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Rows of parsnips growing in a garden bed
Parsnip is best eaten fresh, and the only way you can do that is to grow your own. But be prepared to wait, as it can take 18–20 weeks to harvest full-sized varieties. However, you can pick and enjoy smaller crops sooner.

What you need to know about parsnips

Name: parsnip, wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).

Height: foliage up to 1m tall, roots 20–50cm long.

Plant type: biennial root vegetable, typically grown as an annual.

Foliage: a loose rosette of leaves, pungent when crushed.

Climate: tropical, sub-tropical, warm and cool temperate climates.

Soil: loose, friable, well-drained soil, enriched with organic matter.

Position: full sun, with protection from strong winds.

Flowering and fruiting: an umbel of small, yellow or orange flowers that are unlikely to be seen as they appear in its second year (if roots are not harvested).

Feeding: not required.

Watering: water regularly.

Appearance and characteristics of parsnip

This wonderful vegetable is grown for its starchy, earthy-flavoured taproot. It’s considered to be one of the best tasting root vegies, especially when roasted or cooked into soups. The root looks and grows much like a carrot (they’re in the same family, Apiaceae), except it’s cream-coloured and takes longer to mature – 18–20 weeks. However, the wait is worth it, as it’s hard to beat the flavour of fresh, homegrown parsnip.

Parsnip grows over the cooler months, with cold weather and frost known to help sweeten its flavour. What other vegie can say it gets better with inclement weather – well, except for kale? Harvest when ready, but only as required. Parsnip does not store well but can be kept in the soil without any issue.

Parsnips and wooden cooking implements on a wooden table

Uses for parsnip

Ideal in soups, stews, casseroles, roasts, purees and fried into chips. Use as a substitute in potato dishes.

How to grow and care for parsnip

In warm and tropical climates, sow seeds from late summer; in cooler climates, sow seeds from late winter to early autumn. Older seeds have a poor germination rate, so always use fresh, store-bought seeds.

Good soil preparation is key to growing parsnip. The soil needs to be loose and friable for the taproot to freely grow, otherwise its growth will be stunted and distorted. Choose a spot in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig deep and turn the soil over to create a light, fluffy bed. Rake shallow furrows into the bed – no deeper than 1cm – and space at 30cm intervals. 

Sow seeds, lightly cover and gently water. Seed germination is slow and can take 2–4 weeks. Do not allow the soil to dry out during this time – even if it seems like you’re just watering soil – as this will result in nil or poor germination. You can lay a plank of wood or similar over the seeds to help retain soil moisture. After 4–5 weeks, remove weak seedlings to allow 5–10cm spacing between plants.

How to care for parsnip

Once it’s in the ground, little care is required, except to keep the soil moist to prevent the roots from splitting.

How often should you water and feed parsnip?

Once parsnip is established, you can reduce watering frequency as the cooler weather means the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly. No fertiliser is necessary; they have a very low need for fertilisers and the roots can fork with the addition of fertilisers or organic matter.

How and when to harvest parsnip

For mature parsnips, you can start to harvest once the foliage dies down. Only harvest as you need as parsnips do not store well in the fridge or pantry. 

You can also dig them up earlier, approximately 6–8 weeks after sowing if you prefer to snack on smaller roots. Picking them earlier will also allow more space for existing plants to grow. 

Diseases and pests that affect parsnip

Snails and slugs favour the foliage, so keep them at bay with insecticides such as snail and slug baits.

How to propagate parsnip

Parsnip grows best from fresh seed. Any parsnip seeds found in sheds after a few years should be discarded as they will not germinate well or will grow poorly.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. 

If you like this then try

Beetroot: another root vegie that can be harvested in as little as 8–10 weeks.

Garlic: a pungent herb with a distinctive flavour, suitable for gardens or pots.

Swede: an easy-to-grow root vegie that’s making a comeback on the cooking scene. 

Start growing today

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