Perfect Parsnips Every Time

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Parsnip seedlings

Some vegetables are notorious for their prolific, even rambunctious behaviour: sow, cover over, water... and stand well back! I’m thinking of the likes of, for example, climbing beans, courgettes and potatoes. Other vegetables need a little encouragement or have the reputation as being something of a prima donna. While parsnips are certainly vigorous once they’re established, many kitchen gardeners find them nothing short of stubborn to get going. The reason, I suspect, is a combination of shoddy seeds, sowing too early and, dare I say it, a lack of patience. Rake aside this trio of barriers and your parsnips will germinate without a hitch.

Parsnips are without doubt the royalty of root veg, offering a real depth of taste (both metaphorically and literally). The roots sit through the winter, gradually improving in sweetness and flavour as the starch contained within is turned to sugars by cold weather and frost. Not many vegetables improve with the onslaught of inclement weather! Pick a late-to-mature variety and your roots will be one of those magical crops that fills the infamous ‘hungry gap’ of early spring, when the majority of winter stored veg have been used up but the new season’s pickings aren’t yet ready.

Secrets of Sowing Parsnips

Most vegetable seeds will happily keep for a couple of years, which is comforting to know when you only need a few short rows from each packet. Alas, parsnip seed isn’t one of them. The number one mantra with all parsnips is the fresher the seeds the better. Seeds will only germinate from material harvested the previous summer. This means fresh seeds have to be bought every spring to sow immediately; any leftover will not be viable the following spring. This is probably the main reason why so many fail, but one that’s so easy to get right.

Sowing parsnip seeds

Another hurdle is sowing at the wrong time. The majority of seed companies should be hauled into the dock for this one – far too many recommend sowing early in the season when the ground simply isn’t warm enough. It won’t work! Parsnip seeds need a minimum of 8°C (46°F) to germinate, but even at this temperature they are liable to rot before they’ve had a chance to sprout. If you can, wait until soil temperatures have reached a steady 10-12°C (50-54°F) when the time for the seedlings to push through is dramatically reduced. If you don’t have a soil thermometer, improvise – some gardeners suggest the ground should be warm enough to sit on with a bare bottom; you could also test with your elbow! So don’t rush into sowing as there’s nothing to be gained from a few weeks’ ‘head start’ and everything to be lost.

Patience is a Virtue

There’s no getting around the fact that parsnips take a long time to germinate. If your seedlings are up within two weeks you’re doing well, as you can normally expect to wait up to a month. It’s a little unnerving staring at a vacant patch of ground when everything else on the plot is up and away within days, but hold your nerve you must!

My sowing strategy for parsnips is to space the seeds 3-5cm (1-2in) apart within their seed drills, leaving 40cm (16in) between rows. The papery seeds are easy to handle individually, making this one of my most satisfying sowing tasks. Once the seeds are in, I then go along the same drills and over-sow with quick-growing radishes (or try finger-sized salad carrots). These are dropped sparingly between the parsnip seeds. They’ll be up within a few days, clearly marking the positions of the rows so that I can hoe off the weeds between them. The radishes are removed for eating at pretty much the same moment all the parsnips are finally through.

If you really are an impatient sort, or don’t trust the source of your parsnip seeds, there is another nifty trick the seed sower can pull. Try pressing the seeds onto saucers containing wads of wet kitchen tissue or cotton wool pads. Keep the seeds somewhere warm and little white roots will soon appear. You can then sow the pre-germinated seeds as above, discarding any that have failed.

Parsnip plants

Growing On

Once all seedlings are up the guesswork is over. Now it’s simply a matter of thinning the seedlings in stages as they grow. Start by removing every other seedling when they have reached a few centimetres/an inch tall. Continue thinning every few weeks until each plant is 15-25cm (6-10in) apart. Some of the later thinnings will have started to form their distinctive taproots and can be served up as exquisite miniature veg. Allow the remaining plants to fill out, watering only during exceptionally dry conditions to encourage the roots to grow deeper in search of moisture.

Alt text
Parsnip 'Excalibur'. Image courtesy of Thompson & Morgan.

The roots can be lifted as needed as soon as the leaves have died back – all the better if you can wait until the first frosts have tempered the roots. The roots can stay in the ground until they are needed, though in areas where the ground freezes solid in winter it will pay to lift the roots beforehand for storage under cover – unless you want to be outside with a pickaxe or jackhammer!

Eating all your parsnips up before new leaves sprout in spring shouldn’t be a problem – the roots are irresistible after all. My sweet-toothed tendency is to roast the roots with just a touch of honey to help the sweetness along. The result is a lip-smackingly sticky finish that makes the long wait worth it.

By Benedict Vanheems.

