Purdue University

Cooperative Extension Service

West Lafayette, IN 47907

Parsley: A Production Guide

James E. Simon, Vegetable Crops Specialist, Purdue University
Jack Rabin, Vegetable Crops Specialist, Rutgers University
Laura Clavio, Extension Associate, Purdue University

History and Introduction

Parsley (Petroselinum Crispum (Mill.) Nymen ex A.W. Hill) is a biennial herb of the Apiaceac (Umbelliferae) family. Native to southern Europe and western Asia, this culinary herb is commercially cultivated as an annual in many parts of the world for its attractive and aromatic leaves.

The erect growing parsley reaches a height of 1 to 1 1/2 ft. and has green leaves and greenish-yellow flowers in compound umbels. Seeds are smooth, ribbed and ovate. A rich source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and iron, parsley also yields fatty acids and an essential or volatile oil. The essential oil of the leaves is considered superior to that from the seeds and is used in condiments and seasonings. Parsley seed oil is used in fragrances for perfumes, soaps and creams.


Three types of parsley are grown in the United States. The common, or curled-leaf parsley (var. crispum.), is used fresh primarily as a garnish, and dried or dehydrated in food products. Plain, fiat-leaf or Italian parsley (var. neapolitanum Danert) is used as a flavoring in sauces, soups and stews. Both types can be equally aromatic. The Hamburg or turnip-rooted parsley (var. tuberosum (Bernh.) Crov.) is a lesser known type of parsley grown for its enlarged, edible root and is popular in specialized markets. Suggested parsley varieties are given in Table 1. However, variety decisions should be modified by local experience and market demands.

TABLE 1. Suggested Parsley Cultivars.

  Curled-leaf Types: Banquet, Dark Moss
  Colored, Decorator, Deep Green, Forest Green,
  Improved Market Gardener, Moss Curled,

  Flat-leaf Types: Plain, Plain Italian Dark Green.
  Hamburg Type: Hamburg.


Parsley, similar to other members of the Apiaceae family, has seeds that have an erratic and low germination rate even under optimum field conditions. Seeds germinate slowly and unevenly in the cold, wet soils characteristic of early spring. The use of transplants under certain conditions such as limited acreage or roadside marketing of produce may be a preferred alternative.

Field preparation is similar to other small seeded crops. A fine seedbed is required. The usual procedure is to finish the soil after plowing and disc harrowing with rototillers and bed shapers. Rich moist soil with good drainage and a pH of 5.3 to 7.3 is preferred. Cover seeds no deeper than one-quarter inch. If working with heavy textured mineral soils, cover seeds with leaf mold, sand or peat to avoid crusting.

Sowing rates vary greatly, from 12 to 20 lbs. in some locations to as high as 40 to 60 lbs. of seed per acre depending on soil and environmental conditions. Seeds should be sown in the spring as soon as soil can be worked. In the North, better results are achieved by starting plants indoors and transplanting them to open ground after danger of freezing weather is past.

Seed parsley into 60 inch raised beds with three or four rows, 18 to 22 inches apart on each bed. An alternative is to plant double rows on a 36 to 42 inch bed. Transplants may be spaced 4 to 8 inches apart on 36 inch rows. Customized cultivation equipment (e.g., ground driven basket cultivators) is required to cultivate between narrow rows and avoid damage to seedlings. Hoeing is a common method of weed control in the row even if herbicides are used or in states where herbicide product registrations have not been obtained. Research has shown that highest yields can be obtained with very high plant populations

Costs of parsley production for the fresh market are very high. Table 2 shows a summary of costs for a spring crop of parsley. Summer and fall crop costs average 15% higher per bushel due to a combination of lower yields and higher irrigation and spray costs.

TABLE 2. Summary of Fresh Market Parsley Crop Enterprise Budget and Breakeven Costs Based on Average Grower Yields of 900 Bushels per Acre, 1986

 Growing Cost per Acre
 machinery, labor, irrigation, seed, fert, etc.

 Harvest and Marketing Cost per Acre
 labor, containers, rubber bands ice etc.

 Total Production Cost per Acre

 Grower Breakeven Costs per Bushel Based on
 Average Yields per Acre.

    Yield per Acre   Cost per Bushel

        700             $6.03
        900             $5.47
       1100             $5.12

Parsley is marketed continuously throughout the year as a fresh market culinary green. Dark green color, favorable aroma, flavor, freedom from cosmetic defects caused by soil, disease or mechanical injury, trueness to type, long stalks (petioles) for bunching and good field holding capacity are the important quality considerations in fresh market parsley.

Production Problems

Germination and emergence problems often occur. Sometimes these are due to non-uniform seed lots. More commonly, stands are affected by pre- and postemergence damping-off caused by soil fungi. Many soil fungi are reported causing damping-off, however Pythium spp. are the most pathogenic. Research has demonstrated that stand establishment, plant vigor and yield can be significantly improved by fungicide treatment in a previously unproductive field. Consult your State Cooperative Extension Service for currently registered fungicide products.

Research is presently underway with seed producers to commercially develop osmotic priming for parsley seed. This technique for controlling water imbibition of seeds has improved seedling emergence under adverse field conditions. Seed priming appears, primarily, to enhance yields of early spring plantings and provide some benefit in Pythium spp. infested soils. Priming has little effect on yield of crops planted under more optimum conditions of late spring. Some growers pre-treat seeds with a water soak for 24 hours prior to sowing.


