Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 10/28/2004 11:33:40 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Fall is an outstanding time to plant many of the hardy culinary herbs, and one of the most popular is parsley.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a member of the Umbelliferae family along with dill, cilantro, fennel and celery, which also can be planted now.
Especially rich in chlorophyll, parsley is an excellent breath freshener, which is why it was originally served with a plate of food. It was meant to be eaten after the meal to freshen the breath rather than just sit on the plate and look nice.
Both the common (curly) and Italian (flat-leaf) parsleys are excellent for cooking, although the flat-leaved Italian or plain types generally are considered to have the stronger flavor. The curly types are popular for their ornamental as well as culinary uses.
Typically, parsley plants spread 12 inches across or more from a central crown and grow about 8 to 10 inches tall. When they bloom the flower stalk can reach 2 feet to 3 feet.
In Louisiana parsley is best grown as a cool-season annual. Seeds can be planted now through early March either directly in garden beds or in pots for transplants. Plants purchased at area nurseries can be planted now through early April. Best harvests generally are achieved from plants or seeds planted in the fall.
Grow parsley in a bed where the soil has been enriched with generous amounts of compost, aged manure or other organic matter and a moderate application of fertilizer. Choose a spot that gets full sun, although parsley will produce fairly well with as little as four hours of direct sun. A location that gets some shade in the afternoon will allow the parsley to last longer into the summer.
Growing parsley from seeds can require patience, since they often are slow to germinate. You can speed germination by soaking the seeds overnight before planting them or by freezing the seeds for a few days before planting.
To directly sow the seeds into the garden, trace a shallow indentation in the soil of a well-prepared bed with a stick or the handle of a garden tool. Sow the seeds by dribbling them through your thumb and forefinger into the indented row and cover them with about ¼ inch of soil.
The seeds should come up in 10 to 14 days, but can take as long as three weeks (especially if they were not soaked or frozen). During this time it is critical to keep the seed bed moist with regular – even daily – watering. When the seedlings have grown several leaves, thin them to a spacing of 10 to 12 inches.
Plant young transplants you grew yourself or purchased from a nursery spaced 10 to 12 inches apart into well-prepared beds. Do not plant them any deeper than they were growing in the container, or the crown may rot.
When you purchase plants at the nursery, there often are a number of seedlings in one pot. Ideally, pinch off all but the largest, strongest plant in the container and then plant it. Or separate the seedlings into individual pots, grow them for a week or two to recover from transplant shock and to achieve more size and then plant them into the garden.
Parsley grows very well in containers, alone or combined with other herbs or flowers. Choose at least a 1-gallon container for one plant, and use larger containers for combination plantings. Make sure the containers you use have drainage holes. Fill the container with your favorite potting soil or soilless mix to within an inch or two of the container’s top, add some slow-release fertilizer and you’re ready to plant.
Begin harvesting parsley when the plants have grown to about 6 inches across. Harvest the larger leaves at the outside of the plant and leave the new interior shoots to mature. Don’t take more than one-third to one-half of the foliage at one time.
Store freshly picked leaves in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Freeze chopped leaves in plastic freezer bags for up to six months. You also may dry parsley, although it doesn’t compare to the flavor of fresh or frozen parsley.
Flowering often occurs in May or early June, especially on parsley planted in the fall. This signals the end of production, but leave blooming plants in the garden anyway, since the small flowers are attractive to tiny parasitic wasps that help control insects. On the other hand, plants that do not bloom may survive the summer and produce for another season.
If you see a brightly striped caterpillar feeding on your parsley, be aware that it is the larva of the black swallowtail butterfly. To preserve both it and your parsley, move it to another plant in the same family – such as fennel, carrots or dill – that you can spare, so it can continue feeding. Or call a friend who has a butterfly garden and let your friend move the caterpillar to that garden.
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.