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Show Comments


"I love me some Parsnip. I left some in the ground in zone 6 right thru the winter. I was suprised to see green tops pushing through? Is it possible they will be good? regrown? Or do they just continue to grow.... the last ones were almost 18 inches long and a couple pounds each. Do they get any bigger?"
Edmund on Saturday 31 March 2012
"I grew parsnips for the first time last year. they grew to a fair size but suffered badly from canker. They were a canker resistant variety. Can anyone offer any advice on how to avoid this problem? Many thanks."
Joyce on Saturday 31 March 2012
"Hi Edmund. Parsnips are a biennial, so they sit through winter to flower in their second year. The roots will re-sprout in their second year but will not be good eating. As the shoots develop the reserves in the roots will be used up, rendering them rather tough and losing their sweetness. Hi Joyce. You are doing well growing a canker resistant variety. Other ways to avoid this disease is to make sure you practice rigorous crop rotation so one year's parsnips do not immediately follow on the same ground as the previous year's parsnips. Good drainage and the application of a balanced fertiliser to the soil will also help prevent this disease."
Benedict Vanheems on Saturday 31 March 2012
"I come from a farming family in Devon and have retired to Andalucía, southern Spain, still wanting to grow veggies here. Planting times are completely different - can anyone advise, please?"
Vivien Sutcliffe on Saturday 31 March 2012
"Hi Vivien. I would imagine you would be able to sow parsnips much earlier in the year as the soil will be that much warmer that much sooner. However, to develop the sweetness in the roots you grow you would perhaps need to pop them in the freezer for a few hours before using them (assuming winters arrive later in Andalucía) - in this way some of the starch will break down before cooking."
Benedict Vanheems on Wednesday 4 April 2012
"Re soil temperatures; The mind boggles- I can picture it now; all us gardeners keen to get it right! ........ Yes you are right - test the soil with the elbow- the alternative creates a sight for prying eyes"
peta in France on Friday 6 April 2012
"Eating parsnips try roasting them with a dash or two of balsamic- wonderful for those of us on a diet"
peta in France on Friday 6 April 2012
"Thanks Peta in France. My Grandfather used the alternative! I prefer the elbow test. I´ll try your culinary tip when I succeed in growing the parsnips."
Vivien in Spain. on Friday 6 April 2012
"What is the elbow test? Also, I'm in Scottsdale Arizona, when is it optimum to sow parsnip seeds here? I love your site, I can't believe how much you've grown since I planned and built 14 raised bed for my first garden with your design program in 2009. Congratulations on a job well done!"
Lisa Redwine on Friday 6 April 2012
"Well, put your elbow into the earth. If it feels pleasantly warm, sow your seeds."
Vivien in Spain on Friday 6 April 2012
"I plant parsnips in small sprouting pots with planting soil purchased at the local garden center. When they are about 1" high I transplant them to mounded rows in my garden. I don't have a clue what I did right last summer, but after ignoring them until about November I dug one up that was 5" in diameter at the top and over two feet long. Many others were almost that big, and all were absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I've been harvesting about two a week for dinners all winter, and plan to grow them again this summer."
Michael McBride on Saturday 7 April 2012
"I had real trouble last year, only harvesting 5 out of about 50 :-( and I used fresh seeds. This year I have used seed trays to bring them along and will be transplanting them when the risk of further frosts has reduce. I assume there is no problems with transplanting (as implied by Michael McBride)?"
Rob in Colden Common on Wednesday 18 April 2012
"Hi Rob. Generally its best to sow root crops such as parsnip directly where they are to grow. But you could try transplanting them while they are still very small and well before the main taproot starts to develop. I haven't done this personally - I always so direct and thin as appropriate. Good luck though - let us know how you get on."
Benedict Vanheems on Wednesday 18 April 2012
"Thank you Benedict for the great information, and Rob, Benedict is right about not waiting too long to transplant. I had some that were rather starting to get root bound in the tiny pots, and when they grew large in the ground they had some unusual root shapes on some. Most of mine, however, turned out to have two or three main taproots about the size of normal single root parsnips for sale in the stores! I planted some salsify seeds the same way (similar to parsnips, but different flavor), and they came out like totally deformed creatures from a monster movie :-) Good luck with this year's crop, however you decide to start them! "
Michael McBride on Wednesday 18 April 2012
"Does it help to have the soil amended with a bit of sand do the para ops can push when they grow?"
Lisa Redwine on Wednesday 18 April 2012
"There's a school of thought amongst old allotment gardeners that parsnip seeds should be sown covered with soil, then covered with a plank. The theory being that it's always damp under a plank, so they dont dry out during the three or so weeks it takes to germinate. Having had poor germination in 2011 (dry April) I'm trying this approach in 2012. Rows 15" apart, covered with old scaffolding planks. Slug pellets under the planks, otherwise I'd imagine it would be the ideal hiding place. "
John Morris on Saturday 28 April 2012
"we are wondering, now that we let some of our parsnips plants from last year went to seed... should I resow with this seed asap? It just turned brown on the heads. "
Amy M. on Thursday 9 August 2012
"Hi Amy. If your parsnip seed is not from an F1 hybrid variety - ie a standard variety - then it may be worth trying to save and sow your own seeds. Make sure the seeds are properly dried out then store them over winter in brown paper envelopes in a cool, dry place. Sow them in spring once the soil has warmed up again, as above. Do not keep stored seed longer than a year, however, as the viability drops dramatically. Good luck with it!"
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 20 August 2012
"Last year I started my seed on wet kitchen roll and as soon as they sprouted, I transplanted them into compost filled loo roll middles. As soon as they started to grow leaves I dug holes and put garden compost in the bottom and then placed the loo roll into the hole. The parsnips were 95% successful. "
