsley-looking leaves of the cultivar are inedible. In some people, the parsnip can cause a rash when exposed to sunlight due to the toxic sap the greens contain.

Parsnips look like carrots, but they are usually cream-colored and larger and fatter than their cousins. The foliage resembles celery leaves and forms a rosette shape at the top of the plant. Parsnips are a tap root, and the vegetable portion is usually around 5-10 inches wide. When allowed to bloom, they form yellow, umbellate-shaped flowers.

Parsnips get sweeter if left in the ground after a frost or two. It can be planted in spring or summer for a winter harvest. Although parsnips are technically biennial and perennial in some climates, they are usually grown as an annual winter crop and harvested the first year as the taste wears off in the second year. This taproot is packed with nutrients, including high in potassium.

Plant parsnips

Plant seeds in your garden from late spring to late summer to harvest in fall to early spring of the following year. In warmer climates, sow parsnips in the fall to harvest them in early spring. Make sure the parsnip seeds are fresh and planted ½ inch deep. It is important to have good soil cover over the seed. Older seeds won't germinate, and parsnip seeds spoil quickly.

For optimal seed germination and healthy seedlings, it is important that the soil is no colder than 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a cover over the garden to aid germination.

When planting parsnips in your vegetable garden, consider planting shallow-rooted plants like radishes or violas between the rows to make the most of the space. Grow parsnips in an open space with full sun. Parsnip seedlings prefer a sunny location, but can also tolerate partial shade.

Parsnip roots are delicate, so plant the seeds directly in the ground instead of starting them in pots and then planting them outdoors. Parsnips prefer well-tended, loamy soils. Sow the seeds ½ inch deep and 6 inches apart in warm, moist, weed-free soil. Sow three seeds per planting to ensure germination. After 3 weeks, the parsnip seeds will germinate. After 6 weeks, dilute the seedlings, making sure that each plant is properly spaced.

If you plant parsnips in a container, it needs to be at least 12 inches deep to ensure healthy plants. The parsnip's roots must be able to grow straight down. These should be 6 inches apart to get the most out of the container. After 6 weeks, dilute the seedlings to 6 inches apart for good airflow. Growing this plant in a container gives you more control of the soil and creates the loose, well-dug soil that parsnips thrive in.


Parsnips with damaged tipsWhen harvesting parsnips, be careful not to damage the root tips. Source: Bruno Girin

Parsnips are not difficult to grow, but be aware of some specifics about this root vegetable, as too much nitrogen and moisture levels can make them picky. You will have the best success if you sow and plant the seeds directly outside in garden beds and keep the bed weed-free. Patience is a virtue here. After you've waited, the rewards for this long season harvest are great!

Sun and temperature

Grow parsnips in full sun to partial shade. The seeds should be planted in warm soil in USDA growth zones 2-9. The long growing season actually helps make this vegetable taste good. If you grow the parsnips in the garden and pull a few frost spots, the starch turns into sugar and sweetens the vegetables.

Water and moisture

One of the most important aspects of caring for this hardy root vegetable is keeping moisture levels constant. These plants prefer to be watered deeply as this will help the roots get deep into the soil. Parsnips are not drought tolerant. If the plants are not adequately watered, the roots will become hard. Water the parsnips deeply and evenly for the first 4-6 weeks, then keep them evenly moist throughout the growing season. Soaking hoses or drip irrigation can help. Mulching keeps the moisture content even.


Parsnips prefer loamy, well-prepared, loose soil that will make it easier for their roots to get down. The PH should be between 6-8. Well-drained soil is a priority here and too rich soil can lead to problems. Make rows of well-sifted and fine compost mixed with sand, and keep the seeds well covered with at least ½ inch of soil. If you have loamy soil, make sure that a lot of compost is worked through to keep it from compacting as parsnips struggle with root development in the loam.


Parsnips can grow in poor soil and do not require fertilization as too much nitrogen can lead to overgrowth at the top and too little growth in the roots. Vigorous tip growth can also make the plant susceptible to disease. Phosphorus is the most important nutrient because of its contribution to healthy root development. Side dress parsnip rows with a 1-2-2 fertilizer halfway through the growing season.


Sow parsnips in the garden from late spring to late summer, for harvest in autumn to early spring of the following year. Make sure the parsnip seeds are fresh and the soil is warm. Older seeds won't germinate and parsnip seeds are quickly losing their viability, so buy fresh seeds every year.

It is best to sow your parsnips directly. Other methods of propagation are not practical.

