Grow parsnips in containers

Pastinaca sativa

Aside from a quick glance at the grocery store, I never paid parsnips much attention.

But that changed a few years ago, when a friend shared a batch of stovetop parsnip fries with me.

A little bit of coconut oil or olive oil, maybe some ghee heated up in a skillet, parsnips cut into thin strips and tossed in, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Wow!

I never ignored parsnips again after that. In fact, I started growing my own.

A root crop similar to carrots, they offer a unique flavor that’s rich and slightly sweet. And they’re just the thing to turn common meals like soups and stews into something special.

They are also an amazing addition to a roasted root vegetable medley, and they even hold up well on their own, especially when they’re sliced and served up as fries. So. Good. So, so good.

I could easily write this entire article about eating parsnips, so I’ll stop myself here.

Now, let’s talk about how to grow them. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s to come:

With a little bit of research, persistence, and patience, you’ll have success growing this underutilized, distinctive root vegetable in your own garden at home.

Starting and Growing

A hardy biennial, parsnips are usually grown as an annual root crop.

They look similar to carrots, only they’re usually a shade of white and oftentimes thicker.

Unfortunately, I don’t lump parsnips in the “easy to grow” category. There’s a sort of finesse to getting their seeds to germinate.

But, if you put the work in at the beginning of the season, you can just sit back and watch your plants take root!

To begin with, seeds lose viability after just a year or two, so having low germination rates is relatively common. Because of this, you’ll want to order new seeds from a reputable source every year.

These take about 100 days to reach maturity, and are recommended by the Utah State University Extension particularly for growing well in Utah (USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8).

You can let parsnips go to flower and collect your own seeds, but keep in mind that they are biennials – you’ll have to leave them in the ground longer if you want to do this, since they don’t produce flowers until their second year. This can be an issue if growing space is already limited.

Although many seed packets suggest sowing seeds as soon as the soil is workable, it’s actually best to wait a bit longer until soil temperatures warm up to around 50°F, usually sometime in April.

A soil thermometer is helpful to ensure you don’t sow too early, but simply waiting two to three weeks after the spring solstice should be adequate. Any earlier, and seeds may rot before they have a chance to germinate.

If you decide to risk it and sow seeds as soon as possible in the early part of the season, do yourself a favor and sow another batch of seeds a few weeks later anyway. They can take up to a month to germinate, so sowing a second batch will provide you with better germination rates.

Choose a sunny spot and sow seeds directly in the garden about 1/2 inch apart. When they germinate and start to put on new growth, thin them to at least 6 inches apart.

Slow to get started, it’s common to plant another fast-maturing crop, like radishes, in between parsnips. The radishes will serve as a row marker, and planting this companion crop will make better use of your garden space. Beets, carrots, and salsify are also often planted with them.

Keep in mind that starting seeds indoors generally isn’t a good idea with root crops, since transplanting them can often result in misshapen roots.

To that same point, make sure your garden soil is rich, deep, and loamy. Parsnip roots can grow to be up to a foot long (sometimes longer, depending on the cultivar) and poor, rocky soil can also cause misshapen roots.

Although starting seeds indoors isn’t ideal, one option to speed up the germination of parsnips is to lay the seeds between two folded, moist paper towels and place them in a sealed container.

Keep them in a sunny window and check regularly for germination. Once the seeds start to sprout growth, sow them in the garden and take care to keep the soil moist, but not wet.

This can be a bit of a balancing act, but seeds won’t germinate if the soil is too dry. Too wet, however, and seeds will likely rot.

In areas with long, cold winters, getting a head start on germination is especially helpful. Parsnips require nearly the entire season to mature, so you really only get one chance at growing them each year (similar to tomatoes and peppers).

Repeated harvests (like carrots are so great for) really aren’t possible. So be sure to sow viable seeds, and plant them at the appropriate time.

