Parsnips may be one of the most underrated vegetables. Too often, we pass by these pale, carroty-looking roots to reach for turnips, carrots, or potatoes, instead. But parsnips aren’t just anemic carrots; they’re a delicious, nutritious vegetable in their own right.
Parsnips have a rich, earthy flavor. They’re sweet and mild compared to turnips. They also have a fuller flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes than carrots. I love using parsnips in winter stews – especially with venison, bear, or lamb.
There are lots of fantastic parsnip varieties worth growing, and we’re going to talk about the best ones. If you’re unfamiliar with growing parsnips, check out our guide, first.
Let’s get started.
Best Parsnip Varieties
Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) – like carrots, cabbages, and beets – are a staple in northern climates with cold winters and short growing seasons.
Parsnips have a few popular cultivars and many other lesser-known varieties as well.
‘Albion’ parsnips have long, thin roots with a bulbous top. They’re extremely white, rather than the cream or nearly tan of other cultivars. The roots can grow up to 18 inches long.
This cultivar is a reliable producer but it takes a little longer than some other cultivars, needing 120 days to mature.
Extra sweet and earthy, ‘All-American’ parsnips are creamy-white and large, up to a foot long and three feet wide. You can purchase 300 heirloom seeds at Amazon from Isla’s Garden Seeds.
This is one of the most popular parsnip varieties and is ready in just 95 days.
Archer is resistant to parsnip canker, which makes it an appealing option for areas that commonly struggle with this disease. It has a delicious flavor and a creamy color, ready in 120 days.
Parsnip canker is a damaging disease caused by several different fungi. Cylindrocarpon spp., Fusarium spp., Mycocentrospora acerina, Pythium spp. and Rhizoctonia spp. are the most common, but Itersonilia perplexans can also cause the disease.
This rare, heirloom variety has long, white roots with a delicious, sweet flavor. The roots can grow quite large, and this parsnip is able to break through harder-packed soil to improve the soil for subsequent crops. If you can find ‘Bedford Monarch,’ it is well worth the effort.
Ready in about 120 days, it’s time this fantastic parsnip cultivar comes back.
The skin on ‘Cobham Marrow’ is white and smooth, making it a beautiful option to show off on the dinner plate. The flavor is sweet and somewhat nutty, and the roots hold well in the soil if you decide to leave them.
The roots have a higher-than-average sugar content, and the plant is resistant to cankers. The smaller roots are about eight inches long, but they’re ready in a mere 95 days.
The hollow crowns on ‘Gladiator’ might be a little harder to clean, but they’re beautiful and create a pleasing display. Mature in 120 days, it’s resistant to canker and stores well both in the ground and in the root cellar.
You can expect them to last up to six months when stored in cool conditions. Bred in the UK, a country that loves their parsnips, it’s sweet, with uniform roots. No wonder its one of the most popular parsnip varieties in the UK.
Half Long Guersney
This cultivar was bred in Guersney, Englad, before 1850 and was one of the most popular options for years. Extremely sweet and delicate, the roots are half as long as the ever-popular ‘Hollow Crown,’ which is where the name comes from.
Ready for harvest in about 110 days.
Ready in 95 days, the roots on ‘Harris Model’ are sweet with a uniform size and shape and cream-colored skin. Pick up a packet of 200 seeds at Amazon.
The most common, modern cultivar, ‘Hollow Crown,’ is famous for consistently producing lovely parsnips. ‘Hollow Crown’ is somewhat resistant to parsnip canker, which makes it a good choice for first-time growers.
Grab a packet of 100 seeds from Axel’s Garden Seeds at Amazon. The plant needs about 105 days to reach maturity.
‘Javelin’ is the most popular cultivar for a reason. The slender, tapered roots store well in the ground and have a pleasant flavor. The plant is also highly resistant to canker. The shallow crowns are easy to clean.
It’s a high-yielding cultivar and the creamy white roots look good faw, roasted or any other way you want to prepare them.
‘Javelin’ needs 110-120 days to reach maturity. Grab a packet of seeds at Amazon.
