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Growing Parsnips

A Great Companion Plant to Carrot and Root Vegetables

Subspecies: Pastinaca sativa

growing parsnipsThe parsnip is a root vegetable and is related to the carrot. Parsnips look similar to carrots, but are generally paler and sweeter tasting, especially after cooking. They have a buttery and spicy taste that is released during cooking. They can be mashed like potatoes and serve as unique substitute for mashed potatoes at holiday dinners.

Growing parsnips is done in cold weather because its flavor will not mature unless the plants are exposed to temperatures in the 32° – 38°F range for 2 – 4 weeks. The type of starch in a parsnip root turns into sugar, resulting in a strong, sweet, nutty, particular taste.

Parsnips can be over wintered and harvested when soil begins to thaw in the spring. Read on for our full guide on how to grow parsnips yourself.


Parsnip seeds need to be planted directly in the ground. Soil needs to be around 50° -85°F for adequate germination to occur within within 10 – 21 days.

Plant parsnip seeds around last frost in deep, well fertilized soil that has been well prepared and is free of rocks and debris. Parsnip seed will not keep well, so it is best to obtain fresh seed each year.

Parsnip seeds need to be planted at a depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inches. Germination of parsnips is not particularly reliable and can be over seeded. There should be 2 – 4 inches between seedlings once established and 18 – 24 inches between rows. Radishes may be used as a companion plant to help break the soil and give the parsnips a head start.

Parsnip seedlings need their rows weeded frequently.

Roots should be harvested with a shovel, spade or 2 tined fork. Yields often surpass one pound per 12 inches of row space and each root may way up to a pound.

Do not plant parsnips in ground that was used as lawn the previous year.


Lancer has a long and slender root. It has a very sweet taste and is know for its high germination rate.

Javelin is a vigorous variety with slim roots. Sweet taste and and large roots make this a nice variety for early harvest.


Using row covers made of netting or tightly woven cheesecloth will help protect the plants from insect damage. Row covers need to be removed from the plant rows when days are consistently warmer than 75°F.

Swallowtail-butterfly caterpillars will decimate the leaves if not removed. The caterpillars can be manually removed. During dry spells, parsnips need to be watered at least weekly.

Home Storage:

Keep refrigerated and store the roots in perforated plastic bags or a covered colander for air circulation. They may also be preserved in any of the ways that carrots are kept. Parsnips can be used as a substitute in most dishes requiring potatoes.