Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 12/23/2005 2:09:43 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is almost indispensable for many traditional Louisiana dishes. It’s a member of the carrot family native to Europe that’s generally grown in Louisiana as a cool-season annual from October through May.
Parsley is quite hardy, and now is an excellent time to plant parsley seeds or transplants for harvest in spring and early summer.
Parsley cultivars, can basically be divided into two forms – curly parsley and Italian or flat-leaf parsley.
Curly parsley is the more ornamental of the two. It’s great used as a garnish and also makes an excellent addition to flower beds and planters. Flat-leaf parsley has a stronger flavor and is generally preferred for culinary purposes – although curly parsley is also fine for cooking.
Grow parsley in beds that receive part shade to full sun (4 hours to 8 hours of direct sun). Production is generally greater in sunnier locations, but parsley will last longer into the heat of summer if it receives some afternoon shade. Well-prepared beds enriched with organic matter will encourage abundant growth for harvest.
To plant parsley seed directly into the garden, trace a shallow indentation in the soil of a well-prepared bed with a stick or pencil to guide planting. Then sow the seeds by dribbling them through your thumb and forefinger into the indented row. Cover seeds with soil ¼-inch to 2 inches deep. Water lightly every day, and the seeds should be up in 10 to 14 days.
After three or four weeks, when the sprouts are a few inches tall and have several leaves, thin them to allow about 10 inches between the plants. Extras can be transplanted to other spots. Depending on the variety, parsley plants will grow to maturity in about 70 days to 90 days.
Parsley transplants also are readily available at area nurseries and produce far more quickly than planting seeds. Just look carefully at the pot when you purchase it. You may find that a number of seeds were planted in the pot and that it is full of young parsley plants. Either pinch off all but two or three of the largest plants before you put it in the garden or separate the seedlings and plant them individually into small pots and plant them into the garden a few weeks later when they are larger.
Water newly planted plants frequently if the weather is dry, and keep that up until they become established. After that, watch the weather and water deeply once or twice a week if weather is warm and dry. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, such as chopped leaves, grass clippings, oak leaves or pine straw, around the plants to help the soil retain moisture, discourage weeds and keep soil from splashing on the foliage.
Parsley grows happily in a container alone or with other herbs or flowers. Use a gallon-size container for one plant or larger containers for several plants or a mixed planting. Be sure the container you use has drainage holes. Fill it with moistened potting mix and add some slow-release fertilizer, or plan to water the plants twice a month with a soluble fertilizer. Water parsley growing in containers often to prevent them from drying out, especially as the weather gets hotter in April and May.
Begin harvesting parsley when it has grown to about 8 inches in diameter and has numerous leaves. Harvest the larger, lower leaves at the outside of the plant, leaving the new, interior shoots to mature. Generally, remove no more that one-third to one-half of the foliage at any one time. Finish harvesting parsley by late May or early June, since heat causes the quality of the foliage to decline.
Place the stems of freshly harvested parsley in a glass of water to use the leaves over the next few days. Store freshly picked and moistened parsley in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
While parsley’s flavor is always best when it is chopped fresh, it also can be preserved by freezing. To freeze parsley, chop it finely and place it in a layer about 2 inches thick in a plastic freezer bag. Press out as much air as possible and seal. Break off pieces as needed. Parsley keeps well frozen this way for up to six months.
You may also dry parsley, but its wonderful flavor is all but lost in the process.
You may see a colorful caterpillar (green with yellow-dotted black bands across each segment) in spring feeding on the leaves of your parsley plants, as well as fennel and dill. This is the larva of the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly. Try to leave it alone if it is not causing too much damage.
In late spring or early summer, parsley will often bolt or send up a flower stalk. This signals a decline in foliage flavor and an end to harvesting. The tiny, greenish-white flowers in flat clusters are not showy, but they do attract and provide nectar for tiny parasitic wasps. These wasps help control insect pests in the garden, so I always allow my parsley to stay in the garden and bloom even when I’ve stopped harvesting.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.