Beloved for its delicious young shoots, asparagus is one of the first crops of spring harvest. Growing asparagus is a boon to your health too, as this perennial vegetable is rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. And it just so happens that fresh-picked spears are far more tender and tasty than store-bought asparagus.
Asparagus thrives in any area having winter ground freezes or dry seasons. In fact, the mild, wet regions of Florida and the Gulf Coast are about the only places where it’s difficult to grow asparagus. Here’s everything you need to know about growing asparagus, whether you start from seed or spear.
- Planting Asparagus
- Mulching and Watering
- Starting Asparagus From Seed
- Solving Pest Problems and Defects
- Harvesting Asparagus
- How to Plant Asparagus
- The English asparagus season
- So what makes British asparagus the best?
- So when should we pick up the phone?
- Brexit crisis tipped for British asparagus as EU seasonal workers stay away
- Connect With Us!
- Asparagus Growing Guide
- Recommended Varieties
- When to Plant
- Spacing & Depth
- Common Problems
- Questions & Answers
- Selection & Storage
- Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
- Preparation & Serving
- Home Preservation
- Different Asparagus Varieties What to Expect
- Hybrids versus non Hybrids
- Our Head to Head Taste Test
- Some Popular Asparagus Varieties
- Need Help?
Select and prepare your asparagus bed with care — this crop will occupy the same spot for 20 years or more. It can tolerate some shade, but full sun produces more vigorous plants and helps minimize disease. Asparagus does best in lighter soils that warm up quickly in spring and drain well; standing water will quickly rot the roots.
Prepare a planting bed for your asparagus, like this simple raised bed, that’s about 4 feet wide by removing all perennial weeds and roots and digging in plenty of aged manure or compost.
Asparagus plants are monoecious — meaning each individual asparagus plant is either male or female. Some varieties of asparagus, such as Jersey Knight and Jersey Giant, produce all male or primarily male plants, so they’re more productive — male plants yield more harvestable shoots because they don’t have to invest energy in producing seeds. Choose an all-male asparagus variety if high yield is your primary goal.
If you like to experiment, you may also want to grow an heirloom asparagus variety or a purple-stalked variety like Purple Passion. With an all-male variety, 25 plants are usually adequate for a household of four; plant double that amount for standard varieties. (Ardent asparagus lovers recommend tripling these quantities.)
Starting asparagus from one-year-old crowns gives you a year’s head start over seed-grown plants. Two-year-old crowns are usually not a bargain. They tend to suffer more from transplant shock and won’t produce any faster than one-year-old crowns. Buy crowns from a reputable nursery that sells fresh, firm, disease-free roots. Plant them immediately if possible; otherwise, wrap them in slightly damp sphagnum moss until you are ready to plant.
To plant asparagus crowns, dig trenches 12 inches wide and 6 inches deep (8 inches in sandy soil) down the center of the prepared bed. Soak the crowns in compost tea for 20 minutes before planting. Place the crowns in the trenches 1½ to 2 feet apart; top them with 2 to 3 inches of soil. Two weeks later, add another inch or two of soil. Continue adding soil periodically until the soil is slightly mounded above surface level to allow for settling.
Mulching and Watering
Apply mulch to smother weeds, which compete with the young spears and reduce yields. Carefully remove any weeds that do appear. Water regularly during the first two years after planting. As asparagus matures, it crowds out most weeds and sends long, fleshy roots deep into the earth, so watering is less critical. Fertilize in spring and fall by top-dressing with liquid fertilizer (such as compost tea) or side-dressing with a balanced fertilizer.
Leave winter-killed foliage, along with straw or other light mulch, on the bed to provide winter protection. Remove and destroy the fern-like foliage before new growth appears in spring; it can harbor diseases and pest eggs.
If you want to grow white asparagus, which has a slightly milder flavor than green asparagus, blanch the spears by heaping up soil or mulch over the bed before they emerge.
Starting Asparagus From Seed
It takes patience to start your asparagus patch from seed, but there are advantages to gain from the extra wait. Seed-grown plants don’t suffer from transplant trauma like nursery-grown roots, and you can buy a whole packet of seed for the same price you’ll pay for one asparagus crown. Most seed-grown asparagus plants eventually out-produce those started from roots. Growing from seed also allows you to selectively discard female asparagus plants and plant an all-male bed, no matter what variety you choose to grow.
In the North, start seedlings indoors in late February or early March. Sow single seeds in newspaper pots, place the pots in a sunny window, and use bottom heat to maintain the temperature of the mix in the pots at 77 degrees. When the seeds sprout, lower the temperature to 60 to 70 degrees. Once the danger of frost is past, plant the seedlings (which should be about 1 foot tall) 2 to 3 inches deep in a nursery bed.
When tiny flowers appear, observe them with a magnifying glass. Female flowers have well-developed, three-lobed pistils; male blossoms are larger and longer than female flowers. Weed out all female plants. The following spring, transplant the males to the permanent bed.
Solving Pest Problems and Defects
Healthy asparagus foliage is necessary for good root and spear production. Asparagus beetles, which chew on spears in spring and attack summer foliage, are the most prevalent problem. The 1/4-inch-long, metallic blue-black pests have three white or yellow spots on their backs. They lay dark eggs along the leaves, which hatch into light gray or brown larvae with black heads and feet. Control by hand picking; spray or dust seriously infested asparagus plants with an insecticidal soap.
These methods also control the 12-spotted asparagus beetle, which is reddish brown with six black spots on each wing cover. Asparagus miner is another foliage-feeding pest; it makes zig-zag tunnels on the stalks. Destroy any infested ferns.
Avoid asparagus rust, which produces reddish brown spots on the stems and leaves, by planting resistant cultivars. Minimize damage from Fusarium wilt, which causes spears, leaves, and stems to be small with large lesions at or below the soil line, by purchasing disease-free roots and using good garden sanitation. Crown rot causes spears to turn brown near the soil line. Prevent crown rot by planting in raised beds, maintaining good drainage, and keeping soil pH above 6.0.
If your asparagus bed does become infected by disease organisms, your best option is to start a new bed in a distant part of the garden, using newly purchased or grown plants.
If young spears turn brown and become soft or withered, they may have been injured by frost. Cover spears with mulch or newspaper when freezing nights are predicted.
Don’t harvest any asparagus spears during the first two years that plants are in the permanent bed. They need to put all their energy into establishing deep roots. During the third season, pick the spears over a four-week period, and by the fourth year, extend your harvest to eight weeks. In early spring, harvest spears every third day or so; as the weather warms, you might have to pick your asparagus twice a day to keep up with production. Cut asparagus spears with a sharp knife or snap off the spears at, or right below, ground level with your fingers.
