What You Need To Know To Grow Parsnips In Containers

Parsnips are great vegetables to grow in containers. Even with limited growing space, you can produce enough parsnips to enjoy on a family holiday or even store some to eat throughout the year. Let’s look at how to grow parsnips in containers.

Choose a container for your parsnips that is at least 30cm (12inches) deep. This will provide adequate room for the taproot to grow. Fill the container with loose soil that has a nice mix of compost added. Plant the parsnip seeds 1cm to 2cm (1/2 – 1inch) apart. Place the seeds on the soil surface, and lightly cover with 5mm to 1cm (¼-½”) of soil. Once they have germinated, thin them so there is 7cm to 10 cm (3-4″) between the plants. Keep them well watered all season long.

Self-sufficient gardening does not mean that you have to grow acres of food. It means growing the food that you and your family eat without being reliant on grocery stores or the outside world. Since many people do not eat many parsnips in a year, parsnips are a perfect vegetable to grow in your container garden. With just a small container you can produce enough parsnips for your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and still have a few left over for a special treat in the winter. Here are things to consider to successfully grow parsnips in containers.

Which Container Is Best For Parsnips?

Parsnips produce quite a large taproot. Before any greens have even emerged, the parsnip will have a root that is nearly 10cm (4inches) long. When choosing a container, it is very important to get the right depth. Parsnips need at least 30cm (12inches) of soil to properly grow their root. If the container is too shallow, the long taproot will quickly reach the bottom of the container and produce hairy, stunted roots.

It is important to choose a container that is right for your climate. Parsnips have a long growing season (generally 110 to 150 days) and germinate best with a soil temperature of 10°C to 25°C (50-75°F). If your spring is too cold to accommodate this, you might want to choose a portable container that you can start under protection and then bring out when the weather has warmed. You could use pots that you can carry or a growing table on wheels that can be wheeled in and out as needed.

Alternatively, parsnips are sweeter when they have had a few fall frosts, but they do not like when the soil freezes. In this case, a large container might keep the soil from freezing better than a smaller pot.

How much space you have will really determine what kind of container is best. Even if your garden is an apartment balcony (or pots in your living room), there are still many containers that will provide the right growing conditions for parsnips. This article, here, has ideas for growing carrots in a small space that work equally well for parsnips.

A plant pot for parsnips by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Your budget is also a big determining factor. There are many DIY container projects online, but buying the lumber can be expensive. However, there are many containers that can be built for cheap, or free, if you can source the materials. There are many ads on Kijiji of free scrap lumber from their renovation projects that you can build into beautiful planters. Many lumber stores also sell cull lumber (that is bent twisted or knotty) at a fraction of the cost. This can be cut and pieced together to create a unique container.

You can also grow parsnips successfully in grow bags. Container gardening is a great way to produce a lot of food in a limited space, and it is only limited by your creativity.

Which Soil Should I Choose?

Growing parsnips in containers gives you ultimate control over the soil condition, especially if you use bags of purchased soil.

When you fill your containers with soil, know that parsnips grow best in soil that is nice and loose. Compacted soil will impede the roots’ growth and they might break when you harvest them. Make sure you break up any clumps of soil and remove any rocks or other hard objects, such as twigs, as these will cause the roots to twist and deform.

I am a big supporter of using the soil from your own garden if you have any. In the case of growing parsnips, however, using purchased potting soil in your containers has distinct advantages. Not only does potting soil have an excellent loose texture, but it is also guaranteed free from weed seeds. Parsnips take 2 to 3 weeks to germinate (though some can take up to 4 weeks), and a lot of weeds can grow in that time. Parsnips are easily choked out by weed pressure so having given them a start without weed competition is a big help.

If you use bagged soil, the pH balance is probably in an acceptable range, but it is still good to check it anyways. The ideal pH for parsnips is 6.0 to 6.8, so adjust your soil accordingly, especially if you are using soil from your garden.

Parsnips are light-feeders, meaning they do not require very many nutrients to grow. Adding fertilizer to parsnips is generally unnecessary, and in many cases can be detrimental. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, will create woody, hairy roots that aren’t fit for eating. Instead, it is very beneficial to mix well-rotted compost with your soil. Not only will the compost improve the texture, aeration, and water retention of your soil, but adding about 1/3 of compost to 2/3 soil will provide enough food for your parsnips for the growing season.

A plant pot for parsnips by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

How Do You Plant Parsnips In A Container?

How many parsnips you can grow in a container is determined by the container’s size. You want to plant your seeds quite close together, spacing them about 1cm to 2cm (1/2 – 1inch) apart. Once they have germinated, thin your seedlings so there is about 7cm to 10 cm (3-4″) between the plants. It is beneficial to sow them so thickly because the germination rate of parsnips is only 60%, so it is better to thin a few out rather than have a lot of empty space in your containers.

To sow the seeds, lightly sprinkle the seeds onto the soil in the container. Parsnip seeds are large enough that you can position them individually if you want a more uniform distribution. Bury the seeds by covering them with 5mm to 1cm (¼-½”) of soil and water them well. Throughout germination, keep the soil damp and at a temperature around 10°C to 25°C (50-75°F).

What Special Care Do Parsnips Need In A Container?

As your parsnips are growing, it is important to keep them well watered. A parsnip root is mostly water (about 90%), so they need plenty of moisture for good, healthy growth. They do not, however, like saturated soils or standing water. It is better to provide consistent moisture every day or so rather than a deluge when they dry out.

And don’t forget to weed. Weeds can always show up, and you want to eliminate them immediately. Weeds are generally easier to control in containers than they are in a garden bed, but you want to make sure the nutrients in your limited soil go towards producing a large, delicious parsnip root that you can enjoy as part of your fall feast.