Growing Parsley

Photo of Flat Leaf Parsley
Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley
Parsley may be the most easily identified of all of the herbs. It is a common resident of the bins and shelves of produce departments around the world, and is the most beloved garnish available for the table. In the garden, there are two common varieties: curly and flat leaf (Italian) parsley.

What is a Biennial Herb or Plant

Both curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are hardy biennial herbs. This may be a new term for you – biennial. In the garden, we usually deal with herbs that either return from year to year (perennial) or are only with us for a season (annual). There is a group of plants that require more than one season to flourish and set seed.

Plants that need two years to complete their life cycle are said to be biennial. Soon after setting seed the second spring, the plant begins to fail and soon dies. The second season flurry of seed making doesn't result in much leaf production.

For the gardener, the big difference between this and annual herbs is that a biennial will overwinter like a perennial, but will not produce much useful foliage the year following its original planting. This requires a relay strategy in dealing with parsley – a set of new plants every year for fresh sprigs, and a seed-harvesting program for second-season plants.

To get at least some leaves from second year plants, try pinching back flowers as soon as they appear. This will give you a little parsley leaf growth to tide you over until the younger plants start to take off.

Growing Parsley

Parsley puts its roots down deep. Be careful to prepare a nice deep bed for it, ten inches or so, and dress it with rich soil. Choose a location that gets at least six hours of sun but holds moisture well. When parsley goes dry, it wilts and seldom recovers, so keep it mulched.

Curly Leaf Parsley vs. Flat Leaf Parsley

Curled or curly leafed parsley varieties are considered less flavorful and more decorative than their Italian relative. They both have a place in the kitchen, one as a garnish, and the other as a flavoring for soups, stews, salads, sauces, egg and potato dishes, stuffing, and vegetable medleys. Grow both in the same manner. I haven't had a problem with varieties cross-pollinating. If you have, please let me know.

Propagating Parsley

Parsley is propagated from seed, which can be a challenge. Parsley seeds are small and the shell casings are hard. They are notoriously difficult to germinate.

This is what's worked for me: Soak parsley seeds for about an hour in an ounce of warm water to which you have added a couple of drops of dish washing liquid. Strain, rinse, and remove seeds to a dish of clear, warm water. I would even say hot water, but I don't want anyone to boil his or her seeds by accident. If you bake, use water that’s about the same temperature as you would use to cultivate yeast. My guess, as I've never tested the water before using it, is about 105 Degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Start the seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost in your area as they take some time to get going. Parsley seeds like warm soil, so give their pot a warm spot (not hot) if you want to speed up the process a little.

Growing Parsley Indoors

Parsley is a good choice for a potted indoor herb garden. Give it bright morning light, and keep it back from cold windows in freezing weather. It has a long taproot, so make sure to give it a deep pot. Because it doesn't tolerate irregular watering very well, consider employing a wicking system to give it an even supply of water.

Harvesting Parsley

Sprigs can be harvested after the plant starts to look bushy. Harvest the outer sprigs first. In the second year, harvest seeds as they appear or leave them in the garden to self-seed.

This post is getting long, so I am rolling information about the uses of parsley to the next one. You can view it by click this link: Uses for Parsley


  1. Anonymous5:58:00 PM

    good article

  2. Thank you. This was very helpful. I've had good luck starting flat leaf parsley by direct sowing but wanted to see if I could over winter it in a container to bring in for the winter too.

  3. My garden became overrun with Italian parsley over winter. I'm not sure if my daughter really planted that many last spring or whether it seeded itself last growing season. They all have lots of usable foilage. I have to reclaim the garden but hate to throw them out so I've been repotting them but not sure if this is useful.

  4. If this is the second season for your Italian parsley, the plants will stop producing leaves and set seed soon. If it's the first year, they'll leaf out all summer and set seed next year. If you find you have more parsley than you can use: Freeze cleaned, chopped leaves in ice cubes, then transfer the cubes to freezer bags for long term storage. You can use the leaves in soups and stews all winter. It's a neat trick that's fast and easy. You can also dry the leaves in a warm oven or dehydrator and then seal them in an air tight container. Having a little parsley around is always useful!

  5. Anonymous12:06:00 PM

    Why does my parsley keep turning yellow? I have Italian parsley and I keep it in a container garden. how often do I water I think I may be over or under watering I'm not sure. I water every other day. It's 105 today where I live.

  6. This is a tough one. Yellow leaves on your parsley can mean a number of things: overcrowding, inconsistent watering, too much water (wet roots), too little water, too few nutrients in the soil, over-fertilizing. It's a long list.

    Start by changing some simple things, like your watering schedule: Water every day around the base of the plant to give it a deep soaking. Parsley has a long taproot, so it can go deep into the soil to find water (the pot you're using should be at least 10" deep). Prefer watering early in the morning, too. You might also try providing your plant with some shade during the hottest part of the day. Oh, and remove (and discard) the yellow leaves. Good luck.

  7. Sarah, just wanted to say thanks for the advice, I have the same problem with my parsley at the moment so will see if I can figure out its problem :)

  8. I tried for the first time to grow parsley inside ,, for now it s not a succces :( ty for your tips so mor deep container and less water at the same time ^^

  9. This is helpful!! I always thought parsley was an annual, and was so surprised to find it popping up in my herb garden this spring (second year). Now I will know to save the seeds and to relay my crop. Thanks so much!

  10. Thanks for this really helpful post. Looking forward to getting Parsley going in my allotment this year.

  11. Hi. I have a lovely bushy curly parsley plant in a pit on my patio that my mother in law gave me this summer, I know she grew it herself but I don't know how old it is. I was wondering if it will survive a Herefordshire winter outside or whether I should cut it all and freeze it so have a good supply of parsley over the winter?

    1. Hi Laura,

      Harvest most of the parsley, but mulch the plant and leave it to overwinter outdoors if you want seed. It will sprout a little, set seed and die off next spring. Parsley is biennial.

  12. I just went out to my garden and was do surprised that I have 2 large parsley plants. I planted them last year but dont recall using them. Will they die? They look so healthy and large!

    1. Congratulations! Parsley is biennial. It sets seed in spring the second year after it's planted and dies back soon thereafter. You'll likely get a few leaves and plenty of viable seeds. To help the seeds sprout more easily, soak them in hot water.


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