Selected Cultivars

Although there are many types of cultivated parsnips, the ‘Hollow Crown’ and the ‘Harris Model’ are some of recommended cultivars:

The ‘Hollow Crown’ variety takes about 100-120 days to reach maturity, producing smooth 12 to 15-inch roots.

‘Hollow Crown’ Seeds

Best planted in full sun, seeds are available from True Leaf Market.

The ‘Harris Model’ cultivar is also available from True Leaf Market.

‘Harris Model’ Seeds

Slow to Start, Strong to Finish


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Product photos via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Amber Shidler

Amber Shidler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a dual bachelor’s degree in botany and geography. For four years she worked as a horticulturist, but is now a stay-at-home mom. With experience in landscape design, installation, and maintenance she has set her sights on turning her tenth-of-an-acre lot into a productive oasis. Amber is passionate about all things gardening, especially growing and enjoying organic food.

Growing Parsnips

I love parsnips — great roasted, great in soups, and great when they’re fried like chips!

I have been growing parsnips in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for a number of years, mainly the Hollow Crown variety. The climate is good for growing such European root crops because of the cool nights in spring and autumn and frosts during winter—perfect for biennial crops such as parsnips carrots and beetroots.

I sow seeds in early spring (September) and harvest through the following autumn and winter. We are blessed with basalt soil, but I always add a sprinkle of lime, general fertiliser, and poultry-based pellet fertiliser. I don’t as a rule add any cow or sheep manure. The seeds go in one cm deep drills and I thickly mulch each side of the row with only a light dusting over the row itself. The idea is to prevent evaporation thereby cutting down on the need to water. Seeds take about three weeks to germinate and therein lies a problem—parsnips have a poor germination rate. You can fill in the gaps with replacement seed, but my solution is to save my own seed.

I let three or four parsnips run to seed in spring. When the seed heads are mature, I strip off the seeds, dry them, then put them in a freezer for 5 minutes to kill any bugs. I use paper bags for long-term storage. My experience is that there will be a good germination rate for about two years.

I don’t save the seeds of other root crops such as carrots and beetroots because they all tend to get eaten, and germination is not such a problem. I did once try saving the seeds from the Western red carrots which had bolted. Silly me! Firstly, Western reds appear prone to bolt in my growing conditions; and secondly, by taking seeds from bolted carrots, I was selecting the bolting characteristic. I should have let the few plants that hadn’t bolted grow through to the next year, then collect their seeds. But why bother when the other carrots varieties grow well in our garden?

Once established, parsnips don’t need a lot of water because of their deep root system. Because the tops become quite large it is best to have rows at least 30 cm away from other crops. I’ve now started positioning the rows in an E-W alignment.

Previously, I’d grown rows in a N-S alignment but have noticed other rows have been shaded especially in the afternoon when the sun is low. The height of the parsnip tops means that the afternoon Westerly sun shades other N-S aligned plant rows which are planted to the East of the parsnips.

(One year I grew some black salsify in a N-S alignment to the East of a N-S aligned parsnip row. The black salsify grew well but rotted off—a combination perhaps of the watering regime and shade from the parsnips.)

Conventionally rows are aligned N-S, but I suspect this arises from northern European gardening when the sun is always lower in the sky. My garden is in Bowral NSW and gets full sun, but is somewhat protected from the East. Because of the lower latitude, the sun is high in the middle of the day so I don’t believe the row alignment matters. In the afternoon, however, the sun is lower and shading becomes a factor.

The southern parts of Australia, eg Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania, of course, are at higher latitudes so the sun will be lower and therefore the conventional wisdom might hold. (I think my ideas about row orientation are worthy of discussion and scientific testing—I am happy to be corrected on this issue by readers of this article.)

Parsnips grow more slowly than carrots and beetroot and I begin to harvest them in March (carrots and beetroot start to be harvested by January). The roots are fine when kept in the ground and used when needed. The problem, however, is that they can start to rot around the tops, especially the large roots, towards the end of winter. Culprits appear to be slugs and snails so they should be deterred—and it’s probably a good idea to prevent water collecting in the area. (Anyway, with large roots it is quite feasible to remove the rotted area without affecting the flavour of the vegetable that remains.)

