Parsnip problems

Earlier this year I grew my parsnip seed in a plug tray and dug a patch over in the garden, ready for when the plants were big enough to be planted out.  I made sure there was plenty of depth -- at least double spade depth.  The soil is also very light, so my parsnips should have grown straight down, yes?  NO!  Every single one has balled and I cannot understand why.  Could it be that the soil is too rich?  They have had plenty of water throughout the year and have grown into really healthy plants.  But not as they should be, more like cricket balls with tentacles.  Any suggestions as to why this has happened and how I can make sure it doesn't happen again?



  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener LeicsPosts: 6,363

    I think the problem may be sowing in plug trays - have tried once in deep modules and it was a disaster - they need to be sown in-situ I think.  I remember reading that both carrots and parsnips send down a very thin long root very soon after germination and it is this initial root which later develops into the main body of the vegetable.  If that root gets restricted, damaged or hits a stone on the way down, misshapen roots will result.  On my clay soil it's a challenge to grow parsnips but I manage by digging a narrow trench about a foot deep and backfilling with a 50/50 mix of sharp sand and previously used MP compost and get good results.  The sandy mix warms up quicker than the surrounding clay so helps the parsnips germinate which is always a problem on cold wet soils.

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Emma1978Emma1978 Posts: 202

    If you regularly water them, they won't have to punch their roots down to find water. I water them for the first month or so, then they're on their own (water once a week in a very dry spell but that's it).

    And sow the seed into the ground. They HATE root disturbance image

  • ItalophileItalophile Posts: 1,647

    Couldn't agree more. Direct sowing is best. Bob's sowing idea is a good one, too. Parsnip seed can be flaky germinators at the best of times. They need all the help they can get. Covering the bed with something to warm up the soil can help, too.

  • Because parsnips require a long growing season and need to be sown early when soil is I still quite cold I chit the seed on kitchen roll paper kept permanently moist. As soon as the seed germinates I set them on edge into a seedbed already warmed a little by covering with polythene over hoops. By using this method the seeds have a good beginning and are less likely to rot in the cold soil. The cover is only removed when plants are growing strongly.

  • No expertNo expert Posts: 415

    Carrots, parsnips and swedes are all very poor performers from transplanting, better sown direct. There are plugs of these available in the shops but they only guarantee a crop half a big as direct sown seed. Sowed some Autumn King carrot plugs for a veg growing class at work a while back, waiting to see how they get on.

  • Parsnips, like carrots must be sown in situ.  I grow mine in deep raised beds or oil drums with the bottom cut off.  I use a 50/50 mix of compost and playsand (it's cheap and sterile) and have never had any problems - All of mine are perfectly straight and grow well.  As for poor germination rates - that's why you sow too many and thin out.

  • Thanks everyone.  Seems the consensus is to sow in situ.  I thought they were going to be good this year as all the seed I planted germinated.  However, just goes to show how wrong one can be image  Emma, I did water them when the weather required it, but we did have quite a good lot of rain early on in Somerset so don't see that as adding to the problem.  Old timer2: I haven't tried that way but I am thinking of using a raised bed next year that will be about 12 inches deep, plus very fine soil underneath that at least to the same depth.  Watch this space!


  • vjwukvjwuk Posts: 26

    I heard an old boy on the radio saying that he always sowed parsnips into fibre pots, then when ready he used his crowbar to wiggle a hole in his soil, removed the base of the pot, filled the hole with compost and planted the pot and seedling.  I tried this on our heavy clay allotment this year and it worked, I guess it didn't disturb the roots and gave it a straight line to grow into??

  • To all on this thread about parsnips. Parsnip seeds don't last long, so I suggest only using fresh seed. If a year or more old the germination rate drops drastically.

  • ItalophileItalophile Posts: 1,647

    Very true. I've thrown away a lot of parsnip seeds over the years.

  • When you sow in situ put 2 or3 seeds per station to overcome poor germination. Thin to one where necessary. Light blue touch paper and.......

  • No expertNo expert Posts: 415

    Parsnip seeds are probably the worst to keep over for a second year. I always throw them out.

  • Best results i have had was sowing the seed in feb in the greenhouse in old toilet roll inserts, fantastic Parsnips won our local show , last year i tried peat pots total disaster just balls under the ground image its back to the toilet rolls, sowing seeds later today. helps quicker germination but get them out into bed when seedlings about 1 inch high to avoid the root hitting seed tray i put mine under closhes till they get going its a good idea to have the closhes in place in the garden when you sow the seed to warm the soil up.

  • Oh dear, I transferred my parsnip seedlings into a large container  - the tops are growing well but am I going to be dissapointed in the autumn winter??


  • FruitcakeFruitcake Posts: 810

    On the subject of parsnips, I've got some old ones on my allotment. I don't want them as I don't like them and I don't know anyone who does. 

    But I've been reading about the burning skin problems when people get stem juice on themselves image

    has anyone here got any advice on the best way to lift and dispose of them safely please? Thanks 

  • dibsmftdibsmft Posts: 9

    I have posted on this before but I will mention it again. I live in Newfoundland&Labrador (Canada). We have a long cold Winter and a late Spring. Being a parsnip lover, I have tried various methods of growing them but the main difficulty here is getting fresh seed and starting them early enough. Most years I cannot get the garden started until mid-May.  The answer that I have found is to grow my own seed by leaving two or three roots in the ground each year and collecting the seed when it ripens (August-September). I then clean the seed and keep it in a cool dry place until late November just before the first snowimage when I prepare the ground and sow the seed.  When the snow finally disappears in the Spring (April but sometimes later in a bad year) the parsnip may already be up or will soon appear and grow on as normal. The best variety I have found for this is "White Gem" as my soil is not very deep and a bit rocky.

    If this method works here then it should work in the UK where the climate is warmer. Perhaps it might be better to leave the sowing there until late December so that the seed do not germinate too early.


  • I pulled up my first parsnip to find it very hard and unedible. Any suggestions?
  • scrogginscroggin Posts: 2,050
    When you say ' hard' do you mean like a carrot or has it gone harder? When parsnips get large the centre can become woody but the outer should be fine. I parboil mine for 5 mins then roast in the oven for 30 to 40 mins.
  • dibsmftdibsmft Posts: 9


    What are you doing trying a parsnip this early! Parsnips really only develop good flavour after a few hard frosts otherwise they are fairly tasteless. The starches in the parsnips begin to convert to sugars with the fall in the temperature and it is the sugars that give the wonderful flavour to roasted parsnip.

    Why yours are hard and woody seems strange unless they have started to go to seed (bolt) but that normally only happens in their second year and then the roots become very hard (even woody) and inedible. I guess this might happen in a hot dry summer but I have never seen it happen to my parsnips here in St. John's (Newfoundland) where the winter is colder than the UK but the summer is similar to the UK.

    Some parsnip varieties and strains are more prone to bolt than others. I grow the variety "White Gem" and never had one bolt in at least six years.


  • LeifUKLeifUK Posts: 573

    Does anyone know what 'balled' means in this context?

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