Parsley is a popular herb with origins in the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe. It is also easy to grow, with plants ready to harvest in as little as 40 days in ideal conditions.
There are many different varieties of parsley, but harvesting is done the same way regardless of the type. Whether you are growing in a sunny kitchen window, in a hydroponic system, or outdoors, you’ll harvest the same way.
In this article, I’ll share our simple method for harvesting parsley without harming the plant. In fact, pruning parsley leaves away will encourage fresh growth from the plant, leading to better overall yields.
Types of Parsley
Let’s first discuss the different types of parsley that are most commonly grown. There are two main types home gardeners like to grow: flat leaf and curly leaf parsley.
Flat leaf parsley is preferred for home cooking because it has a bold flavor and a very thin leaf. We almost always grow flat leaf parsley in our gardens.
Curly parsley is a popular garnish, placed beside restaurant dishes such as fish, steak, and breakfast plates. It is edible of course, but is more popular as a visual enhancement than a flavor booster.
While flat leaf and curly parsley look and taste different, the plants grow very similarly. This means that harvesting either type of parsley is done the same.
Growing Parsley in Pots vs. In-Ground
Like most herbs, parsley makes an excellent potted plant. If you use a lot of parsley in your cooking, it’s great to keep one in the kitchen by a sunny window for easy access. You can also keep indoor plants alive through the winter for year round harvests.
Parsley is also easy to grow outdoors, either in pots or in a raised garden bed. If you live in a location with mild winters (temperatures staying above ~10°F), parsley can stay alive through the winter and even continue growing on warmer days.
While in ground herbs are easy to grow, we save that space for deep rooting plants like tomatoes and peppers. For herbs, we like to keep plants in containers.
The size of the container can affect the size of the plant, so be sure to choose a pot that is at least 6” in diameter, but larger, around 12”.
Potted plants should be kept trimmed to encourage new leafy growth. The pots are also convenient, as they can be moved around during the summer and brought indoors for the winter months.
If you have a raised bed, you may wish to dedicate some space to growing your herbs. Parsley can grow quite large with enough soil space, and the quantity of greens may exceed your actual needs.
However, if you use a lot of parsley, or like to make herbal pastes for long term use, you may benefit from growing in the ground. The main drawback is that it can’t easily be moved indoors (without disturbing the roots).
The best way to harvest parsley is regularly. Instead of harvesting the whole plant at one time, harvest small amounts, many times throughout the plant’s life.
Each time you prune some fresh parsley, fresh growth will occur for later harvesting. If you harvest properly, you won’t have to be afraid of killing your plant.
How to Harvest Parsley (Without Killing the Plant)
First, make sure your parsley plant is large enough before harvesting. We like to be sure the plant is at least 6 weeks old, or about 7-10” tall. At this stage, the plant will be growing vigorously, and will recover quickly.
To harvest parsley, use pruning shears to cut outer stems first, about 1” from the bottom of the plant. Once you find a suitable stem for pruning, find a node and snip just above it.
- Choose stems on the outer edge of the plant
- Prune at the base of the plant, about 1″ from the soil
- Use clean pruning shears or scissors to make the cut
- Try not to harvest the entire plant at one time
Always move from the outside to the inside, and harvest entire stems rather than individual leaves. This signals hormonally that the plant needs to regrow a new stem.
If you have multiple parsley plants, be sure to harvest a few branches from each plant rather than from just one. The remaining foliage on the plants help to regenerate new foliage more quickly.
How NOT To Harvest Parsley
As you are cooking away in the kitchen, you may be tempted to just pinch off leaves from the top of your plant. This is the wrong way of harvesting parsley for a few reasons.
Harvesting from the top of the plant does not stimulate new grow as well. Always look to the bottom the the plant and identify the base of the sprigs you need, and cut them there.
Another problem with pinching is the potential for disease to enter the plant. While this is not very likely, using dirty hands and nails to hand-prune parsley can introduce pathogens to the plant. Use a pair of clean pruning shears and cut at the outer base, and your plant will stay alive and well.
How Long Before I Can Harvest Again?
Parsley is a fast-growing herb, meaning that you can harvest regularly with no issues. If your plants are in a sunny spot, you should be able to harvest some every week during peak growing season.
If you need parsley in a pinch, you can get away with pruning one or two stems. Parsley is resilient, and even if it is pruned back to almost nothing, it will usually grow back.
We like to keep harvests consistent, storing the excess in the refrigerator for later use. Learn how to properly store parsley in the fridge below.
How Long Does Parsley Live?
Parsley is a biennial plant, meaning that it will live for about 2 years. During the first year, the plants focus on growing roots, leaves, and branches. In the second year, the plants will flower and go to seed.
In the second year of growth, parsley is less desirable as an herb, but can still benefit your garden. The flowers will attract beneficial insects, helping control pest populations on your other plants. Also, the leaves are still edible in year two.
Storing Fresh Parsley For Longer
Like I said, we prefer to harvest parsley on a regular basis. However, parsley is not always needed every week. For any excess parsley branches, there is a simple method for longer storage.
Place the freshly cut stem ends into a dish with about 1” of water. This will keep the leaves and stems hydrated for longer and will slow down spoilage.
When stored this way, fresh parsley can last from 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. For the best storage time, replace the water when it becomes discolored.
Some also swear by covering the top of the parsley with a plastic bag, helping to keep the foliage protected. In our experience, it does seem to help, but can be more of a hassle than it is worth.
Other Methods Of Storage
If you don’t plan to use your fresh parsley within a couple of weeks, there are other methods of long term storage.
- Parsley paste. In my opinion, herb pastes are the best method of preservation. They maintain full flavor, and are super easy to use. Simply combine your parsley with a bit of olive oil and blend until smooth. Then, store it in the freezer in ice cube trays or a sealed plastic storage container for many months (do not store it in the refrigerator). Perfect for marinades, roasted veggies, dressings, fish, and more.
- Dehydration. If you have a food dehydrator, you can quickly dry parsley to a brittle texture. Then, using a spice grinder, pulse the leaves into the desired texture. Store the dry parsley in a repurposed spice jar for a year or more.
I hope this article helped you learn how to harvest parsley without killing the plant. Parsley is an amazing herb with so many wonderful uses, so I wish you many years of luck growing it!