Liz Whitwam on Friday 29 March 2013
"I planted out seedlings and they are all doing really well, they are in raised beds with good soil. My only question it that the leaves are about a 18 inches high! Is this normal? They look seriously big! "
Martin Yates on Monday 15 July 2013
"Hi Martin. This is quite normal - the foliage can get quite hefty. It bodes well for good-sized roots!"
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 15 July 2013
"Thank you Ben, I am much relieved."
Martin Yates on Monday 15 July 2013
"Why are the parsnip tops starting to show signs of yellowing when they looked so healthy green before?"
Carol Flannery on Thursday 18 July 2013
"How do you keep the worms from eating your parsnips?"
Sandy Snyder on Monday 29 July 2013
"Hi Sandy. The worms you mention may be wireworms, which tend to affect land that has recently been converted from grassland or weeds. Grow your parsnips on a new patch of land next year - the wireworms should disappear with time. Try encouraging more birds to your garden also - hang feeders and bird boxes. When you come to harvest your parsnips, turn the soil over so that wireworm predators - mainly birds - can snap up any exposed larvae."
Benedict Vanheems on Thursday 8 August 2013
"Hi Carol. Your parsnips may have parsnip canker - a disease caused by drought conditions or overly rich soil. Avoid the disease in future by sowing resistant varieties such as 'Avonresister', taking care not to damage roots and sowing only when the soil has warmed up in spring."
Benedict Vanheems on Thursday 8 August 2013
"My husband and I have had an allotment for 40 years and have generally grown parsnips succcessfully (some years better than others), but our parnips this year have developed brown leaves which are crisp and dry to the touch. Any idea what this is and whether it will effect the parnsip under the ground?"
Pauline on Tuesday 13 August 2013
"Hi Pauline. I'm not sure what could be causing this - it could be a secondary effect of carrot root fly or celery leaf fly, which ultimately causes leaves to shrivel. If the leaves are dying off then the roots beneath will stop growing. I'd cut away any infected leaves, keeping the healthy ones, and see if the plants recover to produce good roots. I'd also try lifting a few roots to check for damage here - if there is damage then, unfortunately, your crop may be gone for this season."
Benedict Vanheems on Thursday 15 August 2013
"I've had 5 plants come up out of about 30 seeds. I'm growing them in QLD sub tropical so not sure bout timing. They have been in two months now. I'm thinking of sowing some more using some of the tips on this site. Thanks so much for the info. My current favourite parsnip dish is roasting them as chips in virgin coconut oil a sqeeze of lime juce and a dash of cayenne - with baked barramundi. My version of healthy fish and chips! "
Jen Hall on Saturday 14 September 2013
"Hi Jen, thanks for letting us know progress. Good luck! Your barramundi approach sounds incredibly warming and delicious, especially on a wet and windy day here in Britain!"
Benedict Vanheems on Sunday 15 September 2013
"Help please, new to gardening, i have a very small area at the back kf my south facing garden, enough room for three bigish raised beds, greenhouse and lots of pots. Can i plant parsnips in large pots? When should i plant them? Thank you"
Jacqui trice on Saturday 21 September 2013
"Hi Jacqui. You can indeed plant parsnips in large pots. THe best time to sow the seeds would be as soon as the weather is warm enough - usually mid spring. In the UK, for example, this would be between about late March and late April, depending on local conditions. Use multipurpose compost. There are also some varieties of parsnip you can harvest as 'baby' roots - these are sweet and ideal if you're into your fine haute cuisine!"
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 23 September 2013
"Thanks B, do the benefit from being planted now, kept in unheated greenhouse to overwinter and then moved outside in the spring, so keen to get on and have started at the wrong end of the season. Looks like i will have to spend the next few minths planning and reading the seed catalogues lol"
Jacqui trice on Monday 23 September 2013
"Hi Jacqui. You are best waiting until spring - there's no advantage to starting now as the plants would probably just bolt (run to seed) next spring without producing proper roots if you did this. You could think about planting autumn-planting onions sets and broad beans over the autumn. Or winter salads if you are able to offer them the protection of an unheated greenhouse."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 23 September 2013
"Hi Benedict. I posted in August about the brown shrivelled leaves on my parsnips and you advised to cut them off, which I did. I did notice that there was tiny tiny black insects rolled up in the folds of the leaves. However, pleased to say that the parsnips have not been unduly affected as I can see that the crowns of the parsnips are getting big. I will not dig them up until the first frosts though. Thanks again for your sound advice."
Pauline on Monday 23 September 2013
"That's really super news Pauline - glad it's turned out well. Enjoy those parsnips - the rewards will be sweet!"
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 23 September 2013
"This article will help the internet visitors for building up new web site or even a blog from start to end."
Stansbury on Monday 30 September 2013
"Hi, I sowed parsnips for the first time this year, they seem to have done well - lots of foliage, big roots, no pest problems - but the four I've picked have been really dry. I roasted some and steamed some but all were equally dry. Can you advise as to what may have caused this and if there's a way to improve rest of my crop. Thanks. "
Lynette on Friday 4 October 2013
"this is great info and comments grew parsnips last yr did not no what i was doing just xping got some psnps in nov after frost set in poured hot water on them to harvest great taste this yr 3 pots 2x2 sq ft size fells good so far when i root around waiting in aticipation willpost # and sze when dug up john k in que can "
johnkelly on Saturday 12 October 2013
"My parsnips had the most prolific looking folliage ever, however I had a look at a couple and they are not long carrot shaped things but a sort of ball just below the surface of the earth, with long tendril like things that just wrap around the parsnip and shoot off in loads of directions.....hmmm not sure why that happened. Any ideas....and are the still edible? "
