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Learn about Parsnips

Parsnips: Direct Sow Vegetable

How to Sow 

  • Sow seeds in deep, well-worked soil in full sun after frost in spring. In frost free areas, sow in fall.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of at least 12 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones. If your soil is heavy be sure to add plenty of organic matter to make it easier for parsnips’ long roots to penetrate the soil. The soil should be deep and free of stones.
  • Sow thinly in rows 12 inches apart and cover with ½ inch of fine soil.
  • Firm lightly and keep evenly moist.
  • Seedlings emerge in 21-27 days.
  • This to stand about 4 inches apart when seedlings are 1 inch high.

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when weeding.
  • Keep plants well watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.

Harvest and Preserving Tips

  • For sweetest flavor, harvest parsnips after a light frost.
  • Continue to harvest parsnips all winter when the ground is not frozen.
  • In areas with severe winters, mulch the area in early winter to keep the ground from freezing as long as possible.
  • Harvest any remaining parsnips in the spring.
  • Try roasting, for a delicate, sweet earthy treat.
  • When storing, keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag to retain moisture. Parsnips may be stored 2-6 months this way.
  • Parsnips may be frozen after blanching. They may also be canned.

Common Disease Problems

Cavity Spot: This fungus causes lesions that are sunken and grey and elliptical in shape. The outer layer of the root ruptures and develops lesions. Burpee recommends: Do not over fertilize, avoid areas that have previously had this problem as the disease persists in the soil for several years. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish grey patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet. 

Itersonilia Canker: This fungus causes small brown necrotic lesions on leaves with pale green halos. Red-brown cankers form on the root and shoulder with a rough texture. This disease emerges late in the growing season and favored by cool, wet weather. Burpee recommends: Keep the shoulders covered with soil throughout the growing season. Rotate crops, keep up with weed removal. 

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap. 

Armyworm: These worms chew holes in leaves that can be singular or clumped together. Leaves can become skeletonized. Egg clusters may be evident on foliage with a cottony or fuzzy appearance. Young larvae are pale green and adults are darker with a light line along the side and pink underside. Burpee Recommends: Introduce natural enemies to the area. Handpick.

Carrot Rust Fly: The larvae of this small dark colored fly are white maggots about .3 inches in length. They cause surface scarring on the taproot caused by the tunnels they make in the root. The tunnels fill with a rust colored mush. They attack members of the carrot family, including celery. Burpee Recommends: Use floating row covers before the adult fly lays its eggs on the plants. Harvest in blocks and do not leave any parsnips in the ground over the winter, or any plant debris, to help prevent overwintering sites. 

Cutworms: These insects cut off the seedlings at the soil level. Burpee Recommends: Place a paper cup collar (use a coffee cut with the bottom cut out) around the base of the plant. They are usually mostly a problem with young seedlings. You can also control by handpicking and controlling weeds, where they lay their eggs. 

Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage. 

Parsnip FAQs

What parts of parsnip are edible? We eat the root.

My parsnip is not germinating, why? Parsnip is slow to germinate. Be sure to give it 3-4 weeks to germinate. Soaking the seeds overnight can help improve germination.

Can I grow parsnips in containers? We do not recommend parsnips for containers because of their long taproot.

Is parsnip perennial? Will it come back every year? Parsnips are biennials that we grow as annuals because we grow it for the tap root. The second year it will produce a flower and the root will no longer be good for eating. At that point remove the plants. They must be planted every year.

Can I start parsnips indoors early? We do not recommend this as the taproot may be damaged when being transplanted.

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