Parsnip plants will die down and lose their leaves over winter and put on new growth in spring. It’s a matter of judgement when you stop harvesting—the plants will certainly have a woody core once they start to throw up a flower stalk in late spring. Such cores can be removed because the outer part of the root is still edible.

I find parsnips store well in the fridge so you don’t have to use all of a particularly large root or throw unused bits away. They do have a limited life in the fridge, however, so they tend to graduate from the fridge to the freezer. The roots are peeled, cut into chunks and frozen. When it comes to soup time, they are thawed out, cooked, and mashed—the freezing process helps to soften them (the same is true for frozen pumpkins) so baking them is not an option.

A shortened version of this article appeared on John Carter’s vegetable gardening Facebook page:

Although John Carter started vegetable gardening in South-West England, his other horticultural love is growing Australian native plants and he has been a member of the Australian Native Plant Society Canberra Region since the early 1980s. Since 1987 John has operated as a hobby The Plant People, a private native plant nursery based in Canberra.


Your comments and tips

Post a comment or question Display Newest first | Oldest first, Show comments for New Zealand | for all countries 27 Jul 19, Karen (New Zealand – temperate climate) So is there any particular seeds best to buy parsnips for brand . Karen 26 Mar 19, Clarkee (New Zealand – sub-tropical climate) I wonder, if I sow Swiss Chard (above it says a good companion to parsnips) then once the card reaches a height that shades the soil around it, I then sow the parsnips amongst the chard, will that keep the soil cool and less likely to dry out for my parsnip seeds to germinate? 12 Nov 18, Alison (New Zealand – sub-tropical climate) With regard to the parsnips I would recommend you try germination before planting them. Lay the seed on paper hand towel or similar. Lay seeds onto paper and cover with another paper towel. Dampen paper and keep moist (I’m thinking a sprayer would be a good idea). After 3-4 weeks there should be tiny roots forming. Using tweezers to handle seeds, transfer them to the soil bed you have prepared. Now, I haven’t done this (by some fluke my seeds germinated and I have three small rows at different stages!) but I will next year. Successful gardening! 01 Dec 17, Jos Dekker (New Zealand – temperate climate) (i) When you purchase your seed, make sure it is within the stipulated “use by date” (ii) Prepare bed or row by loosening the soil to a minimum depth of 20 c.m. (iii) Soak seed in lukewarm water overnight. (iv) I do not sow seeds in singles but use a “scatter” method and thin out plants later (v) Mix seeds with a small quantity of very friable earth and scatter in your row or bed. (vi) I don’t particularly like the covering with a plank method to stop drying out but prefer putting a shade to keep the sun off whilst seeds are germinating. Ensure to keep soil wet during germination. Depending on temperatures, if cold, I water with luke warm water. (vii) I think that transplanting tends to produce malformation in the parsnip root. Let them grow in the spot where they first saw the daylight! Good luck! 04 Nov 17, helen duckworth (New Zealand – cool/mountain climate) Whoopee my parsnips have germinated 100% by the look of the rows. Do I need to protect the seedlings from frost – I live in the McKenzie Country of South Canterbury. 14 May 17, liz (New Zealand – cool/mountain climate) hello – i also need some help with parsnips – i have a raised bed and put in plenty of compost most years – this last year i managed to get a whole row of parsnips to grow but – they are so tiny no bigger than my fingers and wrinkly like norah batties stockings but taste so darn good – my question is – how do i get them to grow into proper big parsnips – have i got something missing from the soil of my garden that they need to grow long and big??? thanks 15 May 17, John (Australia – temperate climate) Parsnips like deep friable soil to get long roots. Too much manure will give you twisted and forked roots. Planting them after a crop like lettuces, cabbages, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, etc is good as the soil will be loosened up and there will be less nitrogen in the soil. An excess of nitrogen will cause big bushy tops and small roots. 14 Jul 09, Arnie (New Zealand – temperate climate) Pastinaca sativa

Better still, they don’t need harvesting all in one go – you can leave them in the ground right through to early spring, lifting just a few as and when you need them!