Martin on Monday 14 October 2013
"Hi Martin. It could be that your soil is very stony or had been recently manured - both of which can cause roots to do strange things! The roots will still be edible, so don't worry about that. Next spring just make sure you sow them into well-prepared soil that will allow a good, deep root run."
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 22 October 2013
"Thanks Ben, but they were in very deep raised beds and the soil was all new top soil, with no stones at all. Maybe it was too pure? Anyway thanks for answering the question. Glad I can still eat them!"
Martin on Tuesday 22 October 2013
"I grow parsnip all the time for 5 years now in a small 4x4 bedd that I had dug about 18 inches deep at least the bottom 6 to 8 inches was sand the top part about 10 inches was regular garden soil with a little sand mixed into it well admended with organic espoma fertilizer some powdered lime,shredded comphrey leaves,fish bone meal,wood ash,shredded mostly decomposed maple leaves from the yard,this year I anmend the same atleast 2 weeks before planting seed,but will additionally add soft rock phosphate,I also put a small amount of blood meal into soil,and a very small amount of freshly decomposed cow manure from my farmer neighbor friend,I plant them 1 inch apart in the rows and row in bed 3 inches apart always,I pick some after frost hits and always let them stay in soil over winter cover with shredded leaves and periodically pick them all winter long but this small bed is attached to my permanant cold frome with a thermal double pain glass 3 feet by 7 feet this keeps everything pretty much not frozen alot of my parsnip were 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches big very healthy and 10 to 15 inches long I never put my rows 12 to 16 inches apart never had a problem alway a great harvest just need to keep the soil yearly admended with the proper natuaral mineral and organic substances!hope this helps I am a raised bed intensified gardener and it is great cause on an average you can get 300 to 400 percent more crop on the same parcel of land as conventional gardening it take more effort to get the beds first built and made but year and year after that it is almost 10 tomes less work to maintain in weeding,prep,watering,admending,ect,ect,at end of each season in zone 6 in connecticut I admend my soil,turn in some shredded leaves making sure there is plenty of nitrogen to feed the bacteria to break down the leaves,vegetable matter ect then cover it with almost six inches of shredded leave and let it sit all winter long and it is readt to go in the spring with fresh rich soil "
george bouthillier on Sunday 6 April 2014
"Hi George. I'm very impressed by your yields, which just goes to prove the value of thorough soil amendment. Hope this year's parsnip crop works out just as well for you."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 7 April 2014
"Hi my hubby and I have had an allotment for 5 years and although we have produced some great veg we have no success at all with carrots or parsnips.We grow from seed and transplant the seedlings into the plot, although the foliage is strong and healthy we get stumpy,twisted and multipul roots . Please can anyone help us to grow these veg with success. Thanks"
debbie on Friday 15 August 2014
"Hi Debbie. Firstly, it is always best to sow root vegetables with a long tap root, such as carrots and parsnips, directly where they are to grow, rather than transplanting them. They don't take well to transplanting. Secondly, the soil for root vegetables need to be stone-free and not too heavily manured, both of which can cause roots to fork, twist and take on all manner of weird shapes. Sow into well-prepared soil that was manured/had composted added for a previous crop. Sow only once the soil has warmed up properly in spring. Good luck - let me know how you get on with future sowings. "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 24 August 2014
"What has happened to the variety Avonresister? I used to grow it very successfully, but for the past two years I have been unable to find the seed anywhere. Does anyone have a recommended alternative for very heavy (London clay!) soil?"
Tony Pitt on Wednesday 4 March 2015
"Hi Tony. The variety 'Gladiator' has an Award of Garden Merit and is meant to be very good for heavy soils - though I confess I haven't personally grown it."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 5 March 2015
"I always seem to be able to germinate the plants and get them growing in a normal bed with good foliage.however when I come to dig up the roots they are all split and coiled up and short which is so disappointing. Some people have said stones in the soil may cause this but surely I don't need to sieve every last pebble like last year....any ideas"
Jules on Sunday 8 March 2015
"Hi Jules. It could be that the soil is very stony, or that it has recently had lots of fresh manure added. Either can cause roots to split. I wouldn't suggest sieving out every stone, but try to pick an area of the garden that is less stoney. Failing that you could grow them in raised beds with potting soil added. Only ever grow parsnips on ground that had manure added for a previous crop - not fresh manure."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 9 March 2015
"Hello, We have parsnips that are coming up wild every year in our garden. The plants grow to be 4 and 4 feet tall, flowering and my wife says they taste too woody. Should we be trimming back the tops so they won't flower? They start coming up now (March in CO) and they have flowers by late June. My wife would be happy if I could figure out how to grow them and have them be edible. thanks"
Dave on Thursday 12 March 2015
"I currently have some parsnips in my kitchen and they seem to be growing in the packet I bought them in can i plant this one as a whole parsnip and will it grow like my spuds do?? "
Carl on Friday 13 March 2015
"Hi Dave. Parsnips are usually eaten before they flower - so sown in the spring to harvest during the following fall/winter. I imagine that if they are reaching flowering point, the roots will probably be tougher as they are quite old by that point. My suggestion would be to sow fresh each spring and harvest during the following winter. If they are seeding themselves, then harvest them well before they flower."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 March 2015