How to Plant Asparagus
But be prepared, this is no ordinary vegetable crop. Asparagus has a colorful history and seductive personality. And it is probably the most demanding vegetable there is to get started.
Step One – Procure the Crowns
It’s possible to grow asparagus by seed, but most farmers and gardeners leave this part to a professional nursery because the seed is so finicky to germinate. Instead, buying asparagus ‘crowns’ – a technical term for the dormant roots – is recommended. They look like a strange sea creature with roots for tentacles and a head in the middle where the spears sprout.
The dormant crowns are available at local garden centers for a brief window in early spring, after the ground thaws, but before the crowns start sprouting. If you miss that window, it’s still possible to order them online from nurseries farther north. Some growers keep asparagus crowns in their walk-in cooler to prolong dormancy so southern gardeners running late on the garden season have something to plant.
Heirloom varieties like ‘Martha Washington’ are still quite popular, though they produce male and female plants. Female asparagus plants produce pretty red berries in fall, but they make far fewer spears. To get a larger harvest, many growers opt for all-male hybrid varieties like ‘Jersey Giant’ or ‘UC 157’, which are highly productive and usually more disease-resistant than the heirloom types. ‘Purple Passion’ is one of the many varieties that produce purple spears. Growing white asparagus is a matter of layering soil over the spears so they don’t produce chlorophyll; you can do this with any variety.
Ten crowns will fit in a 4-by-8-foot bed and are generally enough to supply a family of four. Try to time your purchase so the asparagus crowns can go in the ground without delay. If you have to store the crowns for more than a day or two, place them in a bucket of moist sand in a basement or other cool environment until you are ready to plant.
Step Two – Prepare the Soil
Asparagus likes rich, well-drained, non-acidic soil. For best results, copious quantities of soil amendments should be incorporated into the planting bed to provide long-term fertility.
- Remove any existing vegetation from the planting area, including roots.
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 6 or 8 inches over the entire planting area with a tiller or digging fork.
- Spread 2 to 3 inches of compost over the planting area and mix it into the soil.
- If your soil is acidic, add sufficient lime to bring the pH up to 7 and mix it into the planting area*
- Dig a trench 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep where the crowns are to be planted. Rows of asparagus should be at least 2 feet apart, allowing two rows to fit in a 4-foot wide bed.
- For every 8 feet of row space, you will need about a wheelbarrow filled two-thirds of the way with equal parts of the excavated soil and compost.
- Add three cups of all-purpose organic vegetable fertilizer into the soil/compost mixture. To give the asparagus an extra boost, add a cup or two of greensand (an all-natural fertilizer that is high in potassium) to the excavated soil in the wheelbarrow and thoroughly mix.
*Your local cooperative extension service office can test your soil pH and tell you exactly how much lime to add to bring it up to 7.
Step Three – Plant
- Spread the contents of the wheelbarrow evenly along the length of the trench.
- Form conical mounds about 6 inches tall every 18 inches along the base of the trench with the soil/amendment mixture.
- Place one crown on top of each mound with the roots splayed out in every direction.
- Cover the crowns with two inches of soil (filling in the spaces between each mound, as well).
- Water deeply at this time.
Step Four – Continue Filling and Watering
- As the asparagus grows, continue to fill in the trenches with the remaining excavated soil.
- Keep the asparagus bed moist, but not soggy throughout the first growing season.
- Spread a layer of mulch over the bed to help conserve moisture and reduce weed germination.
It’s important to wait at least one year after planting asparagus before making the first harvest so the plants can put as much energy as possible into developing a root system. In the second year, it’s OK to harvest any spears larger than a pencil for a week or so. In the third year, increase the harvest period to two weeks and in the fourth and subsequent years you can harvest all the spears that emerge over a six-week period.
Unharvested spears will unfurl into a lacy canopy of foliage about 3 or 4 feet tall by early summer. Allowing the stalks to grow each year is necessary for maintaining a strong root system – making it possible for the asparagus to come back year after year with bigger and bigger spears.
Light requirements: Full sun. Plant asparagus on the west or north side of a garden so the tall plants won’t shade other vegetables in summer.
Planting: Space 12 to 18 inches apart.
Soil requirements: Asparagus needs well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Prepare soil one season to one year before planting (e.g. prep soil in fall for planting the following spring). Work at least 3 inches of organic matter into soil. Asparagus won’t grow in acid soil. Soil pH should be 6.0 to 6.7. Test soil and add lime as needed.
Water requirements: Water new crowns at planting time and during the first growing season if rainfall is scarce. Established asparagus is drought tolerant and usually grows well with rainfall as the sole water source.
Frost-fighting plan: Temperatures below 33ºF can damage asparagus. Cover shoots with a frost blanket to protect from late spring frosts.
Common issues: Bent spears (which are still edible) occur as a result of insect feeding or damage that can occur when cutting other spears. Keep an eye out for weeds. Pests to watch out for include black and red asparagus beetles, and European asparagus aphid (in the Midwest). Asparagus is susceptible to crown and root rots.
Harvesting: Don’t harvest any spears the first growing season and just a few the second. By the third season, you can harvest at will, although picking only a few spears during this season will lead to a greater annual harvest in years to come. Stop harvesting when spear diameter drops to pencil size. Harvest 6- to 8-inch spears in the morning or evening, when air is cool. Snap spears near ground level. Avoid using a knife if possible, as it can spread disease from one plant to another.
Storage: Refrigerate spears in a loosely closed plastic bag for up to 14 to 21 days.
For more information, visit the Asparagus page in our How to Grow section.
British asparagus season is a national event in the world of foodservice. For a short period of time each year, chefs around the UK can source arguably the best asparagus spears available from right here on British soil.
The buzz it creates is astounding, but it’s well and truly deserved. The quality is sublime and its limited availability only adds to the hype.
So when you should get on the phone to your fresh produce supplier and ask whether British asparagus season has started?
The English asparagus season
As always, the start and end of the season shifts from year-to-year depending on weather conditions. But traditionally, the British asparagus season runs from St George’s day on the 23rd April through to Summer Solstice on the 21st June.
That’s just 8 and a half weeks to make the most of this fantastic crop. And in some years that window of opportunity can be even shorter.
So what makes British asparagus the best?