Harvest and storage

Freshly harvested parsnipsWash parsnips just before use. Source: Simon Wheatley

With all of the hard work put into growing your plants, you need to harvest parsnips properly and store them carefully. If you follow these expert tips, you will have a fresh supply of parsnips for your winter meal, even when it's freezing.


Parsnips are ready for harvest after 120 days. For a sweeter taste, let the parsnips sit in the ground for a hard frost or two as they turn the starch into sugar. When the greens begin to die, the parsnips are ready to be harvested. Store parsnips in the garden with a mulch over the plant and harvest as needed throughout winter and into early spring. Harvest your crop before early spring as the parsnip roots will harden over time.

Wear gloves and remove any remaining leaves before harvest. Be careful when removing the parsnips from the garden as damage to the roots can make storage impossible. Start by carefully removing the soil around the parsnip roots with a shovel or hoe. Again, be careful not to damage the roots. At this point, gently press down on the parsnips, then try to pull them out of the bottom. You may need to dig around the roots as well. Dust off dust with a brush, then wash in cold water. Dry the parsnips. Leave the skin on as it will add flavor.


Store parsnips in a cool, dark place like a root cellar, garage, or basement in a container of sand that completely covers the vegetables. Remove any greens before burying them in the sand. Store the parsnips in this way for up to 4 months.

Freezer storage is also an option. Treat parsnips like carrots to prepare them for freezing. They're also easy to dehydrate or freeze-dry for later adding to soups or stews.


Forked parsnipsMany environmental conditions can cause parsnips to fork. Source: Marj Joly

Prevent parsnip problems by giving them adequate air circulation, controlling humidity, and using good quality parsnip seeds. If you pay attention to these details, your garden bed will thrive with parsnips!

Growing problems

Too much nitrogen can lead to overgrowth in the foliage and insufficient growth in the roots.

When there are parsnips not properly distributed Leaving about 6 inches of clearance can cause airflow issues and damage while harvesting the parsnips. Roots can become hard if they don't have enough room to develop.

Soil that is not sandy and loose binds the roots, causing them to develop incorrectly and twist, fork or bend. Similar, too heavily fertilized soil Parsnips can branch out.


the Carrot fly lays eggs on top of the parsnips and their larvae eat the roots. Take preventive measures to avoid infestation. Cover the garden bed with nets and be sure to thin out the plants properly. A planting with chives or other allium helps to deter pests. Alliums have a low root system that goes well with parsnips, and they have a smell that puts the carrot flies off. Don't grow parsnips near carrots and make sure you switch the parsnips to different garden beds each year. Sowing parsnips later in cooler climates can also help prevent flies, as can using a floating row cover. Sticky traps can catch adult flies. Useful nematodes can eliminate the larvae.

Aphids are ubiquitous pests on green leaf material, and parsnips are no exception. These juicers will devastate the leaves of your root crops. Neem oil or insecticidal soap will handle it, as will a strong jet of water.

Root node nematodes are among the worst pests of any root vegetable. These microscopic nematodes create lumps and warped roots that restrict the flow of water through the root system. Useful nematodes should be placed on the ground as they will track down the harmful nematodes and eat them. Apply the first time as directed, wait two weeks and do a second application with a new batch of beneficial nematodes. This wait and see and reapply technique will help beneficial nematodes build their populations and continue to survive in the soil.


Parsnip cancer is common in cool, humid conditions. Caused by various forms of fungus, in particular Itersonilia perplexans or Fusarium spp. in the United States, it causes black, purple, or even orange rot on the roots. There are currently no fungicidal treatments that are effective against these cancers. Plant resistant varieties and avoid root damage from nematodes or fly larvae, which can make parsnips more prone to cancer. Remove damaged roots and destroy them. Do not compost spoiled plants.

A form of Alternaria leaf rot (Alternaria dauci) causes browned leaf margins that look like the leaves have been burned. Damaged leaves easily fall off. This disease does not affect the root and can be treated with copper-based fungicidal sprays.

frequently asked Questions

Parsnip plantsA cluster of parsnip plants. Source: ca44

Q: What month do you plant parsnips?

A: Spring to late summer. Plant parsnip seeds in warm soil.

Q: How long do parsnips take to grow?

A: This plant takes time to develop, with harvest happening 120 days after sowing.

Q: Are parsnips easy to grow?

A: Parsnips need moist soil, plenty of sun, and proper spacing. If you follow these rules, you should have a healthy harvest!

Q: Where do parsnips grow best?

A: Parsnips should be sown in warm soil in an open, sunny spot in late spring or summer. They enjoy cool climates, and frost makes them taste sweeter. Grow in USDA Zones 2-9.

The green fingers behind this article:

Leave a comment