"Hi Carl. If the parsnips sees have started to grow in the packet you can plant space them out as seeds and cover them over to the correct depth. They will have given you a head start, so they will be raring to go. Some growers pre-sprout parsnip seeds on damp kitchen towel/paper - then plant them out once they have sprouted a root."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 March 2015
"Thank you for your reply but the parsnip was in the bag from asda so it was a fully grown one but now it is sprouting out of the actual parsnip thanks again carl"
carl on Tuesday 17 March 2015
"Ah, I see Carl. Apologies for the confusion! You are best not planting those parsnips, as they will just grow and bolt (flower) to the detriment of the root. Better off growing fresh parsnip from seed."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 18 March 2015
"Hello, just wanted to thanks for all your advise here. I grow my first parsnips last year with some sucess, as I live in Tunisia (north) with cold winters and hot summers I am just discovering what will grow here. I liked the tip on putting the parsnips in the freezer for a few hours before use. Thanks again chaps."
Kim Williams on Wednesday 25 March 2015
"You are very welcome Kim - keep up the growing!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 25 March 2015
"Can you possibly post or link to a picture of new parsnip seedlings? I can't tell if what I am seeing in my garden are parsnips or weeds (I have never attempted them before now)."
Jack on Saturday 28 March 2015
"Hi Jack. The third picture in the article above shows parsnip seedlings of about four weeks old. Otherwise I'd suggest typing 'parsnip seedling' into a search engine and selecting the 'images' option to see a complete gallery of parsnip seedling pictures."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 March 2015
"Hi I live in Houston, TX which is zone 9a. I want to grow parsnips but not sure if it will make it through our summers here. I saw on the almanac planting calender for my zone showing planting outdoors early Feb.(when danger of frost disappears) and harvest them in June and then again plant them in September and harvest them anywhere between Dec. and Feb. This is confusing to me because after reading all the comments above and reading several planting sites about how to grow this veggie, none of them suggest such a small growing season. Do any of yall know if the parsnips can make it through summers with occasional 100-103 but usually constant 98 degree weather and not die? I am just not sure if such a small growing season will give proper time for them to develop. What do yall think? This will be my first time planting them. "
Elizabeth Chapman on Friday 10 April 2015
"Hi Elizabeth. I have no experience of growing in such heat - we are lucky to get 80 where I grow. I would suggest perhaps try sowing and seeing how you get on. The risk is that they may run to seed early in such heat, but you could always try rigging up a shade-casting net over the parsnips to keep them a little cooler. And also, you'll need to water if it's dry. What do others think?"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 April 2015
"our question concerns the preperation of the parsnip for eating. After washing the product and halfing it, top tp bottom ,you notice an inner core. This takes up about half of the veggy. Is this due to the type of parsnip , or do we cook the whole plant? Our plant is named Hollow Crown."
Daynard Welsh on Thursday 14 May 2015
"Hi Daynard. Cook and eat the whole root - core and all. It's all good stuff. I like parsnips roasted with garlic."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Hi there! Late last summer, I sowed parsnip seeds - not realizing they needed a long growing time. When the snow melted, I saw tiny sprouts, and now, I have very tall greens. I am in zone 5a. I now know these guys need cold for flavor. Do you think they will be ok to eat? what exactly happened here? Thanks! "
kelly on Thursday 21 May 2015
"Hi Kelly. There's a chance they may grow decent roots this year, but my suspicion is that they will bolt (go to flower) so you won't get much in the way of roots. I would start again as soon as possible with fresh seed (the seed doesn't keep from year to year). That way you'll get nice big roots by winter. Good luck with it!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 21 May 2015
"Well Danish Welsh just slightly peel the thin shin and hairs off and simply boil or better yet steam them retains better flavor and vitiman content and as for you Kelly wait until at least until one or two frost then it will sweeten the flavor if you pick them before the cold frost they taste very bland and has not produced the content in the parsnip to its natural type nutty honey flavor you definitly need to wait for a couple of cold snaps before picking or you probably will not like the taste it is like night and day it is essential to harvest only afetr the cold spells"
George Bouthillier on Thursday 21 May 2015
"I notice you mention amending soil w balance fertiliser. We have really sandy soil where we intend to grow parsnips, I am currently amending soil w compost, I have been reluctant to add fertiliser in case the effect is similar to fresh manure. Pls can you advise application rate per sq.m of fertiliser. And how often through the crop life should we apply fertiliser? Mtxs"
ExoticParsnip on Thursday 4 June 2015
"Also, with the idea of sowing radish amongst the parsnip seed - when you harvest the radish isn't there a chance that the parsnip seedlings can be disturbed?"
ExoticParsnip on Thursday 4 June 2015
"Hi ExoticParsnip. I tend to just apply a handful of chicken manure pellets or general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore - one handful per square metre / nine square feet. But this is only a very rough guide - I'd see what it says on the packet that you buy. To be honest if your soil has plenty of compost added, you may not need any fertiliser. The roots will head down in search of nutrients and water. With regards sowing radishes in among parsnip seeds, you are right - you need to be very careful when extracting the radishes. I 'hold down' the soil around the radishes with my fingers when pulling up the radishes with my other hand. With care there's no harm to the still young parsnips."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 June 2015
"Many thanks Ben, my mind is at peace now!"
ExoticParsnip on Monday 8 June 2015
"Re transplanting parsnips: last year I sowed one row with saved seed and it failed, so I transplanted thinnings from the other rows. They grew ok, but were mostly horrible shapes (multifurcated!)"
