If you’ve been hankering to plant some edibles among your ornamentals – or vice versa – asparagus is the plant to start with.
- Choose a site where your plants won’t be disturbed – and where you and they can happily coexist for 10 to 15 years.
- Grow asparagus in partial or full sun (it performs best in full sun) in soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, amended with plenty of organic matter that is rich in potassium and phosphorus.
- Buy asparagus crowns (established root systems with dormant top growth) at your nursery or through a catalog. In cool regions, plant them in early spring when the soil temperature has reached about 50 degrees F. In warm regions, plant in late winter.
- Make a 7-inch-deep, V-shaped furrow (or more, depending on how many crowns you’re planting) and in each one spread a handful of wood ashes, a handful of bonemeal, and an inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure.
- Soak the crowns in compost tea for 10 minutes or so and lay them on their sides on top of the organic matter, 12 to 16 inches apart, in rows 4 feet apart.
- Fill in the furrows gradually as shoots emerge, taking care not to cover any foliage; eventually, the furrow will be level with the soil surface. Don’t bother spreading out the roots; they’ll find their way down.
- Weed diligently and mulch heavily with chopped leaves or straw after you’ve filled in the furrows.
- Side-dress plants with a balanced organic fertilizer in late summer, and top the bed in organic mulch in the fall.
- Give new plantings one to two inches of water a week; after that, water only when rainfall is scant.
- Refrain from harvesting any spears during your plants’ first year in your garden. Each spear needs to “fern out” so that the roots can grow stronger and more productive. The second year you can pick a few that reach about the size of your index finger. The third year, pick finger-size spears for two to four weeks in the spring. In subsequent years, take all the finger-size spears you want for six to eight weeks, or until the spears that come up are thin and spindly.
Tips & Warnings
Asparagus is well worth the three-year wait it takes before you can harvest your first full crop. A well-tended bed will give you tender, delectable spears year after year for a decade or more, at a tiny fraction of the price you’d pay at the supermarket.
The first thing to do is prepare a bed, remembering that asparagus is usually grown by itself . Because it imperative to leave the beautiful ferny foliage stand all summer and fall when it goes dormant, asparagus plants will shade plants next to it so plant it next to your garden but by itself. Choosing a sunny site, decide how big to make your asparagus bed. The size of the bed is at your discretion and depends on how many plants you want to put in. Each mature plant may send up 15 to 20 spears when it matures. You may want to start with about 20 plants planted about a foot from each other. You can always add more plants to the garden if you feel you need more.
Double dig and remove all weeds. Once your plants are established, you don’t want weeds getting the best of them. It is very important to enrich the plot with rotted leaves, compost or manure. You can start this process now and just keep adding materials until you plant next planting. Asparagus loves rich organic soil and a bed can produce for decades so care at the beginning will pay off in quality and quantity.
Asparagus, a member of the lily family, is just about impossible to grow from seed so the home gardener should purchase 1-year-old asparagus crowns, which are the roots of the plant. Look for bundles with 10-15 roots that are dormant (showing no green shoots) and that look firm and fresh, not limp. The bundles can be obtained from a local plant store or nurseries. Plant as soon as possible after purchasing.
When ready to plant, dig a trench of about 6 inches and set the crowns in the trench about a foot away from each other. Cover with about two inches of soil and gradually work soil into the trench throughout the first season as you see the plants begin to grow, usually in about two weeks. You don’t want to fill too quickly because you’ll risk stifling the plants. Keep adding soil throughout the first growing season until the trench is level. Water weekly if it doesn’t rain and cut no asparagus shoots the first year to allow the foliage to grow, yellow and die on its own. This creates the food for the roots. At the end of a year, it is recommended that you cut the foliage and burn it or haul it away because it could harbor eggs of the asparagus beetle. The second year, cut sparingly only those stalks as big as your finger. Keep watering, waiting and mulching with manure and compost.
The third year is the magical year that you’ll be enjoying asparagus from your garden to the table. When the stalks are about 6 inches high, just snap where they begin to be tender and enjoy. If you use a knife, you risk accidentally cutting immature spears. When you stop harvesting depends on the weather but six to eight weeks is a normal growing season. Allow a certain number of shoots from each plant to make it to full growth to manufacture food for next year’s harvest.
Clean cultivation encourages vigorous growth and it behooves the gardener to keep the asparagus bed clean from the start, hand digging weeds and taking care not disturb the roots. An application of manure and other organic material once a year would be an excellent fertilizer applied right after the cutting season.
Asparagus rust is a disease that was once common but most varieties sold now are rust resistant. Asparagus beetles are the chief enemies of the crop. Pick the beetles off when you see them and remember that a well cared for bed will prevent them, especially if you burn the dead foliage in the winter.
You should leave your asparagus plants alone during their first growing season. This will help to build up the heavy roots that are needed to produce thick spears. Planting crowns will produce a quicker crop than asparagus that is grown from seeds.
- Prepare your asparagus beds as if they were to last a lifetime. In fact, they may last up to 20 years. The best areas to place your asparagus beds are either at the sides or ends of your garden. This will ensure that your beds are not disturbed when you cultivate your garden.
- Work a generous amount of organic matter deeply into the soil.
- Add manure to the soil. Spread manure about two inches thick and then work it into the soil using a pitch fork.
- If the soil is slow draining, you should add sharp sand to it.
- You should add enough organic matter to your soil to raise the asparagus bed about six inches. Your asparagus beds should be no wider than four feet.
- Once you have your soil prepared, you should make trenches that are about six inches deep down the center of your asparagus beds. Continue to add more trenches, spacing them about 15 inches apart.
- Set your seedlings (or crowns) in the ditches and water thoroughly.
- Cover the seedlings with one to three inches of soil.
- As the seedlings grow, pull more soil into the ditch around the plants until the ditch is completely filled.
- You can fertilize your asparagus beds much like you would the rest of your garden. You can apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of two pounds per 100 square feet.
- You should keep the ground loosened around your asparagus plants. Cultivate to a depth of one inch to keep weeds under control.
- If you want your asparagus to be blanched, you can mound organic mulch over your asparagus beds.
- To harvest, you should cut the spears when they are about seven inches high. Hold the cutter at a low angle and dig no deeper than one inch into the soil to cut the spears. Be mindful of the roots and try not to damage them when you are cutting the spears.
- You should stop harvesting when hot weather begins in your region. You should then apply a mixture of 4-8-4 fertilizer to the beds at a rate of one pound per 75 feet. This will promote growth which will result in a large amount of food storage in the roots. This will greatly impact next season’s crop.
sources: ehow.com, emmitsburg.net, howtodothings.com