Parsnip Planting Guide

Parsnip Planting Guide

View/Download PDF

Shop for Parsnips Seeds

Parsnips are native to Northern Europe and Siberia, and are likely one of the most cold hardy of vegetables.  Grown for its delicately sweet, creamy white to yellow roots, it can be used in stews or roasted.  Mark likes to sautee them first, then roast, for extra caramelized sweetness.  Roots can reach 12-15 inches long, and the tops can grow up to 2-3 feet tall.  It is highly unusual & rare, but some people are allergic to the leaves, and can develop a sunburn-like rash when handling the tops.  We recommend you wear gloves, and not find out the hard way.  Remember, parsnips get sweeter as they are exposed to cold in the fall, so do not harvest the roots until after the first frost. Leave them in the ground as winter progresses, and they will only continue getting better.


Parsnips prefer a loose, sandy soil that is rich in organic matter, well drained, and not too heavy.  They also need full sun exposure.  Before planting, incorporate 2-3 inches of well composted organic matter and 1-2 lbs of all-purpose fertilizer (we recommend “That’s All it Takes” complete fertilizer) per 100 square feet and work them into the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches.  Heavy, clay-based soils must be amended with compost and organic matter to encourage and allow good root development.  If you have clay soil, we recommend 4-6 inches of organic matter and 50 lbs of Utelite or Zeolite per 200 square feet added to the soil each fall for multiple years to increase drainage and nutrient availability.  Over time, you can create a better growing environment for your garden plants to thrive in and produce.  Please see our information sheet “Preparing your Soil” for more detailed info on soil preparation before planting a garden.


There are many tried and tested methods for successfully seeding and growing parsnips, but this one is our favorite.  Rake a shallow seed bed either in rows or in larger squares, depending on your garden size.  Sprinkle the seeds as evenly as you can over the seed bed, approximately 1/2 to 1” apart (closer is ok), and then cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of peat moss, coconut coir, vermiculite, or a light potting soil, and tamp the soil down lightly with your foot or a tool, compacting the soil slightly.  The seed must stay warm and moist to germinate properly, and it is not unusual for it to take 14-21 days for germination.  A soaker hose works well to keep the seed moist, but we have had success moistening the seed with a watering can, and then placing a board (2x4 or bigger) over the planted area. It will help warm the soil and maintain the moisture for many days increasing chances of germination. When the seedlings are about 2” tall, thin the carrots to 1 plant every 2 inches, otherwise your roots will remain small and underdeveloped.


Not many varieties of parsnips are available in the home garden market, but we have carried Hollow Crown and Harris Model before, both of which are heirlooms. They have consistently been difficult to germinate, but grow like weeds after that. Both have good flavor and texture that isn’t stringy.


Parsnips need regular water and consistent soil moisture to produce well.  Use of a soaker hose and light mulches can assist in maintaining correct soil moisture and guaranteeing a healthy harvest.  We recommend about 1-2 inches of water applied per week in 2-3 applications.  Moisture fluctuations can cause root cracking, forking of roots, and poor yields.  Maintaining consistent moisture will prevent most of these issues and assist in proper root development.


About 6 weeks after germination, apply a balanced vegetable food (“That’s All it Takes” or Happy Frog Organic Tomato & Vegetable Food) down the side of the row of plants and water thoroughly.  1-2 cups per 10 feet of row works well.  We recommend the Tomato & Vegetable Food because it contains many micro-nutrients (like Boron & Iron) that prevent common problems in developing parsnips. We also recommend treating your parsnip seed or plants with beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae (Kangaroots or Myke).  These added helpers bring nutrients and water directly to the plants that host them, making them stronger, more resistant to insects and diseases, and more drought tolerant. 


Few insects bother parsnips, but flea beetles, leafhoppers, cabbage root maggots, and occasionally armyworms will do damage to the roots throughout the growing season and into the fall.  To prevent these critters from starting in the first place, use a row cover to prevent the adult flies from laying eggs on the parsnip tops or in the soil.  Basic insecticides like Hi-Yield Permethrin or Ferti-lome Broad Spectrum Insecticide are also very safe and effective at controlling these pests.  Some gardeners will use Hi-Yield Multi-Use dust in the rows with the seeds when planting and then again every 6 weeks to prevent the insects from damaging their precious crop.


In cold winter climates, harvest parsnips in the fall or leave them in the ground for winter, they can be used NovemberFebruary. Once harvested, you can store the carrots in sand in a container in your cold storage area. We prefer to just leave them in the ground with 4-8 inches of mulch over the top of them to use fresh from the ground all winter.  We gather up leaves in plastic bags and cover the carrots with the bag until we are ready to dig - it keeps the deer away from the roots, and insulates them perfectly from the cold of winter.

Back to blog

Leave a comment