Introduction to Growing Parsley:
Using parsley as a garnish is one of the most popular uses for this herb. Did you know that parsley actually belongs to the carrot family, and can be used for flavoring a wide range of dishes and salads? Parsley is a native of the Mediterranean, where it is grown as a biennial. In the colder regions however it becomes an annual because it cannot often survive cold winters. Starting parsley requires the same growing conditions that most herbs require.
Your parsley will reach its peak results if grown in a full sun location that has direct sunlight for at least 6 hours or more each day. If you are growing parsley in areas with light shade however, the plant will not perform quite as well. The soil should be well drained and have a pH level anywhere from 6.0 to 7.0. These are the ideal conditions for starting parsley plants.
Even though parsley is one of those herbs that is notorious for a slow germination process, starting plants by seed is still the easiest method available. The freshness of the seeds can cause germination to vary greatly, anywhere from 2 weeks to 5 weeks. When you decide you are ready to start parsley, one thing you can do to speed up the germination process is to soak the seeds in warm water overnight before planting. This will soften up the seeds and hopefully allow them to germinate sooner.
Growing Parsley from Seeds:
The typical way of growing parsley plants is to just sow your seeds right into the garden where you want them to grow, however you will need to make sure there is no longer any danger of a frost before planting them outside. If you want to get a jump on your parsley plants before the cold weather breaks, you can easily start your seeds indoors in containers or small retail greenhouses.
If you are starting parsley plants in the ground, sow your seeds with just 1/8 inch of soil covering them, and be sure to clearly label your plants because it could take weeks before you see them sprout. Parsley seedling will come up looking a lot like grass. When your seedlings are around 3 inches tall, thin them out or transplant them to roughly 12 inches apart, to give them enough room to reach full maturity.
Pay careful attention to the moisture level of your plants. When starting parsley you do not want them to dry out in between each watering. Depending on normal rainfall levels in your area, you should make sure your parsley gets one good deep watering each week to make sure the roots have proper moisture. It is a good idea to give your plants a light layer of mulch too after planting. Mulch will help keep the weeds at bay and will also retain a lot of the moisture before it evaporates.
Growing Parsley with Fertilizer:
Fertilizer should really be used sparingly when growing parsley and other herbs. It is ok to fertilize up to two times throughout the growing season, but no more. If you are using a liquid fertilizer, you should really only apply it at half of what the label calls for. If you are starting parsley plants in containers, you will need to water the plants more often, and you can apply light doses of fertilizer about once per month, no more.
Growing parsley indoors is actually rather easy compared to other herbs, however the plants will come out a little thin and spindly because of the lower levels of light. Just make sure you put the containers in as bright a location as you have, and make sure the pot has adequate drainage.
Growing Parsley - Harvesting:
Harvesting parsley is pretty straight forward. Unlike other some herbs, parsley loses a lot of its flavor if it is dried or frozen, so it’s best to only harvest stalks as they are needed. When harvesting, cut off the outer stalks first, near to the ground as this will encourage new growth and allow the plant to be more productive throughout the season. Do not just cut off the tops and leave the stalks behind, even if the tops are all you want from the plant. Take the complete stalk and discard the portions you aren’t using. In the long run this method of pruning will lead to a more productive plant.
Depending on how mild the winters are in your area, you may be able to grow your parsley as a biennial. Your plants will grow well into the fall in spite of a few light frosts. Once the cold weather sets in however, the foliage will die off. You can leave the dying plants where they are throughout the winter and see if they will resprout in the spring time. If they do, then you will get a few more harvests of parsley before the plants sprouts its seed stalk and dies. Harvest the seeds and store them for next year’s planting! Second year parsley will have a more bitter flavor than the first year.
Growing Parsley for Drying:
If you are growing parsley plants for drying and preserving, the best way is to lay them out on a screen, or hang them in bunches in a warm, dry room that has good ventilation. Be sure to keep the leaves out of direct sunlight however as this will cause them to spoil. If you need to dry your parsley faster, or if you live in a very humid region, you can use your oven to dry the leaves. You will want to set your oven to a minimal temperature, no more than 100 degrees.
Many times the oven light itself will provide enough heat to accomplish this. The drying process in an oven takes only minutes so make sure you pay close attention to the process while it is underway. Once dried, you can store them in an air tight container. If you would like to freeze your parsley, you can do so in small bags soon after harvesting, but whichever method you use to preserve them, you should try to use them within a year for best results.
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