Caroline DM on Saturday 20 June 2015
"Great article on parsnips. I would like a copy if that is possible. Details to follow"
D.M. Welsh on Sunday 21 June 2015
"I have very heavy, stony clay soil.Last year I made large, deep holes in my raised beds and filled them with a mixture of compost and sand. The parsnips were huge and had not produced forked roots. This year I am growing a variety called Parsnip 'Kral Russian', a small turnip shaped parsnip said to be good for stony, heavy soil. I don't like big parsnips so I am hoping that this variety will do well."
Joyce Langan on Sunday 21 June 2015
"Can the seed heads of parsnips be eaten, they look like tender stem broccoli, but smaller and more delicate."
AiJ on Thursday 25 June 2015
"Hi AiJ. I don't think there's anything wrong with eating the seed heads, but I wouldn't imagine they'd be very tender or worth eating - probably quite tough. If you ever try it, let us know how you get on!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 25 June 2015
"Can I trim the leaves on my growing parsnips and can they be eaten?"
Tonia Plant on Sunday 19 July 2015
"Hi Tonia. I have personally never eaten the leaves and there seems to be a lot of conflict on people's advice as to whether they are edible or not. I suspect they would be quite tough, though possibly good for eating cooked. The sap of fresh leaves can cause a skin reaction in some people. That said, I have heard of the leaves being used to flavour soups. The Plants for a Future listing for parsnips is here: I would always err on the side of caution - there are lots of quick-growing salad leaves you can eat instead. Eg:"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 July 2015
"Root crops are subject to damage from root maggots,wire worms, etc. When preparing your seedbed, first spread an inch of wood ashes over the seedbed, mix deeply into the soil and wait a week or so before planting. Top dress lightly after spouts grow to about two inches and once a month after that. Works well for me. "
Paul Moore on Saturday 29 August 2015
"I've grown parsnips from seed, thinned them out and they looked really healthy. However they have thrown a very large amount of top growth, with only a small parsnip to show. What have I done wrong? Should I just leave them to finish growing, or should I clip some of the top growth off? Your advice would be much appreciated. "
Geoffrey Bishop on Wednesday 2 September 2015
"Hi Geoffrey. Just leave them to finish growing. They do put on a lot of leaf growth, but the roots should swell with time. Let them carry on growing undisturbed. The roots are best harvested after a spell of cold weather, which sweetens the roots a little."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 September 2015
"Hi Benedict, I have read your responses to all the parsnip problems and wonder if you can help me. I successfully grow decent sized parsnips (I use parsnip seed tape) but by the time my parsnips are ready to harvest they have really woody cores which don't make for pleasant eating and are fiddly to remove. How do I avoid this in the future? Thanks"
Alyson on Sunday 18 October 2015
"Hi Alyson. The only thing I can think of is that the parsnips are too old by the time you're harvesting them - in which case they will have a woody core - or they are of a variety that might be predisposed to woody cores. I'd suggest harvesting them as soon as they are of a useable size, plus seek out varieties that are specifically described as being absent of a woody core - there are plenty of these about, especially of the F1 hybrid types."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 October 2015
"Have 2 x old parsnips growing a copious quantity of seeds as we head into mid-spring here in Southern Tasmania. If I want to try to save the seed, what is the best way to do so and when do I seek to take it?"
Dick on Sunday 25 October 2015
"We live in Southern Bali, Indonesia and we are often given packets of seeds, including parsnips from the UK and also Australia to try. We are fully aware of what will and will not grow in the tropical climate although we are surprised with some that should not! We learnt the hard way with root vegetables, one should sow where they are to grow! Although the comment on germinating parsnips on wet tissue was brilliant, thank you. My query is can I plant all year round and harvest when mature? I cannot wait for the "frost"! "
David Turner on Monday 26 October 2015
"Hi Dick. Just collect the seeds once they have clearly matured - they should be dry and flake away easily from the seed head. This would be, I imagine, towards the middle of summer. Absolutely love Tasmania by the way - spend a very happy few months in and around Hobart."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 26 October 2015
"Hi David. I have to be honest here and admit I'm not entirely sure. Parsnips are usually sown in spring, but the seasons where you are hot all the time! If you are able to sow and grow successfully year round, then I would advise simply to harvest the parsnips once they reach the correct size."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 26 October 2015
"Hi Benedict... I'm an absolute growing novice, having only got a garden this winter. I am wanting to grow parsnips (amongst a wealthy of other over-ambitions growing plans), and could I start them in those little seedling pots in a sunny window, as apposed to on a wadding / kitchen roll method? Then simply transfer these to the garden patch?"
Jay on Wednesday 23 March 2016
"Hi Jay. Welcome to your new hobby - you'll love growing I promise! With regards parsnips, you could try starting them off in tall seedlings pots first and then planting them out. You will need to make sure you plant them out before the long taproot becomes constrained, so that it won't cause an odd-shaped root. And you will need to ensure this is just one plant per pot. However, with all long-rooted crops, including carrots, it's always preferable to sow them as seeds/just-germinated seedlings. The secret is to wait until the soil is warm enough - don't sow too early or they will just sulk! Good luck with your growing."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 24 March 2016
"We have had good success with root crops by creating a raised bed made from stacked pallets. We remove the slats on the lower pallets, fill with a loose mixture of garden soil, compost and sand, then sow seeds between the slats on the top pallet. The roots are free to stretch as deeply as they desire, resulting in beautiful, long, straight veggies. We are careful to water, as these beds can dry out quickly, but the results are exciting!"