Over and above supporting our fantastic asparagus growers around the country, the main reason why chefs go crazy for UK asparagus every year is due to how phenomenal the flavour is when it’s fresh.
All fruit and veg is at its very best when freshly picked, but asparagus spears in particular are known to decline in quality at a faster rate. So shipping it in from abroad after it was picked a week ago doesn’t make for the best quality product.
Serving British asparagus after it’s only been picked a day or two ago, however, is another story. As most chefs will know, it requires little fancifying and boasts incredible flavour that demands the attention of the diner.
So when should we pick up the phone?
We’ll tell our customers as soon as we have a clear estimate on when the first boxes of British asparagus will arrive in our warehouse.
However, if you’re restaurant isn’t being supplied by First Choice, firstly, send us a message here, or alternatively, give your supplier a call at least 2 weeks prior to the traditional start of the season (around the 9th April).
UK supermarkets have begun stocking the first batches of British-grown asparagus this year, despite the impact of the recent “beast from the east” cold weather system.
Marks & Spencer was first off the block with British asparagus on sale in selected branches last week – nearly three weeks before the traditional start of the eight-week season on 23 April – while Waitrose put the first spears on sale on Wednesday. Sainsbury’s is likely to stock small quantities from the weekend.
But the much larger mainstream crop – grown in the open in fields rather than in polytunnels or glasshouses – is likely to be delayed by two weeks as a result of adverse weather conditions and the impact of up to three separate snowfalls which sent temperatures plummeting, according to the trade body British Asparagus. It says the perfect growing conditions are a cool, crisp spring which is not too wet and not too dry.
Airmile-laden products from Peru – still the world’s largest exporter of asparagus – have traditionally bolstered supermarket shelves because of the unpredictability of UK weather.
The British asparagus season ends on the summer solstice – 21 June – when the last spears are harvested by hand. M&S now offers white asparagus, purple asparagus and, for the first time, jumbo-size “king” asparagus, which will be on sale from mid-April.
Last year British asparagus went on sale at M&S even earlier, at the end of March. “There is always an air of excitement when the first British asparagus comes into season as it signals the beginning of spring,” said Chris Ling, M&S vegetable buyer.
Per Hogberg, of grower Wealmoor, whose early crop is supplying Waitrose, said that with warmer temperatures expected, “consumers can expect a bumper crop in mid-May. We expect it to be a very good one.”
Brexit crisis tipped for British asparagus as EU seasonal workers stay away
ROSS-ON-WYE, England (Reuters) – For almost 100 years, Chris Chinn’s family has farmed asparagus in the rolling hills of the Wye Valley in western England.
This year, he fears uncertainty around Britain’s departure from the European Union will keep his eastern European workers away and the asparagus will stay in the ground.
Asparagus grown in Britain is feted by chefs as among the world’s best but the seasonal worker shortage threatens the country’s asparagus industry and the viability of Chinn’s Cobrey Farms business.
It is a predicament shared by many British fruit and vegetable farmers, almost totally reliant on seasonal migrant workers from EU member states Romania and Bulgaria taking short-term jobs that British workers do not want.
At Chinn’s farm, which turns over more than 10 million pounds a year, the workers pick the premium asparagus spears that can grow up to 20 cm a day by hand. Sometimes they pick them twice a day before dispatching them to customers such as Marks and Spencer and Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco.
“It is incredibly clear cut – there is no UK asparagus on your supermarket shelves without seasonal migrant workers,” Chinn, whose great grandfather started as a tenant farmer in 1925, told Reuters.
“We’re really at the point where we either import the workers or we import the asparagus.”
Britain’s asparagus season is short and early – traditionally running from April 23, known as Saint George’s Day, to Midsummer’s Day in mid-June. It will be the first big test of the 2019 seasonal labour crisis.
This year Chinn’s team has had to work much harder to recruit Romanians and Bulgarians who are perplexed by the long Brexit process as Prime Minister Theresa May seeks parliament’s approval for a divorce deal with the EU. They are also wary of the welcome they will receive from Britons, who voted in 2016 to leave the EU.
Though Cobrey Farms has signed up 1,200 workers who are due to start arriving at the end of this month, Chinn fears many will not turn up. He does not think he will be able to harvest the entire crop, meaning valuable asparagus will be left in the fields.
“If we’re 20 percent short of people then we will harvest 20 percent less asparagus,” said Chinn. “UK agriculture’s not a high-margin game, so 20 percent less means we’re in loss-making territory. Fifty percent could sink us.”
Chinn’s concern grew after 20 of the 100 or so workers due to help cultivate the crops in January failed to turn up.
Of 247 workers due to arrive between March 31 and April 6, 125 are yet to book flights, he said. They include 38 who have worked at Cobrey Farms before and stayed in the dozens of static caravans that stand at the foot of the hills on the farm.
Asparagus ready for picking is seen in a growing tunnel at Cobrey Farm in Ross-on-Wye, Britain, March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Chinn, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, said uncertainty over eastern Europeans’ employment rights and how long they can stay, combined with a fall in the value of the pound, meant Germany and the Netherlands were now considered more attractive destinations.
“They go somewhere which is most straightforward and any, even minor, hurdles you put in their way is just nudging them ever closer to going somewhere else,” he said.
With just 11 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, the government is yet to agree a withdrawal arrangement or an extension, meaning the risk of a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit cannot be ruled out.
If Britain agrees on a divorce deal, a transition period will kick in, maintaining freedom of movement until the end of 2020. In the event of no deal, EU citizens arriving after March 29 would need to register to work for more than three months.
Elina Kostadinova, a 28 year-old harvest manager at Cobrey Farms who is from Varna on Bulgaria’s Black Sea, said many workers were worried about coming to Britain because of Brexit.
“They don’t know if they will be welcomed in the country, how long they may be able to stay, how they may be able to travel and what the future may hold,” she said. “It would be wonderful if the UK government could make a decision, so we can relay this message.”
British farms typically pay workers the national minimum wage of 7.83 pounds an hour plus performance-related bonuses.
Chinn said the idea of British workers plugging the gap was fanciful. He does not expect much help from the supermarkets, where sales volumes have already been negotiated for the season and prices have been fixed, barring exceptional circumstances.
Britain’s fruit and vegetable sector relies on up to 80,000 seasonal workers from the EU each year. Having previously been inundated with applications, labour agencies say interest dropped off in 2017 and 2018 as workers from Romania and Bulgaria opted to go elsewhere in the EU.
