Asparagus – a Springtime Delight and a Great Addition to Any Garden!
If you have ever tasted asparagus fresh from the garden, then you know the benefits of growing your own. Harvested in spring, it comes back year-after-year and is a very easy to grow perennial. It will do well in any area that has cold winters (take that Florida!). It is very hardy and has escaped into the wild in many parts of the country. In my neck of the woods I have seen it growing along fence rows and railroad tracks.
Asparagus is grown in beds that will last twenty years or more. Therefore, choose a spot well – one that you will not need for a couple of decades. Make sure that this area is well drained and sunny. A little shade will not hurt your asparagus bed, but it will do much better in an area with full sunshine. Standing water, or generally wet soil, will cause disease and rot in asparagus, so the area that you choose to create your asparagus bed should be well drained.
An asparagus bed should be about four feet wide with the length determined by the number of plants you start. The soil should be double dug (two shovels deep) with plenty of compost added into the soil. If the soil is hard or has a lot of clay, add some gypsum to loosen it. Keep in mind that, as the bed will not be dug again for a long time, when you are first preparing it is the time to make sure that the soil is conditioned well for the asparagus to grow.
Asparagus plants are usually started from one year old plants sold as dormant roots in bunches. The roots should be planted in your asparagus bed at a depth of 6 inches, with the crown up, in a trench 12 inches wide. Space plants about a foot apart to give the plants room to grow. The crowns should be covered with about 2 inches of soil. Asparagus likes alkaline soil over acidic. Wood ashes or lime can increase alkalinity, but only add if your soil has been determined to be high in acid!
After several years, asparagus plants will tend to rise in the soil, exposing the crown. You may want to cover the crowns with more soil at this time. You can start asparagus from seed, planting at a depth of ½ inch in rows 12 inches apart. This will increase the time before you can start to harvest the stalks, though.
Asparagus plants are monoecious, which is to say they are either male or female. The female plants will produce more stalks than the male plants but they will also produce berries and this will take some of the energy away from the production of the stalk. Also, the berries have seeds that will produce more plants that will overcrowd the asparagus bed and these plants may not grow true to the variety that you have planted. White asparagus that is seen in stores is not a variety per se, but is blanched by pulling soil or mulch up over the plants as they grow. This cuts off the sun from the plant turning it white.
There are old varieties of asparagus on the market, such as “Mary Washington” that generally have both male and female plants included in the bunch when purchased. This is true of open pollinated varieties, as well. Newer varieties have been created to produce only male plants including Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, and Viking KBC.
An asparagus bed will form a mat of roots, sending up stalks in the spring that will become a tall fern-like plant as they grow through summer. The first couple of years, the stalks will be thin and spindly and you should wait until the third year to start harvesting. Harvest by snapping the stalk. The stalk will naturally snap where the tender parts end and the more woody part of the stalk begins. You can cut the stalk with a knife to harvest, but you may wind up with some of the more woody parts that will have to be cut off later anyway. Asparagus should be mulched from year-to-year to keep down weeds and to protect it in the winter.
Asparagus is susceptible to Asparagus Rust, especially in moist weather where moisture is present on the plants for more than 12 hours at a time. Asparagus will also be preyed upon by the Asparagus Beetle. Several insecticides, including neem oil, will control these, as will hand picking. In my experience, Japanese beetles have also been a problem in years when Japanese beetle populations have been large.
As it is very easy to grow and is something that will come back from year-to-year, asparagus is a great addition to any garden!
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