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How to Grow Perfect Parsnips

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Give parsnips a spot in your garden this spring, and you'll enjoy their homegrown taste throughout next winter. Parsnips taste sweeter after frost and don't suffer if you leave them in the ground until you're ready to eat them. 

This delicious, hardy winter vegetable develops its sweet, nutty flavor when cold temperatures turn the starches in the root to sugar, so traditionally the first parsnips are only lifted after a hard frost. If you do harvest parsnips before a frost, bag them up and keep them in the fridge for two weeks to sweeten the roots.


Loosen the soil to a depth of 2 feet and remove rocks and clods. As soon as your soil can be worked, sow parsnip seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows that are 6 inches apart. Keep the seedbed evenly moist. Be patient. Parsnips can take more than two weeks to germinate.


When your parsnips are 6 inches tall, thin them to 3 inches apart. Put a layer of compost around the plants; then sit back and watch your crop grow until fall.

Growing Parsnips

Parsnips are easy to grow members of the cow parsley family. This family includes carrots, dill, fennel and parsley among others. These seeds tend to have a short period of viability, so new packets of seed should be purchased every year.

This family also need warm temperatures to germinate and the air temperature has to reach 12C (52F) before germination occurs. Wait for spring to arrive before you sow any of them. However seeds should be acquired in good time because this vegetable regularly heads the top ten seeds list and can sell out quickly. 

Pest Watch and Disease Alert

Parsnips rarely experience disease or pest problems. Rotating your crop on a three-year cycle prevents scab (Streptomyces scabies), a disease that causes corky scabs to form on roots; and soft rot, which causes water-soaked spots on the leaves and roots.

Carrot rust flies (Psila rosae) lay eggs near the crown of plants, and their larvae burrow into parsnip and carrot roots, causing rotting and reduced yields.

Cover your seedbed with a row cover to keep these pests away from your crop.


Parsnips mature in about 120 days. But the roots taste sweeter if they're left in the ground until after the first hard frost. You can overwinter parsnips by covering them with a 2-inch layer of mulch. Harvest the roots as needed throughout winter and spring. Finish harvesting before new growth begins.

Parsnips are very hardy and they can be left in the ground until April. This makes them well worth growing for winter use, because you dig them as you use them.

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