For the last two seasons, Britain has been short by around 10,000 workers, threatening the food supply and forcing farms to pay higher wages and bonuses. At the end of the summer as workers want to leave, farms will offer free accommodation and to pay the cost of flights to try to persuade them to stay on.
Concordia, a labour agency charity that finds EU pickers for British farms, said it now has to work much harder to recruit.
“U.K. agriculture is definitely entering into a crisis. No labour means no harvesting, which means no fruit and no vegetables on shelves in British supermarkets,” Chief Executive Stephanie Maurel told Reuters.
She was speaking in Moscow after the British government sanctioned a pilot trial for 2,500 workers to enter the country from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova for up to six months over the next two years.
Slideshow (19 Images)
Chinn, who has 3,500 acres of land, wants the government to increase the numbers to 10,000 this summer and over 50,000 in the next couple of years.
“We can’t change this natural cycle of the crop … the crop will come out the ground when it warms up,” he said. “So the key is about not waiting for a total disaster that wipes out large swathes of UK horticulture.”
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Timothy Heritage
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Asparagus crowns are live goods that have been freshly harvested from the soil. Like seed potatoes and hops rhizomes, they have only recently been dug from the soil, and are in a state of dormancy. This dormancy is broken in response to temperature, day length, and available moisture.
Easy – requires patience!
Season & Zone
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: Hardy to Zone 2
Asparagus crowns are the root systems of asparagus plants that are two years old. They are grown for the purposes of selling at the crown stage, which is much faster than starting from seed. They are very cold hardy, but they need to be planted soon after they are delivered. If they are delivered to a place where planting is impossible due to snow or frozen soil, plant them in a large container, in soil, and keep them in a cold but protected place like a garage or garden shed.
Asparagus is a perennial plant that will produce for ten years or more from the initial planting. Soil preparation is vital to long term productivity. Dig the planting area deeply and work in a large amount of organic matter in the form of compost or well rotted manure. Add a generous amount of Glacial Rock Dust to supply mineral content. In a raised bed, think in terms of dedicating five or more years of nutrients to the plants that will develop.
Spacing for asparagus crowns requires a minimum of 45-60cm (18-24″) between plants. For farms, plant the rows 1.5m (5′) apart.
The strategy with asparagus is to allow the plants to become well established before harvesting. When starting from seed, this means waiting two years until the first harvest. With asparagus crowns, harvesting begins one year after planting. For the first year, allow the plants to simply grow and photosynthesize, and become strong. Do not be tempted to harvest the stalks in the first year. Your patience will be rewarded in year two.
It’s important to not harvest until the second year so that plants can become established and strong. Then harvest over a 2-3 week period. Cut the fattest spears off at ground level when they are 15-20cm (6-10″) long. When thinner spears begin to emerge let them to grow into big fronds to nourish the roots. With each successive year the harvest lengthens to a maximum of 6-8 weeks. Store in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel.
Diseases & Pests
Asparagus beetles can defoliate the ferns of the asparagus plant. They overwinter in the top growth, so thorough removal of the fronds in the fall (after they have died) is vital. In a small garden handpick the voracious insects.
Encouraging beneficials like ladybugs helps control aphids. Aphids are usually found together on growing tips (look for the sooty blotches they leave behind).
Companion planting is a cornerstone of organic gardening. Carefully choose companions to reduce your need for pesticides. Plant asparagus seeds or crowns with asters, basil, cilantro, dill, cilantro, marigolds, nasturtiums, oregano, parsley, peppers, sage, and thyme. Asparagus repels nematodes that attack tomatoes, and tomatoes repel asparagus beetles.We have a full list of companions to consider.
Connect With Us!
PHOTO: Julie Faulk/Flickr by Erica Strauss March 17, 2014
I‘ll never forget the flavor of the first fat spear of asparagus I snapped from my own garden. It was sweet and juicy, and it snapped under my teeth with only the slightest hint of that sulfurous, grassy flavor that you often find in store-bought asparagus. I had planted 10 crowns three years before in a wide mound of sandy soil in full sun. The asparagus thrived, and my education in growing this long-lived perennial delicacy began.
Asparagus is a fairly unique vegetable because in a healthy mature patch, you harvest first and grow later. The edible portion of asparagus is the spear, which pushes up through the soil from a deep, energy-storing root system. This spear wants to become a tall, billowy frond that captures sunlight to send back down to the root system, but you’ll pick spears young, before they have a chance to toughen and unfurl.
To cultivate a healthy crop, pay particular attention to the soil in your asparagus bed. Asparagus is deep-rooted and prefers sandy, well-drained soil—areas that stay wet will rot the roots and invite disease. Here are some additional tips for prepping and maintaining the dirt your asparagus calls home.
1. Load Up on Phosphorus
Asparagus loves phosphorus. Composted manure, bone meal and rock phosphate are all good amendments to keep soil levels high in this nutrient.
2. Hold the Salt
While asparagus is salt-tolerant and grows well as a perennial in seaside gardens, the occasionally recommended advice to add salt to an asparagus bed isn’t wise and can seriously damage soil quality.
3. Don’t Rotate Beds
When happy, asparagus settles in for the long haul. It can live and produce for two decades or more, but it loathes having its roots disturbed for any reason, especially moving. Pick a location where your asparagus can literally put down roots, and avoid digging or deeply cultivating the soil around your asparagus patch.
4. Keep It Weed-Free
Because asparagus is so long-lived, it’s especially important to rid your planting area of any pernicious perennial weeds. Invasive creepers, such as bermuda grass, bindweed, quack-grass and buttercup, are difficult to eradicate, but they’ll out-compete your asparagus stand and must be removed from the soil before planting. Monitor the asparagus patch seasonally to keep weeds at bay.
5. Top-Dress Every Spring
Keep your asparagus patch performing well by top-dressing every spring with 2 to 3 inches of composted manure, followed by a 2-inch layer of loose organic mulch. Shredded arborist’s woodchips, straw and finished compost are all good choices. This top-dressing will provide the soil with nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as keep it weed-free and in good tilth.
6. Fertilize Twice A Year
Asparagus is a relatively heavy feeder. While the spring top-dressing will feed and add organic matter to the asparagus patch, you’ll get even better results if you feed lightly in early spring and again in mid-summer with a high-phosphorus organic fertilizer, like fish meal, which has a typical N-P-K value of 8-12-2.
