Parsley is a favorite herb among gardeners because it is so versatile and easy to grow. However, harvesting its flavorful leaves requires great care, to avoid damaging the plant and to ensure continuous growth.
This guide will explain how to harvest parsley without killing the plant so that you can enjoy a consistent supply of fresh herbs throughout the year.
Why grow parsley?
Parsley has a well-earned reputation as a garnishing herb. Known botanically as Petroselinum crispum, this hardy biennial belongs to the Apiaceae family, which means parsley is a close cousin to carrots, dill, and celery. It has been a popular herb for centuries and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans to garnish and add flavor to their dishes.
Parsley comes in two main varieties – flat-leaf parsley and curly parsley.
The flat-leaf parsley, or Italian parsley, has flat leaves with serrated edges. This variety is loved for its strong flavor and glossy texture. Curly parsley, or French parsley, on the other hand, is known for its darker, curly leaves and slightly bitter taste. Although curly parsley is mainly used as a garnish, it can also be used as a flavor enhancer in soups and stews.
Parsley is not just your ordinary herb! Aside from garnishing your salads, it is incredibly good for you, too. This Mediterranean herb is rich in vitamins and antioxidants that have a lot of impressive health benefits.
Another important parsley fact that you might be missing out on is that it is known to be a great companion plant. When allowed to flower, this flavorful herb can attract pollinators like wasps and butterflies. This means that, when planted together with certain vegetables, parsley can make them grow better. Aside from attracting beneficial insects, it can also repel pests, help improve soil nutrients and encourage faster growth of the plants around it.
Now that you know why parsley is such a delightful herb to have, you might be considering adding this plant to your backyard garden. Whether you want to expand your herb collection or you simply love the incredible taste of parsley, there are many dos and don’ts that you should know in order to grow it healthily and harvest it correctly.
Best time to harvest parsley
Parsley takes about 70 to 90 days to grow to maturity, although it can be harvested already at a younger stage. The rule of thumb is to wait for the plant to reach about six or seven inches tall before harvesting. You should also make sure that every single stem has more than three clusters of leaves. If not, your parsley is not ready to harvest.
Parsley usually starts getting bushy from the middle, as this is where the new growth forms. If you want to have a consistent supply of fresh parsley year-round, avoid harvesting if you do not see plenty of new growth from the middle of the plant.
Tips on how to harvest parsley without killing the plant
Harvesting your garden herbs can be both an exciting and a rewarding experience! However, not knowing the proper way to harvest your parsley can kill it. We all want our herbs to grow abundantly after a harvest, so if you want to enjoy your parsley for the entire harvest season, follow these tips:
1. Harvest during the first growth cycle
If you are harvesting parsley for its flavorful leaves, it is best to harvest the younger plants before they flower. Mature or older plants are best harvested if you want the seeds.
2. Do not cut the middle stalks
Since parsley grows from the middle, the ones in the inner circle are the younger leaves while the ones near the outside are the older parts. If you only need a small amount of the herb for your dish, it is best to harvest the outer stems of the plant, leaving the inner stems in the middle.
When harvesting, make sure to keep about a half to two-thirds of the plant intact to avoid damage. This will encourage new growth after the harvest.
3. Cut from the base of the stalk
To harvest a large amount of parsley, you should cut the entire stem from the base using a sharp pair of scissors. Trimming your parsley plant this way will also stimulate the growth of new leaves and stems, making it healthier and bushier.
When pruning the plant, remember to cut the mature stalks from the bottom. If you cut only the top leafy portion, the remaining foliage will turn brown. It is also not advisable to pluck individual leaves, as this will likely damage the plant and will not give you a good yield.
4. Let your plant rest after the harvest
After harvesting, leave your parsley plant to recover for two to three weeks. Water it sufficiently, especially during summer, and feed it with a water-soluble fertilizer. Once you notice new stems and leaves emerging, your parsley is ready for another harvest.
How to harvest parsley for seeds
If you want to harvest the seeds, remember that parsley plants do not produce seeds until their second growth cycle. The first growth cycle is usually the best time to harvest as many leaves as possible because, during the second growth year, the leaves produced will not be as tasty as in the first year. Another reason is that the plant has grown deeper and more established roots after the first growth year.
Hence, you need to wait a year to harvest high-quality parsley seeds. Before doing so, make sure that the weaker parts of the plant have been trimmed off. This will allow room for new growth and prevent unwelcome pests from settling onto the dying leaves and stems.
Once your seeds are ready, you can harvest them by cutting the stem below the seed head. Make sure to use a sharp pair of scissors or a knife to cut the stem. You can also pinch the plant’s stem using your thumb and index finger, but do this carefully to avoid damaging the plant.
During the harvest, avoid shaking the seed head so that the seeds do not fall off and go to waste. Allow the seeds to dry in a paper bag, and once dry, shake the bag so that the seeds separate easily from the head. If some of the younger seeds remain stuck on the head, allow them to ripen under the sun for two to three days. Make sure to protect the seeds from birds and small animals while keeping them as dry as possible.
Tips for growing and harvesting parsley
1. Harvest your parsley before winter
Like most plants, hard winter frost can easily damage the leaves of your parsley and turn them brown. If your parsley does die, it might grow back again during spring and summer. However, to ensure that you have a consistent supply of fresh leaves, make sure to move your plant indoors when winter comes. It is also best to harvest the leaves before the first frost as you can no longer get fresh green leaves once the plant enters dormancy.
2. Provide lots of light and water
While parsley plants are somewhat forgiving, they do crave lots of light and water. That said, make sure that the topsoil is dry to the touch before your next watering, or you risk overwatering and causing root rot. If you are growing your parsley indoors, make sure it still has access to sunlight for at least six hours per day, preferably near a south-facing window.
3. Keep harvesting for continuous growth
Parsley grows best when trimmed regularly. The more you cut the stalks, the more it will grow new stems and leaves. However, you should avoid cutting the inner stems in the center as this is where the younger parts are. Focus on the mature stalks on the outer edges of the plant, and cut the stems from the base near the soil.
You should continue harvesting your parsley until the second growth cycle when it starts to grow flowers and seeds.
Tips for storing parsley
Growing your own parsley can leave you sitting with an excess amount of leaves – but you do not have to use all your parsley at once! There are many ways you can store the fresh leaves so you can reserve them for later use.
The best way is to store your newly harvested parsley in the refrigerator or freezer. Simply wrap the leaves in a damp paper cloth and let them sit in the refrigerator for up to two days. You can also place parsley sprigs in a container with water to keep them fresh for seven days inside your fridge.
Alternatively, you can store your parsley in the freezer for several months. To preserve its freshness and flavor, we suggest chopping up the leaves, adding them to ice cube trays, and filling these with water. Once you are ready to use them, simply defrost the ice cubes and drain the water. The only downside of this method is that freezing will not keep the leaves crisp.
Drying your parsley is another option if you want a year-round supply of this herb. This method is simple – just hang the parsley sprigs upside down in a dry, warm, and well-ventilated room. After two weeks, the leaves should be completely dry. Crumble the dried leaves and store them in an airtight container to have them on hand for your cooking needs.
Parsley is more than just a garnish – this amazing herb is also useful for enhancing the flavor of salads and other dishes. Aside from its culinary uses, it is also very healthy to consume. No wonder so many growers fancy having their own fresh parsley supply in their backyard!
Despite being a hardy biennial, parsley can also be quite fragile. Thus, you need to harvest its leaves carefully to avoid killing the whole plant. Having read this guide, you should now have some idea of how to do this, so that you can enjoy a continuous supply of your favorite herb!
Image: istockphoto.com / AndreimLazar