Growing Parsnips

Posted By On November 25, 2008 - 6 responses
Growing Parsnips

Not many people grow parsnips, over the last few years parsnips have become less and less popular. I was just reading through one of the seed catalogues and the particular company now sells one variety of Parsnip, last year they sold 7.

Parsnip germination rates can be extremely low and it can be very difficult to get a full row of seeds that have all successfully geminated. However, once parsnips have geminated they are really easy to grow. They also provide a crop when other vegetables are scarce.

Soil Preparation

Parsnips are not fussy about what soil types they grow in. If you wish to grow the long, ‘perfect’ looking parsnip you will need deep soil, that has been manured the previous autumn and is stone free. If parsnips hit a stone while growing they tend to fork.

Sowing and Planting

It is vital that you buy fresh seeds every single year as germination rates can be incredibly low especially if using old seeds so it is best to use only the freshest seeds possible.

Sow four seeds, six inches apart in rows that are 10 inches apart in March or April. Sowing four seeds at each station will ensure at least one successfully germinates, if more than one seed geminates they can be thinned out later in the season.

Looking After the Plants

Seedlings should be thinned to one seed per cluster once geminated. Don’t leave this job long as parsnips need room to grow. Water regularly, don’t allow the parsnips to dry out!

Keeping the area weed free is also essential as it is when growing most vegetables. Use a hoe or weed by hand but be careful not to disturb young seedlings.


You can begin harvesting parsnips in November, harvesting can continue right up until late February. The tops will die down once the parsnips are ready to be harvested however it is traditional to wait until after the first frost to harvest. This is said to improve the flavour.

Once the tops have died down you can harvest parsnips as required, don’t harvest all of the parsnips immediately and store them, the best method of storage is to leave them in the ground.

6 Comments Below to “Growing Parsnips”

  1. Steve way on

    A good idea to prevent forking is to create a number of correctly spaced deepish holes with a crowbar or something similar, fill the hole with seived soil or compost (thereby eliminating stones) and plant three seeds per hole. After germination thin to one plant per hole. The compost-filled holes are the right cylinder shape and create a stone free medium for the parsnips to grow into and expand.

  2. newbieveggiepatchLaura on

    Hi, thankyou very much for the advice! I was unsure as to how late you can harvest the parsnips as I had just dug all mine up. I will be growing them again next year, hopefully the taste as nice as they look 🙂

  3. JamesStGeorge on

    Having had so much problem over the years with germination I have sorted it out by starting parsnips in cells.

    I make newspaper tubes about 3 inches tall 5/8 ish diameter. Find a rod of some sort to roll newspaper round, I have one long enough to do a tube for 3 at a time. Several layers/turns not just one, so they have some strength. Taped vertically over the join so easy rotting in the ground all the rest of the way round causes no problems. These are filled with compost/sand gently firmed. Meanwhile I lay a thickish layer of newspaper in a paint roller tray, wet, and fill the deep end with water, and lay out the parsnip seeds on the raised part on the soaked newspaper. Keep well damp, indoors to avoid frosts, and keep warm enough. In time they germinate. Then as they get short little roots make a hole in the compost at the top of a tube, place a germinated seed, (root down!) in it, use tweezers if too fiddly for your fingers. Stand the tubes in a water holding tub of some sort. Keep well watered. Over the next few weeks almost all will become little plants, before they get to big and roots getting out of the bottom plant them, perfectly spaced with ease. Use a rod/stick of the same diameter as the paper tube cell, push into the ground the depth of your cell, pull out, drop in cell, gently firm in.
    Note. The developing cells do tend to grow a wispy white fungus as the paper starts to rot being damp, it has never been any problem.

    This may seen tedious and time consuming, but it works, and costs next to nothing. Plenty of time to prepare the paper cells over the winter for example.

    You can, and I did at first, plant seeds directly to the cells, but you lose far far more cells that way from non germination, pre germinating works better to me.

  4. Phyllis Smith on

    Thank you for all of this excellent information! Lesley, I note that you have said to plant in soil that has been recently manured. Other sources say to plant in soil that has NOT been recently manured. Is there a word missing from your instructions re: planting in manured soil? Or is this just a difference of opinion?

    James, I love seeing that you grow your parsnip seeds in paper tubes! I haven’t had much luck with parsnips as a crop, due to bland taste & carrot root fly damage, but I have had good success with getting them started and planted out, growing them in toilet paper core tubes. I fill each toilet roll tube with a mix of multi-purpose compost & John Innes 2 (I read somewhere to grow carrots in John Innes 2, and figured if it was good for carrots, it would work for parsnips!) I hold the compost in place with the fingers of my left hand whilst filling the tube with my right hand. Once it is packed, so less likely to come out of the bottom, I place 12 in a 1/2 seed tray, and plant 2 or 3 seeds per tube. I like your idea for pre-chitting the seeds, though–the paint roller tray idea is brilliant! I’ll need to be planting more parsnip soon, so I think I’ll try that! I’m hoping that my crop will be more flavourful this year. I expect to have less carrot fly problems, as I am growing my parsnip far away from carrots, and will be using “Grow Your Own” nematodes from Nemasys. I’ll then be covering the plants with voile (instead of fine netting. The jury’s out on whether voile will work or not. I’m very hopeful, though!

    Having tasty parsnips is important to me for 2 reasons: first, my very British husband loves roast parsnip with his traditional roast dinners. Secondly, being an American gal, (and obviously neglected!) I had never tasted parsnip until I flew to England in 2002. I ate this white veg on the plane, in my “English roast beef dinner,” and loved it, but couldn’t identify it. Upon my arrival in Manchester, I told my husband-to-be about this very tasty vegetable. Later, while I napped (recovering from a very long flight,) my wonderful man cooked for me my first proper English Roast Beef Dinner, complete with roast parsnip. When I tasted it, I was so excited! “This is it!!!” I told him. He’d cooked that wonderful-tasting white vegetable for me. I’ve been working on making up for 42 years of parsnip-deficiency ever since! And I’ve loved life in the UK for every one of my 10 years here!!

  5. Lesley on

    Hi Phyllis, Thanks for your comment! As you said this is just a difference of opinion, but I have changed my wording to manured the previous autumn!

    As for cooking parsnips I enjoy them mashed with a dollop of single cream, freshly grated nutmeg and a little seasoning. – Gorgeous!!!

  6. Phyllis Smith on

    It would be liberating to know that I can plant my parsnips in various locations, without having to worry about the soil being manured! We’ll have to give it a try. And we’ll have to try your mashed parsnip, too. Hubby has mashed them with potato, and they’re quite nice. In fact, when we’ve had a surplus, he’s mashed potato with parsnip & put it on top of a cottage pie! Yum!

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