Ginger on Thursday 2 June 2016
"That sounds like a brilliant idea - very resourceful!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 2 June 2016
"I cut the top of of several parsnips last thanksgiving and planted them in organic soil. Several grew leaves but one worthy plant survived and was planted today, 06/06/16. I am beside myself as I've never grown parsnips and wondered how many will produce from one plant? Can I pull them out whilst they continue to produce? Any help/advice is most welcome. Thank you. "
Anne Marie on Monday 6 June 2016
"Hi Ann Marie. Each plant produces one root. While the parsnip top has grown off strongly, it is unlikely to produce a new root. This is because it will be in its second year of growth, which is when the plant produces its flowers to produce the seeds of the next generation. I would keep on growing it though, because the flowers are beautiful and will attract lots of beneficial insects such as syrphid flies/hoverflies. If you want roots, however, it's always best to start with fresh seed each spring."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 June 2016
"Thanks for this most helpful information."
Anne Marie on Monday 6 June 2016
"having read that marigolds roots exude a chemical of some sort that nematodes do not like, we have been planting marigold seeds next to sweet potatoes. also as trying to plant root veg where previous garden was so is less quack grass which is said to be where nematodes are. am assuming that marigolds might also repel insect damage on parsnips? Is there a heirloom type of parsnip, that is good to save seed from? "
dee on Saturday 25 June 2016
"Hi Dee. I wasn't aware that marigold roots repelled nematodes - this is very useful to know! I would imagine that if they do indeed repel them for sweet potatoes then the same would be true for parsnips."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 27 June 2016
"Hi Dee. I wasn't aware that marigold roots repelled nematodes - this is very useful to know! I would imagine that if they do indeed repel them for sweet potatoes then the same would be true for parsnips."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 27 June 2016
"I have planted parsnips for the first time this year so I am unsure about them , the leaves appear to be wilting and maybe dying off is this normal and how much longer do they need to be left before harvesting they were planted in March . Thanks"
Malc Ball on Thursday 7 July 2016
"Hi Malc. There could be a few things affecting your parsnips. Root knot nematodes and leafhoppers can both cause the sort of damage you are describing. Look this up online for treatments. Normally parsnips are lifted from late fall/autumn onwards. The roots become especially sweet and delicious after the first hard frost, so depending on where you are you may need to wait as late as November. But basically they can be harvested as soon as they reach a use-able size."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 7 July 2016
"Thanks Ben I'll check that out"
Malc Ball on Thursday 7 July 2016
"I'm a first-time gardener in every sense and planted everything including parsnips. Two of them look like regular but two of them have gotten ridiculously large considering it's the end of August. They are already 5 inch diameter! Am I supposed to leave them in the ground for another two months or should I pull them up already? Two of them are already pushing themselves up and one turn sideways I think because the ground is so hard. Love any feedback or advice :-)"
Kenya QC on Monday 29 August 2016
"Sometimes parsnips grow very big indeed! Parsnips are best harvested once the weather turns cold, and ideally after the first hard frost. That said, you can of course lift them up to use as soon as they are big enough. It sounds like your two whopper-parsnips may well be ready to lift and enjoy, though you could leave them till the weather turns cold, when the flesh turns a bit sweeter. As long as the plants just have leafy growth and aren't flowering then you're fine to leave them until you're ready. They should all be eaten up by early spring."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 30 August 2016
"Hi, I live in Michigan. Is it ok to leave them in the ground all winter and harvest in the spring when the ground thaws? "
Todd on Saturday 6 May 2017
"Hi Todd. Yes, you could do that. I would be inclined to lift a whole load of roots before the ground freezes solid though. That way you can enjoy some of the roots during the winter too. Keep the lifted roots in a cool but frost free place such as a garage, stored in crates of moist sand. But yes, you could alternatively just lift them in the spring or as soon as the ground starts to defrost and you're able to get a digging fork into the ground to lift them up."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 May 2017
"Hi, I have another question about asparagus. Can I mulch the bed after harvest when I am done cutting, and if so, how thick?"
Todd on Tuesday 30 May 2017
"Hi Todd. Yes, you could mulch the bed after cutting - a thin layer, maybe an inch (2cm) thick scattered among the fronds would work well. It's probably best, however, to mulch in the winter, once the ferny foliage has turned yellow and you've cut them back to ground level. That way there's a nice even, plumptious layer of organic matter for when spring returns and growth gets going again."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 June 2017
"I have read with much interest all the articles about growing Parsnips and Carrots. I too have had lots of failures. But I am quite confident that after reading all your advice, next year is going to be a success. (Fingers crossed )"
Sue Rowell on Thursday 7 September 2017
"My parsnips are small and deformed, any ideas"
William Paris on Monday 25 September 2017
"i tried to grow parsnips in india in the higher himalayas where its cold.....they seemed good plants but all leaves and no roots and the one or two that had the expected tap roots were so hard......we could not even cut them with a knife. what did i do wrong?"
Sheila Varghese on Monday 22 January 2018
"Hi Sheila. I'm not sure why your parsnips would have got so hard. Generally parsnips are best harvested in their first year - so in the winter following sowing. It may simply be that the parsnips were left too long before harvesting, so the roots had become very gnarled and hard with age."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 23 January 2018