7. Minimize Disease and Pest Risk
A patch of asparagus grown in well-drained soil is rarely bothered by disease, but fusarium wilt, purple spot, needle blight and asparagus rust can all infect your crop. If these diseases are known to be an issue in your growing region, planting resistant cultivars is essential. Your local extension program will know what issues tend to crop up in your area. For asparagus growers everywhere, siting asparagus in an area with good airflow and practicing good sanitation is important to discourage pathogen and disease build-up in the soil. At the end of the growing year, cut down and hot compost or burn the fronds and clean up debris.
Asparagus’ most common pest is the asparagus beetle, which will often overwinter in the soil. Good sanitation and allowing hens access to forage for the beetle can help reduce a buildup of these pests.
8. Companion Plant and Cover Crop
Asparagus enjoys being planted alongside other perennials, like rhubarb and fruiting shrubs, but avoid planting companions too close to minimize competition. The fronds of mature asparagus can reach 5 feet or taller, making this plant a great option for the middle layer of a stacked perennial bed. To build soil fertility naturally, an established asparagus patch can be under-seeded with a low-growing, nitrogen-fixer cover crop, like crimson clover, and interplanted with phosphorus bio-accumulators, like yarrow. In some areas, both crimson clover and yarrow can be invasive, so select the right soil-improving bio-accumulators for your region.
9. Start Out Right
Asparagus can be started from seeds or crowns—the crowns offering beginners a one- to two-year headstart on a harvest and often an ideal choice for beginning asparagus growers. However, if you want to start your asparagus from seed, sow it directly into well-drained, loose, fertile soil in a well-weeded, prepared bed after the soil has warmed enough to initiate germination—typically in April or May. Soak seeds in cool water or dilute compost tea for 1 hour before sowing, then space 8 to 12 inches apart. Cover seeds with 1 to 2 inches of loose, sandy soil and thin to an eventual spacing of 12 to 16 inches between plants. Keep soil moist until germination.
Alternatively, start indoors in late winter. Soak seeds in cool water or dilute compost tea for an hour, then sow seeds 1 inch deep in 4-inch pots filled with an organic potting mix that includes an organic, slow-release, balanced fertilizer (3-3-3 or 5-5-5). Keep the soil warm, and as soon as seeds germinate, set pots under full-spectrum grow lights or in a bright, sunny window or greenhouse, depending on outdoor temperatures. Transplant to the garden in mid to late spring when soil has warmed.
If you opt to plant crowns, keep in mind asparagus suffers some transplant. Plant crowns as soon after purchase as possible, in a prepared bed of well-drained, sandy soil. Dig a shallow, 6-inch-deep trench 12 to 18 inches wide and soak crowns for 15 minutes in cool water or diluted compost tea. Place the crowns 12 to 18 inches apart along the trench, spreading the roots out gently. Top with 2 to 3 inches of loose soil. When the shoots begin to appear (in several weeks to a month or more, depending on soil temperature), hill up around the growing crowns with another inch of soil. As the shoot grows, continue adding loose, sandy soil to the trench until it is filled.
Given the right early attention, asparagus is an investment that can really pay off. The first few years will require the right soil prep and a little babying to make sure the crop growing well, but after it’s established it’s a low-work culinary prize for the gourmet gardener.
Asparagus Growing Guide
The arrival of the asparagus season is eagerly awaited each year. The fresh, sweet new shoots seem to appear overnight from the bare soil. Asparagus crowns can be planted from July to December in warmer parts of the country and from September to December in cooler parts of the country.
A native of Europe, Asia, and North Africa, asparagus will produce tall, ferny-looking stems that can reach heights of more than 2m if left to its own devices. Patience is the main resource required when starting an asparagus patch, as it can take a few years for a crop to begin producing enough to feed the family. It’s not a vegetable for the small garden either – it’s a perennial that comes back every year, and it needs space to do so.
Choose a variety:
- Jersey Giant: produces large spears; the flavour is sweet when the tips are small.
- Mary Washington: a popular early-season asparagus, widely grown throughout the country.
- Sweet Purple: a neat-looking dark red or purple variety with a sweet taste when young. Generally only available as seed from catalogues.
Like building a house a good foundation is the key to success in your garden. The better the soil, the better your plants will grow. Cultivate the soil to a spade depth (approximately 30cm) and blend in organic matter like compost or Tui Sheep Pellets to your soil. Water and leave to settle for a month or so prior to planting. Then you can add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix before planting.
The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away.
Mature crowns are available as dormant plants over winter, they are a much quicker option than growing asparagus from seed.
Choose a position in full sun. If planting quite a few crowns dig trenches in the soil to plant in. Plant crowns with their roots facing down 15cm deep and 30cm apart. Rows should be spaced at least 50cm apart. Cover with soil.
Shoots will appear as the soil warms in spring. Keep the soil moist but not wet as asparagus crowns will rot in waterlogged conditions.
Sow the seed
Growing asparagus from seed is a slow yet rewarding process – it takes about three years from sowing to harvest. Sow seed in autumn in a seed raising tray. Seedlings should appear within a month. Allow the seedlings to develop for at least one growing season before planting them out in rows the following season. Transplant the seedlings crowns when they are a year old.
Once established asparagus seems to be happy in a sunny, free draining, moist warm soil. In the winter it dies down to the crown and hides underground until the soil warms up again in spring. The cold winters stimulate new season’s growth.
Feed your plants and they will feed you. Plants use nutrients from the soil as they grow, so replenishing the nutrients ensures your plants grow to their full potential. Feed asparagus plants in spring. Select a fertiliser specially blended for your crop like Tui Vegetable Food or use an all purpose variety, such as Tui NovaTec Premium fertiliser.
Cut back the tall, ferny foliage in autumn.
Keep your garden weed free and protect your plants from the elements with layers of Tui Pea Straw Mulch to help keep their roots moist.
Harvest and storage
- Harvest asparagus grown from crowns after two seasons. If you have grown asparagus from seed don’t harvest any spears until the third season as the plants need to mature and establish their root systems.
- Cut asparagus off at ground level with a sharp knife. Don’t be tempted to rip it out of the ground as you will more than likely pull out the whole crown. Eat as soon as possible – the fresher the better – although asparagus will store in the fridge for several days.
This is what my Asparagus looked like in August:
The ferns are about 8 feet tall and bending over under their own weight. (The brick is an aid to stability!).
This is what it looks like now. I leave a few inches of each stalk sticking up, so that I can see where the crowns are.
