Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa: “Winter Wonder “
Among root vegetables, the parsnip tends to be unfairly overlooked while its flashy orange cousin, the carrot, gets the attention. But Pastinaca sativa is a star in its own right, with its sweetly nutty flavor and a harvest perfectly timed to see us through the winter.
Parsnips are amazing place-holders in your garden. If you have the space, parsnips’ season-long growth will keep weeds and erosion at bay, and reward you with a tender, delicious root come fall.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Plant parsnips in the early spring, and harvest them after the first frost to achieve the sweetest, most delicate flavor. You can also leave them in the ground through the winter. Mulch for best results and be sure to harvest before they put out new growth in the spring.
Above: While the hairy, thick peel may scare you off, parsnips’ exterior belies a smooth, sweet, light flavor that gets sweeter if harvested after the first hard frost. For more, see 7 Winter Vegetables That Taste Better Than You Think. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
- Pair parsnips with plants that take less space and time; try interplanting with arugula, other small greens, radishes, or a cover crop like clover.
- Their bright green, feathery tops lend rows of parsnips an airy look in a vegetable garden.
- Store parsnips in a cool, dark spot (such as a root cellar) and they will stay happy in winter. (For more ideas, see Roots in the Sand: Winter Vegetable Storage.)
Keep It Alive
- Parsnips prefer full sun and to be watered evenly; keep moisture levels consistent by mulching.
- Parsnips grow best in rich, stone-free soil.
- In spring, plant a crop of parsnips as soon as the ground can be worked.
Above: Roasted root vegetables. Photograph by Laura Silverman. See more in Recipe: Winter Vegetable Pan Roast.
Planting parsnips for the first time? There are several varieties of parsnips, with varying levels of frost tolerance, sweetness, and root shape. Try a short-rooted variety if your soil has rocks or a hardpan.
Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for parsnips with our Parsnips: A Field Guide.
Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.