Growing parsley takes patience

If you are planning to grow parsley from seeds this year, you might want to start getting your containers ready for planting.

Parsley, a favorite plant in my garden, takes as long as six weeks to germinate. While many seeds start to break through the soil within a week or two of planting, parsley takes its time because the seeds, although small, are encased in a hard shell. If you don’t get the seeds started in February but you still want an early crop, soak them in water for 24 hours before planting to help soften the covering.

Parsley is a biennial. This means one plant will live for two years in the garden. During the first growing season, parsley is primarily leaves, building its strength for the second season when it forms flowers and seeds. I generally treat this plant as an annual, only using the tender, tasty leaves the first season and pulling it up at the end of the year and tossing the root and crown on the compost heap. In past years, when I grew parsley in the herb garden instead of the vegetable garden, I have left the plant to come back the second season. Although the leaves are a bit bitter and more coarse, I use them anyway, making sure to chop them fine before tossing them into the soup pot.

Many people treat parsley as though it is nothing more than a garnish, placed on the side of our plates in restaurants to add color to the presentation of our food. In fact, parsley is an ancient herb and wasn’t used at the table in medieval times. The herb was held in high esteem by ancient Greeks who used it to make wreaths that decorated the tombs of their dead.

The parsley that often decorates our plates is a common variety called ‘crispum.’ As an herb, parsley also was used as a breath freshener and some believe the practice of using parsley as a garnish stems from that long-ago habit. Curly parsley, such as crispum, is commonly used in food and goes well with eggs, potatoes and meat dishes. Culinary parsley, however, is the flat-leaf varieties, which are often referred to as Italian parsley.

The flavor differences between curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley are quite evident. Curly parsley is stronger and more bitter, while flat-leaf varieties bring out the parsley flavor without the bitterness and is somewhat sweeter.

Garden centers are filled with parsley plants in spring. While they are generally found with the herbs, they are also included with the vegetables.

To start parsley from seed, plant them in sterile, soiless mix and keep them moist, preferably under a plastic canopy. Parsley seeds do not need to be covered as they are one of a few plant varieties that prefer light to germinate.

It is questionable as to if they do really need light or if it is the warmth from the light that causes the germination, but both methods have been used with success. As the seeds are so small, a faint dusting of soil over top is all that is needed if you prefer to cover your seeds. What parsley does need is moisture. The seeds will not germinate if they are dry, so keep them moist, but not floating.

The next important thing you will need to start parsley from seed is patience. Seeds are smart and will often wait for perfect conditions before they sprout.

Once the tiny seedlings appear on the top of the soil, continue to give them light. Parsley prefers bright light but will tolerate partial sun, although they may not produce as well. When the time is right in spring with warm days and frost-free nights, plant your parsley outdoors after a couple weeks of allowing the plants to get adjusted to its new climate.

Parsley grows from a central crown with the younger stems and leaves growing from the center. Harvest the outer leaves first so the plant will continue to produce throughout the season.