Compact and easy to grow from seed, parsley produces nutritious tangy leaves through summer and into autumn. It makes an attractive edging to veg beds and grows well in containers. Choose from curly- or flat-leaved types and use in salads, sauces and butters, and sprinkle over all kinds of cooked dishes.
Reaching about 30cm tall, parsley forms a leafy rosette that can be picked repeatedly, taking a few leaves per plant each time. A row of parsley makes an attracted edging to beds, especially the curly types, and it also grows well in containers. So however small your growing space, you’re sure to have room for a few parsley plants.
The bright green leaves are rich in antioxidants and nutrients, including iron and vitamins A, C and K, and add a fresh tangy kick to salads. Or chop the leaves and scatter over cooked dishes before serving, from pastas and soups to omelettes and pizzas, to add zingy colour and flavour. Parsley is also frequently teamed with garlic and onions, as it’s said to freshen the breath and cleanse the palate.
Month by Month
There are two types of leaf parsley to choose from:
Curly-leaved varieties are highly decorative, both in the garden and on the plate, with a mild flavour
Flat-leaved varieties (also known as Italian or French parsley) have a stronger flavour and are generally easier to prepare in the kitchen.
There are several varieties of each, offering larger or more decorative leaves or improved flavours. When choosing varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit, herbs and veg.
What and where to buy
Parsley is widely available as seed in garden centres and from online retailers, both of which may also sell plug plants in spring.
Larger potted plants are also available in garden centres and supermarkets.
Parsley makes an attractive edging to herb beds and veg plots, or even flower borders, and also grows well in containers.
Sow from early spring to early summer for pickings throughout the summer and autumn.
Parsley can be sown outdoors or indoors, or bought as young plants.
Sowing outdoors in the ground
Choose a growing site with well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade.
Sow seeds thinly in 1cm (½in) deep drills, cover with soil and water gently. Space rows 15cm (6in) apart.
Germination can be slow, taking up to six weeks. Keep the soil free of weeds at all times.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out to 15cm (6in) apart along the row, removing the weaker ones. The thinnings can be added to salads.
Sowing outdoors in containers
Parsley grows well in large containers and is easy to sow direct:
Choose a pot that’s at least 25cm (10in) wide and deep and fill with fresh seed compost.
Scatter the seeds thinly over the surface, then cover with a 1cm (½in) layer of compost and water gently.
Place in a cool, lightly shaded spot to germinate, and make sure the compost doesn’t dry out.
Parsley seeds can take a month or more to germinate, so be patient.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out, leaving about 2cm (¾in) between plants.
You can start seeds off indoors – in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill – from early spring onwards.
Harden off the young plants in spring, once they’re about 15cm (6in) tall, then move them to their outdoor growing site after the last frost.
You can also grow parsley indoors on a sunny windowsill.
If you don’t have the time or space to grow parsley from seed, you can buy plug plants or potted plants from garden centres, online retailers and supermarkets.
These can be grown indoors on a well-lit windowsill or planted outdoors from spring onwards. Give them a sunny or partially shaded spot, in the ground or in a large container, and water well, both before and after planting.
Once established, parsley needs little attention. Just water and weed regularly, and snip off any lower leaves that turn yellow, to keep plants looking good and encourage new growth.
Give plants a boost, especially those in containers, by feeding every few weeks with a balanced liquid fertiliser.
Weed regularly, so parsley plants don’t have to compete for light, water and nutrients.
Parsley leaves can be harvested throughout the summer months – picking regularly encourages plants to produce more leaves. Take a few leafy stems from the outside of a plant, snipping them near the base with scissors.
You can also harvest young parsley seedlings as micro-greens or mini-leaves, when packed with flavour and nutrients.
When grown outdoors, parsley dies down over winter, but for winter harvests bring potted plants indoors or into a greenhouse or coldframe, or cover plants with cloches. They should continue producing a few new leaves, especially in milder spells.
However, it’s not worth keeping parsley plants into their second year, as these biennial plants will stop producing tasty leaves and concentrate on flowering and setting seed instead.
Parsley leaves are best used fresh, but can kept in the fridge for a week or so. They can also be frozen or dried for use in winter, after harvesting has stopped.
To freeze parsley, chop the leaves and add to an ice-cube tray, then top up with water and freeze. You can then simply add the cubes to your cooking whenever needed.
To dry, hang up a bunch of parsley in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place for a few weeks. When fully dried, crush the leaves and store in an air-tight jar. Dried parsley has less flavour than fresh leaves.
Parsley is closely related to carrots and celery, and can be affected by the same pests and diseases as its relatives.
Slugs and snails like to eat parsley seedlings, so growing it in pots is often a good option, as the plants may be harder for them to reach.
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