When you’re planning your garden, you often think about all the summer bounty you can harvest. But there are plenty of vegetables that will be ready in the fall and early winter, including parsnips. Find out when to plant parsnips so you can have fresh food in the winter.
When to plant parsnips: Parsnips take between 100 and 130 days to mature so they need to be planted early in the spring. Wait until the ground can be worked and the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Water well while the parsnips are growing and harvest them in the fall. You can wait until there has been a light frost before harvesting as this will make the turnips have a sweeter taste.
Planting Parsnips in Different Climates
Parsnips are a cool season crop. While they do grow through summer, they start in the spring and are ready in the fall. A tropical climate will not provide enough cool temperatures for parsnips.
Parsnips need moist soil to grow, especially after planting when the seeds are starting to germinate. Unless you plan on being vigilant about watering, a dry climate is not ideal for parsnips.
A temperate climate is perfect for parsnips. The mild temperatures of the spring and the fall mean you have a longer planting window as well as a longer harvest window.
Parsnips can be planted in a continental climate but there is a much shorter growing period. Be sure to get your parsnips into the ground as soon as the soil starts to warm up and don’t wait too long to harvest them or else the ground will freeze.
With a very short growing season, a polar climate is not ideal for parsnips. Unfortunately, the ground will not warm up in time for spring planting.
Choosing Parsnips Seeds
This variety is one of the fastest-growing options and will be ready in just 95 days. You can expect the roots to have a sweet, nutty flavor and they are also disease tolerant.
If you want nice, long parsnips, this variety will pleasantly surprise you. The roots grow up to 8 inches long but the variety does take up to 120 days to be ready, so is not ideal for all growing conditions.
This is a great, robust variety perfect for home gardeners. The roots grow nice and straight but the parsnips do take up to 130 days to be ready so plan accordingly.
How to Plant Parsnips Seeds
Even though parsnips are not ready for harvest until the fall, they have a very long growing season. The best time to plant parsnips is in the spring.
You don’t have to wait until the last frost date to plant parsnips but the threat of a hard frost should be over. If you aren’t sure, try to measure the temperature of your soil.
As long as the ground is at least 48 degrees Fahrenheit, your parsnip seeds will germinate. However, if you can, wait until the ground is between 10 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit as this will speed up the germination process.
Your parsnips should be planted in an area that has full sun. These root vegetables take a while to grow and if they have nice, warm soil to grow in, they will be larger when it is time to harvest.
Parsnips are root vegetables which means they grow down into the soil. If this soil is too compacted, it won’t grow very large.
Furthermore, if there are rocks or large roots in the way, your parsnips will become misshapen as they grow around the obstacles.
Take some time to really dig up the area you will be planting in. Try to dig at least a foot down to mix all the soil together.
When digging, you can also add compost to the area for a more fertile location. Remove any clay from the area.
Finally, you want to make sure there isn’t too much nitrogen in the soil, or else there will be an excess of foliage and the roots will be smaller. You can always conduct a simple soil test to check for this.
Parsnips are best when started from seed. You don’t have to start them indoors and instead can direct sow them into your garden.
Always start with new parsnip seeds. Even if you have some leftovers from the previous year, they won’t store well and might not even germinate.
Parsnip seeds are small so they don’t need a lot of dirt on top of them. Just place them in rows that are about 18 inches wide and then cover them with ½ an inch of dirt.
While you can try to space the seeds out by an inch, you can also wait and thin the seedlings out once they start to grow.
It can take parsnips up to three weeks before they break through the soil. This can leave you a bit frustrated and also takes up valuable space in your garden.
A gardener’s tip is to plant radishes, alternating the seeds with your parsnip seeds. The radishes will grow a lot quicker and will mark the area where your parsnips are, thus creating a dual planting area.
How to Water Parsnips
In the first few weeks after planting, it’s important to keep the soil nice and moist. If the soil dries out, so too can your parsnip seeds, which can result in them not germinating.
Keep a steady watering schedule in this timeframe, even if you can’t see anything above the surface. Then, once the greens appear you can ease up a bit with the watering, but don’t let the soil dry out too much.
As summer approaches, you will have to add more watering times to your parsnips as the summer heat can quickly wilt the greens.
How to Grow Parsnips
After your parsnip seedlings start to grow and are about 3 inches tall, you can thin them to provide more space. Ideally, they should be 3 to 4 inches apart. If they are too bunched up, your parsnips will be thin.
If you notice that the greenery for your parsnips has holes in it, this is a sign that pests are feasting on the plants. You can install simple row coverings to stop flies and other bugs from coming into contact with your plants.
In order to suppress weeds from growing, add a layer of mulch after your seedlings start to grow. Not only will the mulch helps prevent weeds from growing but it will keep the soil moist between waterings.
For the most part, you won’t have to fertilize your parsnips. Just make sure you start with soil that has organic material such as compost and this will be enough for the parsnips.
Hill the soil
As the parsnips grow, the top of the root can start to push up through the soil. The result of this is a green color on the top of the parsnip root.
To prevent greening, you can move the soil around so that it forms a small hill below the foliage.
The leaves of parsnips can get a bit sticky, so you may want to wear gloves when handling them. Long pants and long sleeves are also useful.
Parsnips will be ready about 16 weeks after you plant them, which is usually from September to October. You want the roots to be at least 1-inch in diameter, which you can see by dusting the soil off the tops.
If you want sweeter-tasting parsnips, leave them in the ground and don’t harvest until there has been a frost. This won’t damage the parsnips and instead will increase the sugar content in the roots.
While you can leave parsnips in the ground through an early frost, you want to harvest them before the ground completely freezes.
An alternative is to actually leave the parsnips in the ground through winter and harvest them in the early spring. To do this you will need to insulate the ground by adding a thick layer of straw or mulch.
How to store parsnips
Parsnips are excellent if you want fresh vegetables through winter. After harvesting them, brush off any dirt and cut the foliage back to just an inch or two from the top.
Then, store your parsnips in a cellar or similar area that is cold and dark. They should keep through the winter.
How long do parsnips take to grow?
Parsnips take at least 16 weeks to grow. They are ready for harvest starting in September but you can leave them in the ground through to November, depending on how cold your area gets.
Parsnips may not be the tastiest vegetable but if you want a year-round garden, they are a mainstay. Plant parsnips in the spring and keep an eye on them while they grow and then they will be ready for harvest in the fall.