Often relegated to the side of the plate as garnish, parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a flavorful herb that has a place in plenty of recipes. It's also easy to grow in the garden, and doesn't need much care or fuss. You can grow it in a container on a windowsill or patio, or devote a row in your vegetable garden or flower bed to the leafy plant. Parsley is a great starter plant for kids, since it is so easy growing.
Parsley is a biennial plant but is often grown as an annual. It thrives in U.S. Department of Agricultural plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Biennial plants wait until the second year of life to produce flowers and then seeds. Since the leaves aren't as tasty the second year, most people grow the plant as an annual, starting with a new one each season. If you live in an area where the plant will survive the winter, you can let it go to seed the second year, then either collect the seeds or let it self-sow by dropping the seeds into the garden.
People typically grow two types of parsley -- common and Italian. Common parsley has curly leaves and can grow up to 18 inches tall. The Italian variety, also known as flat-leaf parsley, has wide, flat leaves and can grow up to 3 feet tall. Curly parsley is usually a darker green than Italian parsley. The leaves on both types of parsley grow in groups of three on top of longer stalks. If the plant does reach the flowering stage, the flowers it produces are delicate and form in clusters.
You can grow parsley from seed or from a transplanted seedling. The seeds take a long time to germinate, usually between two and three weeks. In some cases, the seeds can take up to six weeks to sprout. If you want to speed up germination, soak the seeds in warm water the night before you plant them. The seeds can tolerate some cold, so direct sow them in the ground three weeks before the last frost in your area.
To thrive, parsley needs space, water and sun. The plant can grow in either full sun or part shade. If you've planted seeds, thin the seedlings so that each plant is about 10 inches apart when the seedlings is around 2 inches tall. After you've planted the seeds, keep the soil moist. Parsley needs consistent moisture as it grows, so remember to water regularly. The plant is less picky about its soil. It does well in rich and acidic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, but will also grow in less rich soils. What matters most is that the soil can drain and doesn't become saturated with water.