Many chefs prefer the taste and aroma of Italian parsley when cooking. It is said to have a stronger sweeter flavor than other varieties. However its leaves are longer more straggly and taller than the curled variety. It is a great addition to the herb garden but like all plants it has its place, this herb may be best in cooking but the curled variety will be used as a garnish. Like all parsleys it does need some extra attention to ensure it grows well and wildlife like to eat it, but the flowers are great for attracting local bees and butterflies. Hardy to zone 3.
Parsley is a biennial herb meaning it flowers in the second year. In most cases it is grown as an annual and pulled up at the end of the season so the flowers are not often seen. In its first year it produces a rosette of triangular leaves made up of three leaflets (its called tripinnate) which are darkish green in color. In this variety are wide deeply lobed and cut on long stalks that can be up to 18 inches tall with the plant reaching 16 inches across.
In some zones some of the leaves may overwinter and stay green, in the spring of the second year it will at first produce lush leaves but then it puts forth tall thin tough stems which are topped with umbels of tiny white to greenish yellow flowers in June to August. The stems can reach 3 3 1/2 feet in height and appear delicate and fine even though the stems are tough. At this point the leaves turn bitter and a not useful in cooking.
Parsley seeds are notoriously slow to germinate and can take anywhere from 2-5 weeks. Soaking the seeds overnight in tepid water before planting can help. It also needs warm soil for best germination rates. Due to the slow germination seeding in flats or individual pots indoors is recommended to reduce weeding. Start seeds about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date indoors or direct sow after frost danger has passed. Only lightly cover the seeds and keep them moist. Seedlings look more like grass when the do emerge and are slow to begin with. Transplant into individual pots as they grow past the four leaf stage and grow on before transplanting outside. Space plants 10-12 inches apart.
Location and Care.
Parsley does best when planted in a sunny location but it can tolerate some light shade. It prefers well drained soil with a high level of organic material to produce good lush leaves. It will grow on poorer soils but the leaves will not be as good. It cannot easily tolerate wet soils. It prefers a pH range from 5.0 - 7.0.
Plants like to be moist so try not to let the soil dry out completely, trickle irrigation (soaker hose) is ideal for parsley. Adding a light mulch or ground up leaves mixed with grass clippings can help keep the moisture in the soil around the plants. Don't use grass clippings alone they can pack down into a pancake and encourage mold. Fertilize with high nitrogen fertilizer and side dress with compost mid season to keep the leaves lush and green.
Parsley is also an excellent pot plant either for the deck, patio or as a houseplant. Its attractive foliage makes it a great filler or accent plant for almost any flower. Indoors it will need a bright location indoors and a south facing window is best and the plants may be a little spindly with lower light levels.
Parsley can help the grow of both roses and tomatoes.
Harvesting and Storage.
Leaves can be harvested from the plant as soon as it reaches about six inches in height. Snip each leaf close to the ground to encourage more growth and take only about one third of the plant at a time to ensure there are enough leaves to help the plant regenerate. In this way the leaves can be harvested all season. Taking just the leaf and leaving the stalk creates a less productive plant. If you leave the plants in place over the winter you can harvest the leaves in the early spring until the plant begins to send out flower stalks, at this point either let it seed or remove the plant.
Parsley leaves can be dried either on racks or in a dehydrator and stored for later use. Store in air tight containers away from the light. They can also be frozen in small bunches and kept in the freezer for up to a year.