Asparagus is one of the first crops to peak through in the spring. It’s not only delicious grilled, fried, or boiled, but it also provides a gardener with joy and inspiration to get going on his annuals.
Although it’s not the easiest of perennials to get started, if you’ve got the time to devote to giving it a great start, it gets a whole lot easier to take care of after the first year. Here’s what you need to know to grow asparagus in your garden.
Picking The Best Asparagus Variety For Your Garden
Most gardeners prefer male plants as opposed to female plants because they have a better yield.
Which variety is best for you? Start by contacting your local Cooperative Extension office or ask local experienced gardeners in your neighborhood.
As far as varieties, Mary Washington is well known to be resistant to rust should that be a concern in your area. Although asparagus does not do well in southern climates, UC 157 might be a good variety here as it is resistance to fusarium rot that could result in these areas.
Picking The Best Soil In Your Garden To Grow Asparagus
Asparagus does not grow well in planters.
Asparagus does best in colder climates as the crowns like to be very cold in the winters. It does not do well in hot, humid areas such as the Gulf Coast or Florida.
Pick an area in full sun with pH neutral soil that drains well. Asparagus will tolerate minimal shade. If possible, asparagus should be protected from wind.
If you have the time, prepare the soil in the plot where you will start your asparagus a year ahead of time. Plant a dense cover crop in the spring and then turn it under in early fall. Immediately cover with mulch for the winter. Early the next winter, remove the mulch so the soil has its chance to dry out and warm up.
How To Start Asparagus From Crowns
As soon as soil is dry enough to dig in the spring, start working the soil. When ready to prepare the plot, dig a furrow 6 inches deep and 1 foot wide. Inside this furrow, the dirt should be loose at least another foot deep.
Have your compost ready to place an even inch all along the bottom of the furrow. Compost should also be worked into the dirt that has been removed from the furrow and set aside to slowly fill back in.
Once your plot is ready to plant, soak your crowns for 20 minutes in compost tea, and then place each one in the furrow while gently fanning out the roots in all directions. Plant crowns 18-24 inches away from each other in rows. Gently cover the crowns with 2 inches of the soil-compost mix you set aside, and water well.
Asparagus must be weeded regularly and often, especially in their first year.
When shoots emerge, cover with more soil. This will likely be done every week to 10 days until the furrow is filled.
How To Start Asparagus From Seed
Asparagus seeds should be directly sown into the soil after the last frost, when soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Plant at a depth of ½ inch in full sun 18-24 inches apart. .
Taking Care Of Your Young Asparagus Plants Their First Year
Asparagus needs to be kept watered during it’s first year and not allowed to stay dry. Once asparagus shoots are above ground level, mulch your area to discourage weeds. Asparagus must be kept gently weeded, especially in their first year until the fronds are mature enough to shade the bed.
How To Control Weeds In Your Asparagus Bed
Ideally, a bed should be prepared a year before planting your asparagus, and the cover crop has kept weeds out. (See Picking The Best Soil In Your Garden To Grow Asparagus, above.)
Weeds will need to be gently picked out as they appear after asparagus is planted. Vigorous weeding could cause damage to crowns. Over the years, many crowns will move up toward the surface, and so even if you are confident that your crowns are deep enough not to be disturbed by weeding, they are often closer than you may think.
Once shoots emerge above the ground level, mulch should be applied to the area to discourage weed growth.
When To Harvest Asparagus
Asparagus should not be harvested in its first year. The second year, spears may be harvest for two weeks. The third year, harvest asparagus for four weeks. In it’s fourth year, harvest asparagus as long as it is good.
Shoots are best harvested when 6-8 inches tall. Snap them or cut them at the level of the soil but no lower. Stop harvesting when they become thinner than a pencil, woody, or fronds start to develop.
Asparagus patches should be checked often as weather warms since warm weather encourages growth.
To try to get more harvesting time in your season, see the Motherstalk Method in Foraging Wild Asparagus.
Fighting Problems With Asparagus Predators
The top two problems asparagus face are diseases of rust or fusarium wilt and pests such as the asparagus beetle, cutworms, and army worms.
Carefully choosing the best variety for your area and picking proper soil and garden placement is the best disease prevention. Once disease is present, it is best to pull and destroy the crown and start all over in a different area.
To discourage pests, cover asparagus during their growth, and wait until late fall to apply fresh mulch so that asparagus beetles don’t get caught underneath.
When you do find pests, manually pick them off as you see them.
The first year of an asparagus’ life can be very needy, but once established it needs relatively little care to continue coming back year after year to provide you it’s tasty treat. This perennial can provide nutrition for 20 years or more for your family in northern climates, and roughly 10 years in the far south if given plenty of attention.
Don’t think you’re up to growing your own asparagus but still want to enjoy it’s goodness? Maybe it grows wild near you. Check out Foraging For Wild Asparagus to see if your area may harbor this delicious treat.