Chinese celery, also known as leaf celery or Nan Ling celery, is an herb you may not find in most grocery stores but might see in specialty stores or farmers’ markets.
Chinese celery is smaller than Western celery but packs a much more prominent flavor than its diminutive size. You can use Chinese leaf celery much as you would usually, but this plant is rarely eaten raw due to the pungent taste.
Chinese celery makes for an interesting and different herb for your garden. It grows well alongside many other plants. The small size is a boon to gardeners working in small areas and lends Chinese celery to growing well in pots and containers.
This article will show you how to plant, grow, and harvest Chinese celery like a professional.
What is Chinese Celery?
Chinese celery is a small celery in Asia, where the entire plant is cooked in thousands of dishes for its intense flavor and distinct crunchiness. The stems are thinner than Western celery and are more round, while the leaves have a similar jagged appearance.
Unlike Western celery that is primarily grown for the stalks and is used raw, Chinese celery is best cooked because the flavor can overpower other herbs and spices.
How to Grow Chinese Celery
Growing Chinese celery is an easy-to-grow herb. U.S. gardeners will love growing Chinese celery because it doesn’t take up very much room. It has easy care and growing habits and is a prolific producer of hugely flavorful stalks.
We will show you the steps to take to make sure your Chinese leaf celery grows strong.
– Starting from Seeds
You can start Chinese celery seeds well before the last frost. The young plants prefer cool temperatures, so it’s a good idea to sow seeds indoors up to four weeks before the last frost. Chinese celery seeds germinate in seven to ten days.
You can start seeds indoors using seed trays and fluorescent lighting to speed up Chinese celery roots’ germination rates. It’s best to use peat pots or some other seed starter that can be planted when the seedling is moved to the garden. This prevents damage to the delicate roots and makes transplanting fast and easy.
U.S. gardeners can plant Chinese celery seedlings in the garden right around the date of the last frost when the plants are about four inches tall. Plant Chinese celery in mounded rows one-quarter inch deep and at least six inches apart in rows 12 to 24 inches apart. It allows plenty of room for your Chinese celery plants to grow.
These plants don’t get nearly as big as Western celery to be grown closer together, a nice feature for gardeners working in small gardens.
– Soil Conditions for Optimal Growth
Chinese celery prefers a well-amended soil with plenty of organic compost and vermiculite worked into the soil. It allows for excellent drainage and prevents the need to add fertilizer during the growing season in most climates.
Despite their small size, Chinese celery plants require a significant amount of nutrients to grow well. Undernourished plants will be yellow, weak, and limp, leading to pest and disease problems.
– Lighting for Growth
Chinese celery isn’t picky about lighting. It grows very well in full sun conditions as long as temperatures stay moderate and will grow well in partial shade when temperatures are high.
Most gardeners will want to start Chinese celery in the garden as soon as the chance of frost has passed to get a good harvest before the summer heat withers plants. A second planting in the mid-to late-summer allows you to get two harvests in most areas of the U.S.
– Watering: Amount & the Right Season
Just like Western celery, Chinese celery needs plenty of water during the growing season. Gardeners should plan daily watering, letting the water run around the base and roots rather than spraying on the leaves.
Chinese celery roots run deep in good soil, making sure the water can penetrate the soil essential. Spraying the leaves with water can increase the chance of diseases and pests.
– Fertilizer Requirements
Gardeners that properly prepare the soil in their garden for Chinese celery likely won’t need to add fertilizer during the growing season.
A mild, balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 can be side dressed about midway through the season to help increase growth. Avoid using fertilizer once temperatures rise because it can burn the plants.
When to Harvest
Chinese celery is ready to harvest sooner than Western celery. These little herbs can take 60 to 90 days. You can gather once the stems are around 12 inches tall.
Harvesting some stems from each plant early in the season can stimulate additional growth and result in a larger overall harvest. Harvest your Chinese celery before the plant begins to produce flowers for the best flavor.
– How to Harvest
Gardeners can harvest Chinese celery by cutting a few stems at a time throughout the growing season to use as needed. Once the plant is ready to be harvested, gather the stems in one hand and use a sharp knife to cut the plant off just above the ground. This is how harvested Chinese celery is most often sold.
Once you harvest Chinese celery, it will stay fresh for at least one week. Rinse the celery in cool water. You don’t need to cut the leaves from the Chinese celery as you would with Western varieties. The Chinese celery leaves offer tons of flavor and texture. They are much more palatable than the leaves of Western celery.
You can place the cut ends of Chinese celery in a glass of water to keep it fresh for longer. Chinese celery will keep for several weeks when held this way, provided the water is regularly changed for fresh.
– Long-Term Storage
Chinese celery can be frozen to keep fresh for long periods. The trick to freezing celery is to blanch the herb first. Submerge fresh Chinese celery in boiling water for two to three minutes, then immediately plunge the greens into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
Pat dry with a paper towel and place the blanched Chinese celery in freezer bags. Chinese celery will keep for four to six months in the freezer.
Are you bored with lame, green celery? On top of an abundance of flavor, Chinese celery varieties also come in a rainbow of stunning colors. Chinese celery is a great way to add depth and intrigue to your garden while providing a rare and exotic plant you won’t find in stores.
These are some of our favorite varieties of Chinese celery:
- Pink Chinese Celery: This variety develops stunning, vibrant bright pink to violet stems and lime green foliage. The bold celery flavor is present upfront, with nothing lost in creating such an eye-catching variety.
- White Chinese Celery: Grown for over 800 years in China, this variety develops shockingly snow white stalks and vibrant, deep green leaves. White Chinese celery can grow taller than some types, with average stalks up to 15 inches long.
- Light Green Chinese Celery: This type looks like something from a fairy tale. Its leaves are delicate, soft mint green, with pale green stalks. It’s a smaller growing variety that also matures quickly. It can be ready in 60 days from seedlings to harvest.
Tips for Maximizing Growth
Chinese celery can be difficult to germinate seeds. Often, the seeds will take much longer than anticipated, with some gardeners reporting 20 days or more to grow. You can help germinate seeds by soaking them for 24 hours in a damp coffee filter. Remember that celery seeds are tiny, so you don’t want to use paper towels or anything with larger holes.
When you plant your seedlings, a great trick is to use a plastic water bottle with the top and bottom removed. Place this around the seedling and add soil as the seedling grows. It will stimulate side-growth, much like when growing asparagus. Your Chinese celery plants will be larger and stronger when you use this method.
- Chinese celery is smaller and thinner than western celery but packs more flavor
- Growing Chinese celery isn’t tricky, but it must be planted early in the spring or late in the summer to avoid high temperatures.
- Chinese celery requires rich soil, good drainage, and lots of water but will still grow well in partially shady locations.
- Chinese celery is ready to harvest when plants are about 12 inches tall.
- You can store Chinese celery in a glass of water for several weeks or freeze it after blanching to have fresh Chinese celery for up to six months.
- Pink, white, and light green varieties offer the opportunity to plant a kaleidoscope of color in your garden.
Chinese celery offers more flavor than Western celery in a plant that is easy to grow but doesn’t take up so much space. You can grow Chinese celery in any U.S. region from early spring to mid-summer, then again from late summer into early winter. It makes a delicious addition to cooked recipes like soups and stews. Still, it isn’t suitable for eating raw as it can be overly pungent and even bitter.
This adorable and colorful herb makes a great addition to your garden. It grows very well alongside other cool-weather plants.