Although most often associated as an herb or as a garnish, you’ll want to eat as much parsley you can, as it’s extremely nutritious. I used to frequent a restaurant in San Antonio that served it fried to a crisp and it was wonderful. Parsley can be frilly and curled or flat-leafed, and it is easy to grow, if you start with a nursery-grown transplant. It must be grown when the temperatures are cool. My Cajun bride can’t cook a thing without green onions and parsley.
Parsley is a cool-weather plant that bolts or goes to seed and dies when the weather is hot. Its flavor gets stronger with heat as well. For parsley to be vigorous and tender, the weather must be cool. Parsley can tolerate frosts but not hard freezes, so it should be planted in late winter or early spring for an initial crop. A fall crop can be planted around September or October in East Texas. Parsley is planted from transplants, which are often available from garden centers and feed stores. They should be placed 12 inches apart.
Parsley requires at least eight hours of direct sun each day but can tolerate a bit of filtered light, or as little as five to six hours of direct sun. It should be planted in a rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter or preferably larger. Small containers dry out quickly in the frequent warm temperatures of Texas, leading to plant death or stress. Ideally, till several inches of organic matter into the soil and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal pH for growing parsley is 6.0 to 7.0.
Parsley can be grown either in the ground or containers. I prefer the ground, so the plants don’t dry out as much. Transplants should be planted in well-cultivated soil. Dig holes that are the same size as the existing pot the parsley is growing in. Gently firm the soil around the transplant, being careful not to plant it any deeper than it was growing in the pot. Water thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food such as Miracle-Gro at half the labeled recommendation.
Parsley is relatively easy to grow. To promote new shoots and foliage, pick leaves and remove flowers regularly, and apply several teaspoons of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) every two to three weeks or a water-soluble fertilizer every one to two weeks. The main pest to look out for is the larva (caterpillar) of the beautiful eastern black swallowtail butterfly. Many gardeners leave them alone and plant extra parsley for the butterflies.
The fully expanded but still tender lower leaves of parsley can be harvested at any time within weeks of transplanting. Pull pest-free leaves from the base of the plant (or trim the top), and wash, use, or refrigerate immediately. Parsley leaves can also be dried and stored for later use.
Recommended varieties for Texas include ‘Moss Curled’, ‘Petra’, ‘Triple Curled’, and ‘Italian Flat-Leaf’ (preferred by most cooks). Parsley is native to the Mediterranean.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.