This short, rounded parsnip has an incredible flavor. It produces well in shallow or hard soils and is even more cold-hardy than most varieties. If you’re determined to plant your parsnips as early as possible, ‘Kral Russian’ is the variety for you.
It also matures in only 90-100 days, making it an early variety.
‘Palace’ is an incredibly popular cultivar of the many parsnip varieties out there, with a pleasantly sweet flavor.
It’s a vigorous grower with large, smooth-skinned, nearly white roots. It has mild resistance to canker. The shallow crowns are easy to clean and visually appealing.
It’s ready for harvest in about 110 days.
‘Palace’ is a winner of the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit.
You have to be patient with ‘Viking,’ but it’s worth the wait. Mature in 120 days, this plant has lots of foliage atop tapered, 10-inch-long white roots.
The wedge-shaped roots are firm and thick
‘Warrior’ has won the battle for our hearts. The foot long roots have practically no tail and are a pleasing white color. They also have a slow taper, which means you get more root for your buck.
The shallow crown is easy to clean and the robust foliage feeds the robust root.
They need just 105 days to mature, but don’t leave them in the ground. They will continue to grow larger and larger while taking on bitter, woody characteristics. Resistant to canker.
If you want a classic-looking parsnip to grace the dinner table, white spear is it. The broad obovate roots have a deep crown and a tapering shape topped by wide shoulders. It’s nearly white and the skin is smooth.
Bred by English seed company Tozers and ready in 120 days, the massive roots can grow up to 36 inches long!
Once you bring home your new parsnip varieties, you’re probably wondering how to plant them.
Most seed companies recommend starting parsnip seeds as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. That is the traditional time to plant parsnips, and I’ll usually plant my first batch early in the season.
But cool weather soil slows germination. They need temperatures between 50-70°F to germinate quickly. The seeds you sow in that newly-workable soil won’t germinate as quickly as later plantings might.
Thats ok. Don’t worry if your seeds take up to 30 days to germinate. These seeds are slow to start, anyway.
Depending on the conditions, they could sprout in as few as 14 days or as long as a month. If you want something fast-growing, sow a quick-sprouting crop like radishes around your parsnip bed.
If you sow early in the spring, try sowing another set of seeds again a few weeks later. Succession planting in this way will give you an ongoing crop that can last over a month, and you will have a faster germinating group in case the first group fails.
Many people wait until the soil temperatures are at least 50°F. This planting may germinate a bit faster than the earlier planting. Then, you can see which planting does better in your particular climate.
Parsnips take about 1-120 days from germination to reach maturity, depending on the parsnip varieties you’re growing.
Since they’re a biannual plant, if you want to save seeds, you’ll have to wait until the second year of growth to harvest seeds. Most people don’t bother. Instead, they harvest parsnips in the fall and buy another round of seeds in the spring.
The hardest part of growing parsnips is germination. Not only are parsnip seeds slow to germinate, but they also have a low germination rate overall.
Seeds older than a year or two rarely germinate, but even fresh seeds are unpredictable. Buy from a reputable company that consistently provides quality seeds for the best chance at growing parsnips.
If you buy hybrid seeds, the resulting plants might have sterile seeds or the seeds won’t grow true.
Like all root crops, you’ll want to give your parsnip varieties loose soil, without too many rocks. Root crops grown in hard-packed or rocky soil often struggle to produce good-sized roots. Ideally, plant your parsnip seeds in deep, rich, loamy soil.
Try to make sure the soil has a balanced nutrient level. You won’t need to feed your growing parsnips, but prepare the soil with a good, balanced fertilizer or one with a 5-10-10 nutrient breakdown. Or, use lots of well-rotted compost.
Too much nitrogen may cause the growing parsnips to produce too many leaves and insufficient roots.
Your parsnip bed should be in a sunny, well-draining spot. Parsnips need plenty of light and soil that doesn’t get bogged down every time it rains.
Like most root crops, it’s not usually successful to start parsnips indoors and then transplant them. Wait until you can plant your seeds outdoor before starting parsnips in the spring.
