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Parsnips Growing Guide

Parsnips Growing Guide

It’s easy to understand why this crop is back in fashion. Recent decades saw the parsnip’s popularity decline thanks to a long growing period and a variable germination rate. However, it’s still well worth making room for this tasty veg. Catch crops of fast-growing lettuce, radish or baby turnips may be grown in between the establishing plants and, with a bit of know-how, it’s easy to achieve consistently high germination rates. The roots can be lifted when young and tender. The sweetest of any root vegetable, they occupy the ground throughout the winter season for harvesting as needed.

Parsnips are the royalty of root vegetables – roasted with a little honey or chopped into a bubbling stew they are the original winter warmers.

These vegetables were the mainstay of most European dinner tables before the advent of the potato. Thankfully, with a whole raft of modern F1 hybrids to try, parsnips are making something of a comeback – and it’s about time too! Many of these boast smooth, white roots. They also have impressive resistance to canker, a disease which often hampered past efforts.

Today there are both shorter and longer rooted types, suitable for all soil conditions. Those who want to grow for exhibition can sow tapering varieties that are successful in good, deeply cultivated ground.

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Growing Parsnips month-by-month

January

Order in your parsnip seeds if you haven't already. Pick one of the reliable F1 hybrids or a canker-resistant variety such as 'Avonresister'.

February

Check the pH of your soil and add lime if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5. Place cloches over the soil for an early crop of young and tender roots.

March

If your soil has reached at least 7°C, begin sowing towards the end of the month. Gardeners with cold soils should wait a few more weeks to be on the safe side.

April

This is the main month for sowing parsnips. Station sow into prepared seedbeds or rows. Water thoroughly for prompt germination.

May

Finish sowing by early May and thin emerging parsnip seedlings to leave one every 15cm. Keep the young plants well watered as they find their feet.

Must do this month!
June

With the sun high in the sky parsnips will put on very quick growth. Keep plants well watered and weed free but take care not to damage the roots.

July

Continue weeding and watering. Lift out any catch crops to give the parsnips enough room to expand.

August

Continue weeding and watering. Lift out any catch crops to give the parsnips enough room to expand.

September

The final growing spurt of parsnips. Little attention will be needed as the thick foliage will have covered over any previously open patch of ground.

October

As the foliage begins to die down at the end of the month consider lifting the first roots after frosts have sweetened them.

November

Begin lifting the majority of your roots and enjoy them roasted or in stews. Lift a few extra for when the ground becomes frozen solid during a cold snap.

December

Finish digging over the soil for next year's parsnip crop. Do not add any organic matter or you will cause the roots to fork (become distorted).

Caring for your Parsnips plants + problems

Keep the young parsnips consistently moist and avoid the roots drying out at all costs or you may attract canker.

You can apply a mulch of grass clippings or similar between the crop to keep the moisture locked in. At all stages keep rows weed free. It’s safest to pull unwanted plants by hand, though light hoeing is also possible as long as you take care not to clip the parsnips’ roots. Damage that creates a wound will leave them vulnerable to canker entry. Any catch crops should be removed as soon as the leaves begin to close over. This will give them enough space as they grow on to maturity.

How to harvest Parsnips

Although some parsnips can be lifted as early as late summer it is best to harvest after the foliage begins to die down at the beginning of November.

Wait for a few frosts before you begin lifting the roots. This causes the starch to convert to sugar, dramatically improving their flavour. Only lift what you need at any one time, leaving the remainder in the ground.

To unearth a root, insert a fork or spade some distance from the parsnip and rock it back and forth to loosen the soil. They have a firm grip, so you may find you have to literally dig them out to a depth of up to 45cm. Once the first parsnip is out of the ground it is easier to work your way along the row to extract the others.

In very cold parts of the country it’s prudent to lift a few roots early on in the winter and store them under cover in case the ground becomes frozen solid. Trim the tops off the lifted roots then wash and dry them before packing them into wooden boxes of dry sand. Keep these in a cool, dark and wellventilated place such as a garage or shed and eat within a few months.

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