How to Grow Parsley
Parsley is a biennial herb - which means that it has a two year life cycle. However, parsley is more commonly grown as an annual.
Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Resource for Every Gardener recommends planting parsley in March or April depending on the climate. Plant seeds in rows 12 to 16 inches apart in ordinary garden soil rich in nutrients and nitrogen, but not too alkaline. A well-composted raised bed works best. Parsley seeds are slow to germinate. To give them a jump start try soaking them in water for 24 hours before planting. Parsley seeds should be planted in a shallow trench and covered over with a 1/4-inch layer of fine soil.
As the plants grow, thin them out so that the plants stand about 6 inches apart. Try interspersing them with radishes to help mark the rows (early on) and help keep down weeds. Weed carefully as the roots are shallow. Parsley plants may be trimmed back as they grow and the leaves and stems used immediately. Parsley plants will each take up nearly a square foot of space.
In hot dry summers parsley plants can begin to burn up. If this starts to happen, trim back and water generously. Do a good job weeding to give your plants all the advantages of sun and air.
To over-winter parsley, give it a light mulch during very cold weather. It will go to seed in the second year. Cut off the stems before they flower to allow the plants to remain productive for a while longer. Parsley blossoms look like Queen-Anne's lace. Parsley can also be grown in pots indoors for fresh parsley throughout the winter.
Parsley may be cut from the stalks any time after the leaves become well-formed. Cut the outside leaves and stems, but allow the inner stems to grow so that there is a continuous production of new leaves.
There are many types of parsley. Varieties are generally segmented into both curled leaf and flat leafed "Italian" varieties. Flat leaf is more common in cooking while the curled leaf is more often eaten fresh or used as a garnish. The roots of parsley are also edible. There are large root varieties that look and taste similar to parsnips. There is even a Neapolitan variety that has thicker stalks and is eaten in some countries like celery.
Parsley does have some enemies. Although a fairly hardy and easy to grow plant, it can be attacked by parsley worms. These insects in large numbers may ravage a stand of parsley. However, they are often tolerated because they are the larvae of the swallowtailed butterfly. They can be controlled by hand picking or use of Bt. Parsley can also be attacked by bacterial leaf spot, fungi, and viruses. For gardeners, the best prevention is to keep a clean garden and thoroughly composting garden waste.
A good way to preserve parsley is dried in a dehydrator and put into jars. In this form it is great in soups and wide variety of dishes.
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