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10 Tips for Successfully Growing Parsnips

10 Tips for Successfully Growing Parsnips

If you’ve never grown nor tasted parsnips, you don’t know what you’re missing! Although parsnips look like white carrots, they are not the same.

Parsnips are traditionally synonymous with Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas and many comforting fall meals. They’re often included in a roasted root vegetable dish, in pureed soups or roasted chicken.  So delicious and sweet that they’re definitely worth adding to your garden.

In this post, I share tips for growing parsnips for a successful harvest.

10 Tips for Successfully Growing Parsnips

Parsnips ready for harvest in the fall, after cucumber plants have been removed from the bed.

Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are a member of the Apiaceae family. Cousins with parsley, carrots, celery and others, it is also related to the toxic plant, Giant Hogweed. Although parsnips are grown for their delicious roots, be careful when handling their foliage. I recommend wearing gloves when harvesting. Then, prior to bringing them indoors, remove all the foliage and add it to the compost bin. 

However, don’t let this deter you from growing your own.  In all my years of growing them, I’ve never experienced a problem, as it’s more common once parsnips go to seed in the second year. If you have sensitive skin, it would be better to wear gloves, just in case.

As mentioned above, parsnips are delicious boiled, roasted, baked, stewed or cooked in soups.  They have a unique flavour and sweetness, that increases during cooking.

Parsnips are very simple to grow, similar to carrots. They are better sown directly in the garden, then patience is required while we wait for them to germinate and grow. 

I have 10 parsnip growing tips to make your growing experience more successful.

10 Tips for Successfully Growing Parsnips

  1. Approximately 2 weeks before the final frost date, sow your parsnip seeds. Parsnips have a long growing window and need an average growing period of 110 days from sowing to harvest.
  2. Sow seeds directly, as parsnips do not transplant well.
  3. Parsnips are very slow to germinate, often causing gardeners to give up on the seeds thinking they didn’t germinate or losing track of where they planted them. To help keep track of parsnip rows, sow radish seeds in between the parsnip seeds, about 1 radish seed to every 4-5 parsnip seeds. The radishes will germinate quickly and be ready for harvest just as the parsnip seedlings start emerging from the ground. This makes for a much better use of garden space and allows for a more productive garden bed. 
  4. Water well until seedlings emerge from the soil and establish themselves. Since parsnips take approximately 3 weeks to germinate, this step shouldn’t be missed. This is especially true during a hot and dry summer.  Once the soil dries out, the seeds too will dry out affecting germination.
  5. Parsnips perform better in compost-rich soil. Be sure to top the soil with 2 inches of compost, prior to planting. Top the soil, but don’t work it in. Wait a few days to a week, then draw rows in the soil at a depth of 1/2 an inch. Sow your seeds spaced 1 inch apart and cover. 
  6. After seedlings emerge, thin them out to 3 to 4 inches apart. This spacing will provide sufficient room for the parsnip roots to fill out.
  7. Parsnips are ready for harvest in the fall, after several good frosts. The frost sweetens the parsnips by converting starches to sugars within the roots.
  8. Parsnips can be left in the ground until needed. To prevent the soil from freezing, cover with a bale of straw. To protect the soil further, tarp the bale to prevent it from freezing to the ground, thereby making for an easier harvest.
  9. The longer parsnip roots remain in the soil, the more they will fill out. If you are finding your parsnips are long and spindly it may be due to them being sown too late, harvested too early or having insufficient soil nutrients.
  10. Parsnips, like carrots, prefer to grow in a loamy soil, free of weeds or stones. Loose soil will produce long, straight roots. Clay, weedy or rocky soil will produce forked roots.

*A fun container idea!

Try growing parsnips in a large bucket, pail or garbage can!  Fill it to the top with an organic or good quality potting mix and sow your parsnip seeds, 1/2 an inch deep and 1 inch apart. Thin as they come up to 3 to 4 inches apart. 

Alternatively, fill the container with a seed starting mix and add in a 1/4 of the volume with compost. Thoroughly blend in the soil mix and sow your seeds. 

Be sure to water regularly until seeds establish and then daily if the weather is hot and the soil dries fast, ensuring the container never dries out.  The length of the container will allow the parsnips to produce very long roots, freely and without interference from weeds. Then harvest your parsnips in the fall, after several good frosts.  You’d be surprised by the length and size of your parsnips!

10 Tips for Successfully Growing Parsnips

Fresh-picked fall parsnips

Parsnips have made a delicious addition to my vegetable garden. They are wonderful because they are ready for harvest after the summer growing season is over, allowing me to focus on them when I have a lot more time.

They’re hardy and able to grow in the cold days of fall, without cover.  A sudden drop in temperature or unexpected snowfall will not harm the roots. If anything, they benefit by becoming sweeter, as the carbohydrates convert to sugars.

Parsnips add a cozy, comforting feeling to many meals and make a perfect accompaniment to traditional family dinners.

If you live in an area that experiences frost, then parsnips are for you!  Will you give them a try?

Happy Gardening! 



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Julia Dimakos

Hi, I'm Julia from Mono, Ontario, Canada. I began my gardening adventure after having children. Since then, my interest grew into a passion. I love growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit and medicinal herbs. I'm here to show you that growing your own food is not difficult and in fact can be simple.