Growing parsnips couldn’t be simpler, so take a look at our full range of Parsnip seed available to buy online today.

Parsnip Varieties

F1 hybrid varieties have brought great improvements to this useful winter vegetable crop, offering disease resistance, smoother skins and improved germination rates. As a result, Parsnips are definitely making a comeback, so be sure to buy your Parsnip seed early as they tend to sell out quickly!

  • Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ – The world’s first F1 hybrid Parsnip and still a well respected show bench variety, with good canker resistance and a sweet earthy flavour.
  • Parsnip ‘Tender and True’ – Virtually coreless with particularly sweet flesh, making it useful for both the showbench and the kitchen
  • Parsnip ‘The Student’ – A taste from the past that dates back to the 1800’s! This heritage variety produces particularly long heavy roots on good soils
  • Parsnip ‘Countess’ – Conical, carrot-like roots that retain their colour after washing and look especially attractive on the plate.

Sowing parsnip seeds

Don’t be tempted to use last year’s leftover seed. Parsnips have a relatively short viability period so it is particularly important to order fresh parsnip seed packets each year to get the very best parsnip crops

When to sow parsnips

Parsnip seeds should be direct sown outdoors from April to June, once the the ground is workable. They need temperatures of around 12C (52F) so don’t sow them too much earlier than this unless you use cloches to warm the soil first. Avoid sowing in cold or wet soils as the seed is liable to rot.

Where to sow parsnips

Grow parsnips in a sunny position in stone-free, well prepared ground that has been deeply cultivated and raked to a fine tilthe. Parsnips prefer a fertile, light, well drained soil. On heavier or stony soils you may find better results by choosing a shorter rooted variety such as Parsnip ‘Countess’.

How to sow parsnips

If space is limited on your vegetable plot then why not sow a crop of radishes in between your rows of parsnips to maximise the use of your land. These will mature quickly and can be harvested long before the parsnips will be ready.

Growing parsnips

  • Germination is often slow and can take up to 28 days.
  • During dry periods it is especially important to keep the seed well watered to encourage good germination, particularly when growing on light, sandy soils.
  • When large enough to handle, thin out the seedlings within each row to 7cm (3″) apart or 10cm (4″) apart if larger roots are required.
  • Once germinated, parsnips will need little attention and should be watered only when necessary to keep the soil moist.
  • Try to avoid extremes of wet and dry soil as this may cause the roots to split.
  • Weed between rows of parsnips regularly to keep beds weed free at all times. Hand weeding is preferable as there is less risk of damage to the developing parsnip roots, or you can carefully hoe between the rows.

Growing parsnips in containers

While many vegetable crops make excellent subjects for growing in containers, unfortunately parsnips are not well suited to this type of cultivation. Parsnips develop long roots and therefore need more depth of soil than most containers can offer. However, if you have a particularly deep container or spare dustbin then there is no reason why you shouldn’t drill some holes in the bottom and have a go!

When to harvest parsnips

Harvest parsnips from late autumn right through to the end of January, once the foliage begins to die back. Parsnip crops can be left in the ground, and simply lifted a few roots at a time, as and when required. Simply loosen the soil around the roots with a fork before lifting them to avoid damaging the roots.

It is worth noting that their flavour will be improved if they are left in the ground until exposed to frost. This process converts the starch within the roots into sugars, thereby giving them a far sweeter flavour.

Alternatively you can lift and store parsnips in boxes of barely moist soil, peat or sand, and store in a cool place like a shed, garage or unheated greenhouse. Roots can be stored like this for up to 4 months.

All About Growing Parsnips

How to Plant Parsnips

Parsnip seeds quickly lose viability after their first year, so buy fresh seed or grow your own seed crop at least every other year.