If the Asparagus is to build up its strength for another good crop next year, it needs some attention during the Winter. After I have cut down the fern (usually late October or early November), I cultivate the soil around the plants, removing any moss and weeds, and then I add a generous sprinkling of Growmore general-purpose plant food:
I have used Growmore in my garden for years and years. In fact I probably used it when I first started gardening, back in the 1980s, having learned about it from my Dad, who always used it too. Being a balanced fertiliser it is generally useful throughout the garden, for flowers, vegetables and fruit. You can get it in liquid form, but I always buy the granular one. The granular type is my favourite because you can apply it quickly and easily in whatever quantity you need, without having to dilute a measured volume of it in water or anything. The light-coloured granules are easy to see, so you can tell where you have applied it – which is not possible with the liquid one. I apply the Growmore by hand, and then work it into the soil with a hand-fork. At this time of year there is certainly no need to water it in!
Later – probably during the Christmas holiday, if the weather allows – I will add a good layer of home-made compost to the Asparagus bed. This will complete the preparations and then all I have to do is wait… (until April or May). If I feed the Asparagus now, it will feed me next year!
Asparagus is a hardy perennial. It is the only common vegetable that grows wild along roadsides and railroad tracks over a large part of the country. Although establishing a good asparagus bed requires considerable work, your efforts will be rewarded. A well-planned bed can last from 20 to 30 years. For this reason, asparagus should be planted at the side or end of the garden, where it will not be disturbed by normal garden cultivation. Asparagus is one of the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring. Asparagus is native to the Mediterranean and was eaten by the ancient Greeks.
The list of commonly available varieties has significantly changed in recent years. Standard varieties like Mary Washington, Martha Washington and Waltham Washington are still being offered; but a number of new varieties that are either predominantly or all male recently have been introduced in to common usage. Asparagus plants are naturally either male or female. The female plants bear seeds, which take considerable energy from the plant and sprout new seedlings, which cause overcrowding in the bed. Male plants produce thicker, larger spears because they put no energy into seeds and have no weedy seedling problem. A line that produces only male plants was discovered and has been incorporated into some truly amazing varieties. Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, Jersey Prince, Syn 53, Syn 4-362, UC 157 and Viking KBC are new hybrids with larger yields. It is advisable to plant the best variety available, as an asparagus bed should remain productive for at least 15 to 20 years. If you are starting a new bed, you may never get to choose a variety again if your bed produces that long. All the newer varieties are cold tolerant and are resistant to rust and fusarium.
When to Plant
Asparagus should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. One-year-old crowns or plants are preferred. Seeds are sown in a production bed and allowed to grow for a year. The young plants have compact buds in the center (crown), with numerous dangling, pencil-sized roots. Adventurous gardeners can start their own plants from seed. Although this adds a year to the process of establishing the bed, it does ensure fresh plants and the widest possible variety selection.
Spacing & Depth
Place the plants in a trench 12 to 18 inches wide and a full six inches deep. The crowns should be spaced 9 to 12 inches apart. Spread the roots out uniformly, with the crown bud side up, in an upright, centered position, slightly higher than the roots.
Cover the crown with two inches of soil. Gradually fill the remaining portion of the trench during the first summer as the plants grow taller. Asparagus has a tendency to “rise” as the plants mature, the crowns gradually growing closer to the soil surface. Many gardeners apply an additional 1 to 2 inches of soil from between the rows in later years.
As asparagus plants grow, they produce a mat of roots that spreads horizontally rather than vertically. In the first year, the top growth is spindly. As the plants become older, the stems become larger in diameter.
As noted, asparagus plants are dioecious (either solely male or solely female). The female plants develop more spears or stems than the male plants, but the stems are smaller in diameter. With normal open-pollinated varieties, gardeners plant both male and female plants in an approximate ration of 1:1. After the first year, small red berries form on the female plants in late summer. These then fall to the ground, sprouting plants that essentially become perennial weeds in the asparagus bed.
Following freezing weather in the fall, the asparagus tops should be removed to decrease the chances of rust disease overwintering on the foliage.
Because asparagus remain in place for years, advance soil preparation helps future production greatly. Working green manure crops, compost, manure, or other organic materials into the proposed bed well in advance of planting is a good approach. Asparagus should be fertilized in the same way as the rest of the garden the first 3 years. In the spring, apply 10-10-10, 12-12-12 or 15-15-15 fertilizer at the rate of 20 to 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet of area or 2 pounds per 100 square feet and incorporate with soil tillage. Starting in the fourth year, apply the same amount of fertilizer but delay application until June or July (immediately after the final harvest). This approach encourages vigorous growth of the “fern,” which produces and stores nutrients in the roots for next year’s production season.
Weeds and grasses are the worse problems with asparagus. They compete with the developing spears, make an unsightly area in the garden and significantly decrease yield and quality. Start frequent, light, shallow cultivation early in the spring in both young plantings and mature patches that are being harvested.
Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns, but for no more than one month the first season. The plant is still expanding its root storage system and excessive removal of spears weakens the plants. During the fourth year and thereafter, the spears may be harvested from their first appearance in the spring through May or June (as long as 8 to 10 weeks).
Harvest spears 5 to 8 inches in length by cutting or snapping. To cut a spear, run a knife into the soil at the base of the spear and carefully sever it. Because the spear is cut below the point where fiber develops, it becomes necessary to remove the fibrous base from the tender stalk. Cutting may damage some spear tips that have not yet emerged from the ground. To snap a spear, grasp it near the base and bend it toward the ground. The spear breaks at the lowest point where it is free of fiber.
Either method is acceptable. Cutting is often preferred by commercial growers and snapping by home gardeners. Asparagus deteriorates rapidly after harvest. If it is not eaten immediately, it should be processed or refrigerated.
Asparagus beetles are commonly found in home plantings. If numerous, they may be controlled by a suggested insecticide or by handpicking.
Asparagus rust can be a problem in the Midwest. Moisture left on the plant for 10 hours can help to spread the disease. Plant resistant varieties.
Questions & Answers
Q. What causes my asparagus spears to have loose heads?
A. When the weather turns hot, the growing point expands rapidly and the bracts (modified green leaves) are spread by the early development of the stems and ferns. The asparagus is safe to eat because only the appearance is affected.
Q. Early spring freezes caused the asparagus spears in my garden to turn brown and wither. Are they safe to eat?
A. Frozen tips should be picked and thrown away. These spears, although not poisonous, are off-flavor.
Q. Can I start asparagus from seed?
A. Yes. You can grow your own plants by planting seeds 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in the row. Start the seeds in the spring when the soil temperatures have reached 60Â°F. Dig the plants the following spring, before growth begins and transplant them to the permanent bed as soon as the garden can be worked. Growing your own plants delays establishment of your bed an additional year, but it ensures that you are starting with freshly dug crowns that have not lost vigor by being dug, stored and shipped. Also, variety selection is usually much greater when shopping for seeds rather than crowns.
