Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Parsley - More than a Decorative Green Leaf
Parsley, (Petroselinum crispum) a member of the carrot family, is more than a decorative green leaf on the side of a restaurant plate. The Greeks and Romans knew parsley well as a medicinal plant and a seasoning. It is one of the most nutritious of all herbs. An excellent source of vitamins A and C, it also contains niacin, riboflavin and calcium. Rich in chlorophyll, parsley is also a breath freshener.
Parsley's appeal is world-wide. The Japanese deep fry it in tempura batter. Greeks mix large amounts of it with tomato sauce to create the unique moussaka flavoring. Spaniards use parsley as the prime ingredient in salsa verde, and the English make parsley jelly. Both the common, (curly), and Italian (flat-leaved) parsleys are ideal for garnishes and for flavoring soups, stews, salad dressings, and sauces, but Italian parsley reportedly has the best flavor.
Parsley is so attractive that it blends easily into ornamental plantings in residential landscapes. This is great where sunny space is at a premium for both flowers and food plants. Its fine textured foliage is attractive as edging or fillers in flower beds, where its rich green color will set off the bright blooms of impatiens, petunias and other annuals.
Plant parsley at the edges of window boxes or planters filled with colorful annual flowers. It provides a soft foliage contrast to upright, broader leaved container staples such as geraniums. Parsley's drooping stems simultaneously soften the edges of pots and boxes. Because parsley likes cool weather, it can be depended on to provide perky foliage and rich green accents in both spring and fall gardens or containers.
Although parsley is a biennial--its life spanning two seasons--it is usually treated as an annual and is pulled up at the end of the first season. That is why its flowers, which appear in early summer of its second season, are seldom seen. They are flat clusters composed of tiny, greenish yellow florets. As with most herbs, flowering tends to make the foliage bitter and less useful for cooking. However, parsley flowers host many beneficial insects, including butterfly larvae, so it may be worthwhile to allow a few plants to carry over and flower the next season.
Parsley grows best in full sun, but may appreciate some afternoon shade in warmer times. The ideal soil is moderately rich, moist, and well drained, although parsley plants tolerate poorer soils having less organic matter as long as drainage is adequate. Soil should be loose to accommodate parsley's taproot and mildly acidic (pH 6.0 to 7.0).
Plant parsley from September through January. Varieties such as Moss Curled, Perfection and Italian do well locally. Parsley can be seeded directly or transplanted for a quicker start. Sow seeds in shallow rows, about ¼ to ½ an inch deep. Thin after the sprouts show their first true leaves, to allow 8 to 10 inches of space between plants. Depending on the season and the variety, parsley plants will mature and set seed in about 70 to 90 days.
Transplant seedlings on an overcast day or late in the day to minimize stress. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart, firm the soil over the roots and water immediately. It helps to shield newly planted seedlings from bright sun the first day or so while they adjust to the shock of transplanting.
Parsley can easily be grown in a containers alone, or with other herbs or flowers, as long as it gets enough sun. Use a pot that is 12 inches or deeper. Be sure it has drainage holes. Fill it with moistened soilless potting mix and mix in some slow release fertilizer or water the plants once a month with a dilute general purpose liquid fertilizer.
Parsley plants need regular watering in our sandy soils - possibly daily if it is hot and sunny or planted in containers. Mulching with 2 to 3 inches of some organic material such as chopped leaves, hay, or straw will help the soil retain moisture and discourages weeds.
Begin harvesting parsley when it produces leaf stems with three segments. Harvest the larger leaves at the outside of the plant first, leaving the new, interior shoots to mature. To encourage bushier parsley plants pick only the middle leaf segment of each main leaf stem.
Store freshly picked, moistened sprigs in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for 2 weeks. Chopped leaves can be frozen in plastic bags or blended in water or meat or vegetable stock and frozen in an ice cube tray up to 6 months. Parsley also dries well, although it will lose some flavor. Store dried parsley in an air-tight jar for up to a year.
Parsleyworms are large, strikingly colored 2 inch caterpillars. Green with yellow dotted black bands across each segment, they emit an odor and project orange horns when startled. They feed voraciously on parsley foliage, leaving only bare stems.
Before destroying a parsleyworm, be aware that it is the larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly. To preserve both it and your parsley move it to another member of the parsley family that you can spare, such as carrot, dill, parsnips or common weeds such as water hemlock or mock bishop's weed.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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