How to Plant and Grow Asparagus

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Harvested asparagus

In my garden, the first crop of the year to be weeded, fertilized with rich compost, and tucked in with a weed-suppressing mulch is the asparagus. My plants are entering their fifth spring, so this year I get to gather all the spears I want for six whole weeks. The grand fruition of my asparagus patch feels like a celebration, probably because it has taken so long. But when it comes to growing asparagus, good things do come to those who wait.

It gets better. With proper management, my asparagus patch will stay productive for at least ten years, or maybe much longer depending on the satisfaction level of the plants. When you invest time and space in garden asparagus, the returns keep coming for a long, long time.

Adventures in Planting Asparagus

Years ago in one of my first veggie gardens, my garden partner and I spent an entire weekend deep-digging, enriching and planting a large bed of 25 lovely asparagus crowns. Before planting, we soaked the roots in water to plump them up, and the little plants came up like soldiers in spring. But so did a rollicking stand of Johnsongrass, a noxious weed that spreads with wandering rhizomes, and is more than capable of choking out asparagus. Lesson learned: Plant asparagus only in beds that are free of perennial weeds.

Asparagus crowns

In another asparagus planting adventure, I had seen naturalized (wild) asparagus growing in the area, so I mistakenly assumed the plants would like native soil conditions, or maybe I just got lazy. The crowns I planted in minimally-improved acidic clay sulked for two years, until I dug them up and gave them to a friend who had rich, dark soil with a perfect pH of 6.5. The plants took off like rockets!

This time I decided to try seedlings, which I purchased from a local nursery grower. The seedlings were crowded, three to each small container, and dividing them was tedious because the seedlings had become knotted up in one another. After two years of shifting and transplanting, I ended up buying crowns to fill out the patch at proper spacing.

Asparagus planting tradition calls for setting plants in a trench that is gradually filled with soil, a nice but not necessary operation. As long as asparagus is planted 4 inches (10 cm) deep in rich, fertile well drained soil that is free of weeds, in a climate cold enough to keep the plants dormant for at least two months, the plants will move themselves up or down in the soil to find their most comfortable depth.

Caring for Asparagus

New asparagus plantings need two years to fill out, during which time they require periodic weeding and mulching. In the third year plants produce enough spears for picking, though it’s still important to leave behind enough fronds so that the plants become dense with foliage by midsummer. Since the edible parts are the newly emerged stems, or unopened fronds, there are two ways to do this. Most gardeners harvest all spears for six weeks in late spring, and then let the plants grow freely for the rest of the summer. However, you also can allow one or two of the early fronds to grow, which may help energize the plants to produce thick spears for a longer time.

Asparagus spears

The asparagus patch turns into a ferny hedge in summer, which gradually yellows and dies when winter returns. Asparagus beetles can hide in the withering fronds, so they should be clipped off and composted before the bed is tucked in with a winter mulch of chopped leaves or wood shavings. The growth cycle begins again in late winter, when the bed gets treated to a nourishing blanket of rich compost and straw clipped from winter-weary ornamental grasses.

The beauty of pristine asparagus spears is matched by their impressive nutritional profile. In addition to vitamin C, asparagus provides three unusual nutrients – folacin (good for the liver), rutin (good for the blood) and glutathione, one of the most potent of all plant-based anti-carcinogens. In combination, these and other nutrients in asparagus may help prevent hypertension when eaten regularly. In terms of cooking methods, steaming asparagus preserves more nutrients than grilling, baking or pan-frying.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"I was excited to read your article on asparagus. I was even more ecxited that you dug up plants and moved them. When is the best time to do that? I moved this winter and was sad to think I could not take my asparagus with me, the bed is 3 years old thos spring. CT"
Jenn on Monday 14 April 2014
"As long as you move established asparagus plants with soil packed around their roots, they don't seem to know they have been moved. Plastic laundry baskets make good transport containers. Spring is definitely the best time to transplant asparagus to a new home. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 14 April 2014
"When you harvest asparagus, does it matter for the health of the plant if you cut them or snap them?"
Lisa Stevens on Friday 18 April 2014
"Lisa - I used to cut them, but it is hard to do without damaging tiny stalks near the one you want to cut. Using scissors or clippers is a nuisance and crushes the end of the spear. It takes less time to snap them and has the added advantage the the stalk will snap off right at the place where it is tender enough to eat. "
Carole on Monday 21 April 2014
"As Carole says, snapping is best because the spears naturally snap at the point where they become tough. No need to trim off the bottom. Snapping also reduces the risk of nicking emerging buds with a knife."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 21 April 2014
"Asparagus grows well and quickly in my coastal sand Barbara; so I'd suggest that they did poorly in the clay due to waterlogging, rather than benefit of a rich dark loam, not that having a rich dark loam isn't always nice :-) The very purple asparagus is an old french variety that produces a year ahead of the green. Personally I never take much notice of estimates of time to maturity for anything. When the plant is big enough it will produce fruit, spears or whatever, so plenty of food, water, weeding and commonsense count for more than time spent in the ground. Mind you I'm also blessed with a long growing season in Sth West Australia with no frost."
Graham Edwards on Thursday 1 May 2014
"Two years ago I planted my bed using super phosphate P40,to promote root growth as an article suggested. Did not trench and slowly bank as they grew as many articles suggest. Dug the row, threw in the roots, threw in the phosphate, does not burn and covered with good dirt. The last two years: no disease, fat spears that bloomed to 8 foot tall fronds. This year will offer true results...I hope. Three years is a long time to wait. Hope this helps."
Lisa USA PA on Saturday 4 April 2015
"I have to relocate my asparagus bed and in doing that found that the crowns are large and intertwined. It is impossible to untangle them without breaking bits off. Can the crowns be cut cleanly in half or into reasonable sized sections and replanted? "
Karen on Saturday 7 November 2015
"Karen, I can tell you have looked closely at the roots and have a plan to cut them apart that makes sense, so go for it. In my experience you can also dig and move asparagus plants like daylilies, by digging around a crown and lifting it as a chunk. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 9 November 2015
"Once again your comments are so helpful. I will try moving some plants in the spring. I have less than an acre and my asparagus are part of a perennial border. Since I started with a square bed, a few should be moved to the back of the border. Do you wait for spears to emerge or mark the spot and move I early spring? They don't seem too delicate, but more like day lilies, which can be moved any time the soil is damp. I thought that once I let a few fronds develop, I should stop cutting, but it makes sense to harvest only the large spears. Last year I added a few plants from a local nursery. I read somewhere that healthy plants with big spears can be harvested the first year. It seemed to work, as the spears did not get smaller. "
SS on Tuesday 28 June 2016
"Hi there, We grew from seed asparagus this year, 24 plants which we put out into their permanent bed in the summer, they are all doing well but its turning autumnal and I would love to know how to care for these plants during their first winter? Regards Roger"
Roger Hart on Tuesday 20 September 2016
"The biggest challenge with seedlings is weed control, so it will be best to mulch between the plants at all times. By the end of next summer the plants will be much more robust, so they will do a better job of prevailing among weeds. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 22 September 2016
"Dear Barbara, Many thanks for your advice but I have one more question to ask you. I will endeavour to mulch between the plants but do I cut back what foliage there is once they turn yellow? Or mulch over the plants leaving the first years growth to die back naturally this year."
Roger Hart on Thursday 22 September 2016
"It is best to cut off the fronds at ground level and compost them. You can wait until cold weather kills them, or go ahead and do it now if they look tattered. That way, and pests hiding in the stalks are interrupted. Then mulch. Asparagus is a very tough and resilient plant once established! "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 5 October 2016

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