Q. What causes crooked spears?
A. Asparagus spears grow quickly and are sensitive to mechanical injury from cultivation or cutting tools, insects or wind-blown soil particles. Injured areas grow slowly so that the rapid growth on the opposite side causes spears to curve toward the injured side. The cause of flattened (faciated) spears is unknown.
Selection & Storage
Asparagus is spring’s most luxurious vegetable. It was once cultivated for medicinal purposes as a natural remedy for blood cleansing and diuretic properties. During the Renaissance, asparagus was also promoted as an aphrodisiac and banned from the tables of most nunneries.
Botanically, asparagus is a member of the lily family, closely related to onions and leeks, though it bears no resemblance to them in appearance or flavor. It is a finicky plant, harvested by hand and requiring much attention during the brief growing season. Left to mature it will sprout into beautiful feathery ferns that are often used in floral arrangements.
While Europeans prize white asparagus, Americans tend to prefer the green or violet-green varieties. When buying asparagus look for compact tips and smooth green stems that are uniform in color down the length of the stem. Check the cut stem end for any signs of drying and always avoid withered spears.
Pencil thin or thick stems can be equally delicious. Contrary to popular belief, thinner stems are not an indication of tenderness. Thick stems are already thick when they poke their heads out of the soil and thin stems do not get thicker with age. Tenderness is related to maturity and freshness.
Asparagus comes in a variety of colors including white, violet-green, pink and purple. If you must store any variety of asparagus, treat it as you would treat a cut flower. Trim the stems and stand them in a glass with one to two inches of water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days or until ready to use.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
Asparagus is low in calories and provides substantial amounts of two antioxidantsâvitamin A and C. It truly shines as a source of folate and has a goodly amount of fiber.
(Serving size, 1/2 cup cooked)
Protein 2 grams
Carbohydrates 4 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.5 grams
Potassium 144 mg
Vitamin C 10 mg
Folate 131 mcg
Vitamin A 485 IU
Preparation & Serving
Cook asparagus as soon as possible to ensure peak flavor. Spears start to lose flavor and moisture as soon as they are harvested. For this reason, imported asparagus, while still good, tends to lack flavor, making home grown Michigan and Illinois spring crops most desirable.
To prepare, wash under cool running water and trim an inch from the stem end. Use a vegetable peeler to peel an inch or two off the bottom end, if desired. The peelings can be added to the cooking water which, can be refrigerated and reused. The water becomes quite flavorful and is excellent in stock and soup.
Peeling asparagus can be tedious and many cooks prefer breaking the tough ends. To use this method, hold the top half of an asparagus spear in one hand and the bottom half between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Bend each spear until it snaps in two pieces. The spears will naturally break where the tender part meets the tough end. Although this method produces a lot of waste, the tougher bottoms can be saved for soup or stock, if desired.
Asparagus can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted or incorporated into casseroles and salads. Tall narrow asparagus kettles are designed to cook the spears upright, immersing the stems while the tender heads steam. It is not necessary to purchase an asparagus kettle in order to cook asparagus properly. The key to perfectly cooked asparagus is “cook it briefly.”
The flavor of asparagus marries well with many ingredients and it is equally delicious dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Raw asparagus is also tasty served as cruditÃ©s with a flavorful dipping sauce. When using asparagus as a salad, always wait until serving time to add the dressing as the high acid content of most dressings will turn the spears yellow. Add fresh chives, savory, thyme, and tarragon to enhance the flavor of cooked asparagus.
The best home preservation method to use for asparagus is freezing.
- Select young tender spears. Wash thoroughly and sort into like sizes.
- Trim ends and peel or use the “break method” described above. Cut spears into even lengths to fit freezer bags or freezer containers.
- Water blanch small spears 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears 4 minutes.
- Remove from blanching water and immediately immerse in ice water for 5 minutes to cool. Drain slightly.
- Package, leaving no headspace, seal, label, date and freeze at zero degrees or below for up to one year.
SautÃ©ed Asparagus with Mushrooms
Use your favorite fresh mushroom for this recipe. This dish is also excellent served chilled.
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a large skillet, bring 2 inches of water to a boil with a teaspoon salt. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set aside.
- Add asparagus to the boiling water and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until barely tender but still firm. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the spears to the ice water bath. Leave in ice water 5 minutes or until cool. Drain and set aside. Discard blanching water.
- Using the same skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, asparagus, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
- SautÃ© until mushrooms are wilted and the asparagus is just heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm or chilled. Yields 4 servings.
Different Asparagus Varieties What to Expect
There are many varieties of asparagus to choose from with the most visibly different being the purple varieties.
White asparagus is not a separate variety but is grown under different growing conditions.
Whilst some varieties are naturally taller or thinner than others growing conditions also affect the shape of the spears.
There are many varieties of asparagus to choose from with the most visibly different being the purple varieties.
White asparagus is not a separate variety but is grown under different growing conditions.
Whilst some varieties are naturally taller or thinner than others growing conditions also affect the shape of the spears.
Other very important factors which vary according to the variety include flavour, tenderness, time of growth, suitability to different soils and climates and yield per plant.
Be sure to think carefully about which variety or range of varieties will suit your growing conditions best if you are thinking of planting an asparagus bed.
Left to right – Pacific Purple, Pacific 2000 and Mondeo
Hybrids versus non Hybrids
From Left – Ariane, Millenium, Mondeo, Pacific 2000, Pacific Purple, Stewart Purple, Tesco’s un-named!!!
Some hybrid asparagus varieties have been bred to provide male only asparagus plants. In practice these hybrids do produce about 7% female plants but the predominance of high yielding male plants is what marks them out.Examples include Guelph Millenium and Mondeo.
The benefit of male plants is that they do not produce seed which gives them more energy to produce higher yields (as much as 2 to 3 times the yield can be expected). In addition to having a higher yield the male plants have no seeds to drop and seeds produce seedlings that will affect the size and yield of spears produced by the planted crowns.
Having said this there are some hybrid varieties that do not produce predominantly male plants but that are well worth planting for their special qualities. Examples include Ariane, Pacific 2000, Pacific Purple and Stewarts Purple.
The information on will tell you more about asparagus hybrid development.