Where summers are short and mild, plant parsnips in late spring, a week or two after the last frost has passed. In other areas it is often best to delay planting until early summer, or about four months before your first fall frost date.

One week before planting parsnips, place parsnip seeds on a wet paper towel and enclose it in an airtight container. After five days at room temperature, look for the emergence of pale white sprouts. When the first seeds begin to germinate, plant all of the seeds one-half inch deep and two inches apart in well-prepared beds that have been generously enriched with compost and a standard application of a balanced organic fertilizer. Keep the planting weeded well, and gradually thin parsnips to at least 6 inches apart.

For recommended planting dates for your local climate — and to design your garden beds — try our Vegetable Garden Planner.

Parsnips demand constant weeding for several weeks, but then the plants produce long, celery-like leaves that shade surrounding soil. Water as often as needed to keep soil constantly moist. In dry climates, mulch growing parsnips with grass clippings, chopped leaves or another organic mulch that helps retain soil moisture. Parsnips need more water than other garden crops, and should never be allowed to run dry.

Harvesting and Storage

Like carrots, parsnips push up out of the ground when they reach mature size. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil around parsnips before pulling them as needed in the kitchen. Immediately cut off the tops and wash and refrigerate parsnips, which will store in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to two months.


In fall, many gardeners leave some of their parsnips in the ground, and harvest them as soon as new growth appears in early spring.

Propagating Parsnips

Parsnips that have been exposed to cold winter weather produce umbels of yellow flowers in early summer, with flattened seeds that resemble dill seeds about a month later. When the seeds turn dark brown, gather the seed heads in a paper bag, and allow them to dry indoors for a week. When thoroughly dry, shatter the seed heads and collect the largest seeds for replanting. Under good conditions, parsnip seeds will store up to three years, though two years is a safer guideline.

For growing advice for many more garden crops, check out our complete Crops at a Glance Guide.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.

Container Grown Parsnips – Learn How To Grow Parsnips In A Container

Root vegetables are making a comeback, and parsnips are high on the list. Parsnips are grown for their delicious roots and generally do best planted in a garden, but what if you don’t have a garden plot? Can you grow parsnips in pots? Keep reading to find out how to grow parsnips in a container and other useful tips for growing parsnips in containers.

Can You Grow Parsnips in Pots?

Generally speaking, almost anything can be container grown. I say almost anything. In the case of container grown parsnips, a few criteria need to be met. After all, since the plant is grown for its long roots, it would seem you would need an awfully deep pot.

Parsnip roots can grow from 8-12 inches (20-30 cm.) in length and 1 ½-2 inches (4-5 cm.) across. Therefore, containers for parsnips should be about 2-3 times the length of the mature parsnip. Provided you have a deep enough pot, growing parsnips in containers is worth a try.

How to Grow Parsnips in Containers

Parsnips are started from seed, and the newer the seed the better since parsnip seed loses its viability quickly. Note – you can also use purchased transplants if you find them, or start the seeds first and move them to a pot once large enough.

Select a pot for container grown parsnips that is plenty deep, at least 2 feet (0.5-1 m.) deep, though 3 would be better, to accommodate the long root. Be sure that the pot has adequate drainage holes.

Fill containers for parsnips with well-draining, compost rich soil. Sow seeds to a depth of ½ inch (4 cm.) and lightly cover with soil. Parsnips don’t germinate very well, so seed thickly with at least 2-3 seeds per inch to get a good stand. Dampen the soil and keep it moist, not drenched.

Be patient. Parsnips are slow to germinate. It can take up to 34 weeks from seeding to harvest. Once the seedlings are up, thin the parsnips to 2-4 (5-10 cm.) inches apart. Keep your container grown parsnips damp, not wet.

Parsnips sweeten up nicely when they have been exposed to a couple weeks of freezing temperatures in the fall. However, those grown in pots will be far more susceptible to actually freezing and then rotting, so lay a good thick layer of organic mulch around the plants to protect them from freezing and to retain moisture.

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