How about something easy to grow, flavorful in the kitchen, and attractive to butterflies? Introducing parsley – a must-have herb for your spring garden. It grows happily for gardening beginners and experts and will provide fresh flavor for the kitchen for months to come.
When shopping for parsley in nurseries, you’ll find two varieties – curly and flat-leafed. Both provide flavor but cooking experts prefer the darker flat-leafed (a.k.a., Italian) parsley for its pungent flavor.
Avoid purchasing parsley plants or sowing parsley seed before temperatures begin to rise in spring. If a plant is exposed to prolonged cold, it will be stimulated to begin the second year of its life cycle (even if it’s only a month or two old). The leaves will turn bitter and the end-of-life flower stalk will appear, bypassing the productive first-year growth.
Planting & Growing
Parsley is a no-fuss garden herb. Just plant it in morning sun or part shade and give it regular water. It will thrive in garden soil or containers, anyplace where you might grow annual flowers. Fertilize every 4 to 6 weeks to encourage lush leaf production.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is biennial, meaning it grows just two years. The first year it produces a bushy rosette of flavorful long stemmed dark green leaves we harvest. The second year the leaves become bitter and a 2-3 foot flower stalk appears that is enjoyed by butterflies.
Because parsley grows very differently the first and second year of life, you have two options when planting it in your garden. If you want to keep it only one year for the leaves, grow it near other showy herbs or ornamental plants as an edging or border plant and pull it up at the end of the year. But if you’re patient, you can let it go to flower and attract butterflies the second year. If that’s your goal, plant it in the back of your bed to accommodate the 2 to 3 foot flower stalk.
In the Kitchen
Clip and use fresh parsley anytime during the first year of growth. You can cut all the leaves at once to stimulate new growth or just snip a few leaves for immediate use. To preserve, rinse and lay the leaves flat to dry. Once the leaves are dry and crackly store them in an airtight container.
Parsley can be used in many foods. It helps blend the flavors of other herbs together in dishes. Add a pinch of parsley leaves and some black pepper to scrambled eggs. If you’re new to using herbs, try adding parsley to potatoes or rice as a first step. I think of it as a starter herb in the kitchen, especially when you cook for picky eaters. Once they get used to seeing parsley on their food you can start adding other herbs.
So this spring add some parsley to your garden shopping list. It’s easy to grow and adds great flavor to foods.
If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News.The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.