When the soil is workable and well-prepared, you can plant your seeds. Plant them about a quarter to a half inch deep and about an inch apart. Later, when the seeds have germinated, you can thin them to about three inches apart.
Rows should be about 10 inches or a foot apart when growing any of these parsnip varieties.
When the seeds are planted, water the area gently but deeply. Try to keep the soil moist throughout the germination process. In early spring, it’s usually not too hard to keep soil moist. Water only when necessary, and don’t over-soak the soil.
It’s okay if there are a few more frosts after you plant. Parsnip seeds can handle a bit of cold. But, the newly germinated seeds can’t compete well with weeds yet.
Keep an eye on your parsnip bed and try to minimize the weeds as much as possible. This can be a bit of a balancing act, as the young plants are easy to uproot if you weed too aggressively.
Caring for Parsnips
Once your parsnip varieties get bigger and start leafing out, they’re safe from weed competition and ready to be neglected for the summer. Still, I’d recommend weeding regularly because weeds harbor pests and diseases.
Throughout most of the growing season, your parsnips can thrive with benign neglect. In a dry summer, your parsnips will need some regular watering. Moist soil is essential to root growth. Give your parsnips a good soaking when the top inch of soil dries out.
The rest of the time, you can just let the parsnips grow without much attention. This is handy, since you’ll be busy with other plants during June, July, and August.
It can take 95-120 days for growing parsnips to be mature enough to harvest. Get you know your parsnip varieties and mark the date on the calendar. Once they’re ready, you don’t have to rush the harvest for most parsnip varieties.
In fact, many growers like to leave their parsnips in the ground through the first frost or two. The cold weather concentrates the natural sugars in the root – making a sweeter parsnip for your table.
You can even mulch your parsnips well and wait to harvest them until late in the winter or early in the spring. These parsnips will be sweet and fresh tasting as long as you harvest them before the spring weather starts the growing process again.
Parsnips are winter hardy up through USDA Growing Zone 2. So, even in the far north, we can expect our parsnips to overwinter well.
When you’ve decided whether or not your parsnips are ready to harvest, take a look at the size of the crown and the state of the leaves. Parsnips are ready to harvest when the leaves start dying back or when the crown is at least an three-quarters inch in diameter. Larger varieties of parsnip should be allowed to grow to at least one inch in diameter.
Since parsnips can be stored in the soil and harvested as needed, they’re a great, sustainable vegetable to add to your winter rations. Once harvested, store your parsnips as you would carrots – in a cool, dry root cellar.
Occasionally, people harvesting parsnips, celery, and carrots report experiencing burns, blisters, or rash after handling these plants.
While parsnip burn is usually associated with wild parsnip or cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum), not domesticated parsnip, parsnip burn can happen to sensitive individuals in the right conditions.
Harvesting on bright, sunny days, when either the plant is very wet or you are sweaty seems to present the ideal condition to encourage parsnip burn. If you’re concerned, harvest your plants while wearing gloves, and try to harvest on cool, dry days instead of in the heat of the day.
Growing parsnips isn’t a difficult process, but even if it was, it would be worth it when harvest time comes.
The classic way to use parsnips is to toss them in oil and salt and roast them at 350°F. They’re delicious that way and roasting brings out the sweetness. Feel free to add minced garlic or herbs for seasoning, like thyme or parsley.
They’re also fantastic boiled and mashed like potatoes.
Bake and blend them to make a soup, slice them to make chips, or fry them up to make parsnip fries.
If you’ve never had parsnip bread, make it a priority. It’s similar to zucchini bread in terms of the process, but has such an incredible flavor. You spice it with things like cloves and cinnamon and mix with flour.
For the full recipe, visit Relish.
Quick Reference Chart
|Scientific Name: Pastinaca sativa
|Height: 30-75 inches
|Sunlight: 6 hours or more
|Spread: 12-16 inches
|Water Needs: Moderate, deep
|Drainage: Well draining
|Time to Maturity: 100-120 days
|Hardiness Zones: 2-9