"Hi Ben. Thanks What about the "all leaves" and hardly any root for most plants? "
Sheila on Saturday 10 March 2018
"It's good to see someone's comment about using a board and pesticide to help promote germination. I tried something similar. Before I saw the comment here, I thought about how to prepare an ideal planting bed, before the ground would be too warm. In the southern U.S., I think the best time to plant parsnips is the fall, allowing time for the seeds to go through the cold that they NEED (the stratification that they NEED) before germination, and then allowing the mature parsnips to have the cold they need in early spring. But I felt I could do just as well sowing in January here, with a clear plastic tarp over the damp bed for three or so weeks, with Sluggo pellets beneath the plastic. Parsnips will germinate in soil as cool as 45 degrees F, and, with plastic and not too much water they should do okay, by God's grace."
K. Johnson on Monday 26 March 2018
"I’d love to know how they do and whether or not they germinate. Please let us know. And good luck with them."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 26 March 2018
"This is my 1st time growing parsnips. I planted in a 10 inch high raised bed. My question is, if they grow longer, will they be able to break through the horrendous clay soil under my raised bed?"
Sue on Wednesday 23 May 2018
"If you've put good stuff into the raised bed, including organic matter such as compost, then you'll find that the clay soil underneath will have softened and become crumblier as a result of earthworms and other creatures moving between the soil and the raised bed. So, in theory, your parsnips should be fine and should grow into the soil layer below. But if they don't this year because, for example, the bed is still very new, then 10 inches is still a good height for a homegrown parsnip and you should be very proud of your achievement!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 24 May 2018
"Parsnips can be difficult to grow. Here are a few tips, that works for me. Always use new seeds. Do not plant on fresh manured ground. To prevent low flying female carrot root fly from laying on the soil next to your parsnips, simply construct a 2 foot high clear PVC barrier. Use lots of poles and pegs to stop it going airborne in strong winds. Another great tip is to plant mint in pots and marigolds around your site to confuse the fly. My last tip is, if you suffer from split roots year on year due to stones. Push an old broom handle 1 foot deep into the soil and using a circular stirring action, make a cone shaped hole. fill this hole with good (stone free) compost then transplant your seedling into this prepared hole. Good luck with your growing."
Step on Monday 18 March 2019
"Hi Step. Thanks very much for those tips - really useful. Especially love the last tip about avoiding split roots - a genius idea!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 19 March 2019
"There is certainly a wealth of information on the WEB concerning parsnips. I live in Canada where temperatures can be a concern at times especially for certain plants. Parsnips being one. I have found the pre germinate seed method works best. Even that can be a patience tryer. However once the seeds do germinate I place them in toilet paper rolls, 4" size filled with screened soil. I continue to grow on until the tops have matured somewhat (2"). Keep in mind the root will grow faster, hence the toilet roll to allow for nice straight root. Àt about the 2" tops size I transplant into garden. Parsnips do not like rocks. To get nice straight parsnips I create a 10-12 " hole with a 2" round tapered stake. You will get prize winning parsnips every time if you put the effort in. One last item. Parsnips love cold ground after they mature. Close to freezing in fact. It has something to do with the sugars in the vegatable. I mulch my root vegatables before frost and mark my rows for a guide when the snow comes. The soil does not freeze and we have fresh root veggies all winter on demand."
Robert Tompson on Friday 17 May 2019
"That's brilliant advice Robert, many thanks for that. Parsnips do have a tendency to turn a bit sweeter in response to the cold, which makes them even more delicious."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 May 2019
"I planted parsnips for the first time in new raised beds last season.. (Great organic soil, compost and well rotted Manure mix, reputable dealer) they grew beautifully, leafy green tops, big white roots, I was very excited. When I pulled/dug one up I was so surprised.. it was spongy. I have pulled others on occasion through the winter and they are also spongy not mushy. They feel like firm yet wilted veg. Any suggestions as to what I did wrong? They were fresh seeds from a reputable seed supplier. "
Sue on Monday 27 January 2020
"Hi Sue. This could be due to a number of reasons. Keeping the soil moist throughout the growing season helps to keep the roots nice and dense. Sometimes leaving the roots in the ground for too long can lead roots to turn a bit woody, and possibly spongy - were they spongy right from the first roots lifted? I wonder also whether the manure mix might have had an effect. Parsnips tend to fair better on slightly less rich soil, so I suspect the excellent fertility may have been a factor in this instance. Also, some varieties are less susceptible to going woody/spongy than others, so seek out varieties described as tender or not susceptible to going woody."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 27 January 2020
"Thank you Ben for such a quick response:) I will try parsnips in a different area on the property this year with maybe less fertile soil. I will also look for seeds listed with your recommendation of tender, not susceptible to going woody. And to answer your question, yes they were spongy from the first one pulled:( Side note: I have learned so much from your videos . I have been watching them now for about two years. I have implemented your rotation method in 7new beds. Alliums, legumes, brassica, night shade, umbilifer, curcubit and then beetroot family (other) . I’d love to show you how beautiful the garden was. Thank you again:) "
Sue on Monday 27 January 2020
"Hi Sue. Thanks for the response, and it's great to hear you're getting so much from the videos - that means a lot and makes it all worthwhile. Good luck with the parsnips for this coming growing season."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 28 January 2020

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