The rate of fertilizer application will depend upon soil type and prior cropping history. A suggested N-P-K ratio of 1-1-1 or 3-1-2 should be used depending on soil test results. On heavy textured soils a single broadcast application of N-P2O5-K2O at a rate of 120-120-120 lbs. per acre will provide crop needs. Sidedress with N after the first cutting if a second cutting is desired. On well drained light textured soils and muck soils higher fertilization rates are frequently used. Generally, one-third of the fertilizer is broadcast. This is followed by two sidedressings of N-P-K fertilizer and supplemented with N as required by soil test and crop needs.

Irrigation and Weed Control

Parsley should be treated as a leafy, green vegetable. Use overhead sprinklers or drip irrigation as needed. In most states Stoddard Solvent® is the only herbicide currently registered for use on parsley. It is applied postemergence at a rate of 60 gal. per acre after seedlings have three true leaves until the seedlings are two inches tall. Many states are seeking new label registrations on pre- and postemergence herbicides. Be sure to consult your State Cooperative Extension Service to verify labeling and current status of registered herbicides.

Insect and Disease Control

Parsley has many insect pests. The following controls of common insects on parsley apply only if the insecticides are registered for use in your state and applied in accordance with the label directions. Consult your State Cooperative Extension Service for both the proper identification of pests and recommendations for their control. The "Preharvest Interval" is the minimum days to wait between the last application of a pesticide and harvest of parsley.

    *Phosdrin 4 EC @ 1-2 pts. per acre. Pre-
    harvest Interval (PHI) is 5 days.

    Cabbage looper or beet armyworm.
    *Methomyl 1.8 L @ 2-4pts. per acre.
    PHI is 10 days. This treatment is not registered in Indiana.

Carrot weevil. The grubs of this destructive pest bore into the crown of plants causing within g symptoms and death. Adult weevils over-winter in weed hosts (e.g., Queen Anne's lace) or overwinter parsley and carrot fields. Successful control depends on controlling adults after they become active in spring (mid-May in the North) but before significant egg laying has occurred. Jar traps baited with carrot baby food have been effective as an IPM tool to determine when adults become active and migrate to fields. Time first application to capture of adults in traps.

    *Guthion 2 S or 50 WP @ 1 qt. or 1 lb. per
    acre. Special restrictions apply. Contact
    your State Cooperative Extension Service.
    Maximum of three applications. PHI is 21
    days. A copy of the label must be in posses-
    sion by the user at the time of application.

Corn earworm. Look for larvae in July and August in the North. Earworms overwinter in the South.

    *Sevin 80 S @ 11/4 to 2 lbs. per acre. PHI
   is 14 days.

Flea Beetles, leafhoppers or tarnished plant bugs. Treat field margins and fields for leafhopper control.

    *Malathion 57% EC @ 2 pints per acre.
    PHI is 21 days.
    *Permethrin. Ambush 2 EC @ 6.4 to 12.8
    oz. per acre or Pounce 3.2 EC @ 4 to 8 oz.
    per acre. PHI is 1 day. This treatment is not
    registered in Indiana.
    *Sevin 80 S @ 11/4 lbs. per acre.
    PHI is 14 days.

Rootknot Nematode control is accomplished prior to planting and only after tests indicate counts above an economic threshold. Soil should be fumigated with Vapam (metham) or Vorlex (methyl isothiocynate). Check label instructions for specific application method.

The most important foliage disease of parsley is septoria leaf spot, caused by Septoria apiicola. This fungus can be seed borne and/or splash disseminated. It is the most destructive of all septoria fungi. Purchase of quality seed is the best method of disease prevention. Use of drip or trickle irrigation rather than overhead sprinklers can reduce the spread of this disease.

Aster yellows is a viral disease of parsley that is best controlled by eliminating the vector, leafhoppers.


Parsley harvesting is labor intensive, with hand labor the preferred method in order to obtain the low amount of crop damage acceptable for fresh market use. A worker may group a bunch of plants with the hand, slice the stalks with a knife and slip a rubber band around the cut stalks to maintain bunch integrity. Some markets may prefer parsley to be packed loose for bunching later. Parsley must be cut at least 1 to 1 1/4 inches above the crown if multiple cuttings are desired. Machine harvested fields are mechanically clipped 1 to 3 inches above the crown. The parsley is conveyed to trucks for transport to dehydrators. Multiple harvests by hand or machine are possible depending on crop quality.

In some states three seeding periods per year will give continuous harvesting from April through December (in the North). A summer sowing is fall harvested, a fall sowing may be successfully overwintered for harvest in early spring and spring sowings are harvested in late spring through summer. in the South late summer and fall sowings are made for winter harvest. The earliest harvest of the spring seeded crop frequently brings the highest price because of superior quality as compared with the over-winter crop.

Hamburg, or turnip-rooted, parsley is very hardy and can withstand a moderate freeze in the open. Plants may be left in the ground until marketing, or may be dug and stored in trenches or a root cellar until marketing. Spreading hay over the crop in the field has been used to improve tolerance to severe freezing temperatures. Roots should be washed and discolored leaves removed before marketing.

Postharvest Handling

For the fresh market, bunches of parsley should be washed and any faded or yellowing leaves discarded. Parsley may be packed and shipped hydrocooled or package iced to maintain crispness and fresh appearance. Parsley is shipped in wooden bushels or in wax, corrugated 1 1/9 bushel universal cartons. Optimum storage and handling temperatures are 32 to 36° F at 95% relative humidity.

Suggested Additional Reading

RR 12/88

Cooperative Extension work in Agriculture and Home Economics, State of Indiana, Purdue University and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating: H.A. Wadsworth, Director, West Lafayette, IN. Issued in furtherance of the acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. The Cooperative Extension Service of Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access institution.