Our Head to Head Taste Test
Unless you have asparagus beds with lots of varieties its unusual to be able to taste more than one or two different varieties head to head. Our Asparabuddie of Hargreaves Plants who are major suppliers of asparagus crowns to growers and have an extensive testing program sent us six asparagus varieties to compare. Here is what we found in a very unscientific blind testing.
Bearing in mind that all of them were delicious and far exceeded the flavour of shop bought these were the comments on each. Needless to say we didn’t all agree!
Ariane – very nice, good flavour
Millenium – very nice chunky, a bit bitter raw
Mondeo – Incredibly tender, more stringy end, more delicate, more subtle flavour, bland
Pacific 2000 – Very tender, great flavour, similar to Mondeo for flavour, slightly bitter raw
Pacific Purple – bit watery, not as much flavour, more woody, bland
Stewarts Purple – not as watery as Pacific Purple, one of the nicest, very sweet
Tesco’s – quite nice, slightly mushy
Note where comparisons were made the names of the varieties were not used but we worked it out from the numbers we gave each one.
All in all we thought that Stewart Pacific was very very good and all the greens were amazing and beat Tesco’s offering hands down. We were a bit underwhelmed by Pacific Purple.
Some Popular Asparagus Varieties
Asparagus Varieties in Preparation for Tasting
The comments on each are a distillation of what the various suppliers and growers claim for their products
Connovers Colossal – This asparagus variety is bright green with purple tips, produces a good yield for a non hybrid. It dates back to the 1800’s. It is a well tried and tested popular older variety with an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. Typical cost 10 crowns for £15.
Martha Washington – this strong growing variety is an American favourite. The long thick spears are emerald green and it has an extra long harvesting season. One supplier claims it is good for freezing, we will have to test this out….can anyone confirm this? It is resistant to rust and is an open pollinated variety. Typical costs seeds £3 for 50 seeds.
Gijnlim F1 hybrid – is a Dutch variety recommended by some Kent asparagus growers. It is adaptable liking either clay or sandy soils. It has a heavy crop early to mid season and has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Backlim F1 hybrid – is another Dutch variety not quite as highly recommended as the Gijnlim. Again with an RHS Award of Garden Merit this variety has a high resistance to rust. It produces a good crop mid to late season and the spears are thick with well closed tips.
Ariane – produces lots of large spears early in the season
Stewarts Purple – this asparagus variety is more tender and sweet than the green variety’s and is good eaten raw in salads, sipped into dressing etc. Its colour is lost if cooked so if you are going to cook it steaming is best.
Pacific Purple F1 – This variety is from New Zealand. As its name suggests it produces purple spears which are sweet and tender and very good eaten raw. Typical cost £15 for 10 crowns.
Pacific 2000 – Unusually there are two varieties of pacific 2000 one for spring and one for autumn planting. Make sure you get the right one! Again from New Zealand this variety was voted the best in commercial grower tests in 2006. It grows vigorously and the spears are uniform, green, tender, not stringy with a heavy crop and great flavour. typical cost 10 crowns £15.
Purple Passion – The spears are good and thick, not quite as thick as Jersey Giant. The spears are very very tender and are purple when harvested. They lose some of their colour when cooked and are often eaten raw. The flavour is mild and nutty and the sugar content is 20% higher than many others.
Mondeo – A variety with good disease resistance, great yields, great flavour and cropping early in the season. Typical cost 10 crowns for £17.
Jersey Knight F1 hybrid – one source tells us that this all male hybrid has flavoursome tender spears up to 2cm thick and a high tolerance to Fusarium – crown and root rot. Another tells us the spears are thinner than those of Jersey King which has medium diameter spears. This seems a little contradictory! It will grow in poor salty or alkaline soil. The crop comes slightly later than Jersey Giant so you can extend your season by planting both. It is hardy even in sub zero weather and will crop for up to 20 years. 5 1 year old plants might set you back £17.50.
Jersey Giant F1 hybrid – this variety is a good choice for cold climates although it is perfectly happy in other climates too. It has thicker spears than either Jersey King or Jersey Knight although not quite so many as Jersey King. It has a strong flavour and is resistant to fusarium – crown rot and rust.
Jersey King F1 hybrid – another hybrid with medium diameter stalks which are best harvested when they are about 7 inches tall. Adaptable to most climates this variety is easy to grow in humus composted soil.
Eros F1 hybrid – The large purple green spears originate from Italy. They grow well in sandy soils as well as in heavier clay soils.
Guelph Millenium F1 hybrid – If you live in the north of England this may be the variety for you. It comes from Canada and has excellent tolerance to cold winters. It is good in poorer soils and is an all male variety of asparagus.
Thielim F1 hybrid – Early to crop and with a good yield this hybrid is a recent introduction that is less susceptible to Botrytis.
You might want to look out for combination offers where you buy typically 5 crowns of each of four varieties of asparagus plant to give a good spread of complementary varieties.
We’ve been reviewing crown and seed suppliers to help you buy online here.
Asparagus is easy to grow and really doesn’t need anything special except a place where you can grow it for many years because it is a perennial vegetable that can thrive in the home garden for 15 years or more when well cared for. Asparagus plants should grow for at least 1 season in the garden before they are harvested. (Our 2 year crowns, available only in the fall, will be ready to harvest the next spring!)
Asparagus is most productive on deep, well-drained, sandy loam soil, but it will do well on other soils if it has good drainage. Many people grow it in large raised beds where it will thrive in nice soft soil with lots of mulching every year. The crown itself (the bud type thing at the top of the long spaghetti leg roots) is what will sprout the asparagus spears. Asparagus crowns planted close together will produce smaller, thinner spears and spacing them further apart will produce larger spears. Mulching well will keep the flavor sweeter and milder.
The First Growing Season
Asparagus should be planted in the early spring or in the fall when temperatures are cooler. Before planting, add compost and organic fertilizer to amend the soil. If pH is below 6.0, lime should be added to correct pH. Dig a V-shaped furrow, 6 inches deep. Plant crowns with the buds up in the bottom of the furrow, and cover them with 1 – 3 inches of soil. Space the crowns 12 to 16 inches apart within the row. Allow at least 3 feet between the asparagus rows or the next closest vegetable crop.
As the asparagus begins to grow, gradually fill in the furrow with soil. (Be careful not to cover any of the asparagus foliage.) The furrows should be filled to ground level by the end of the first growing season. Add organic fertilizer (about 1/4 cup per plant of granular) spreading the fertilizer on each side of the asparagus and cultivate it lightly into the soil. Good soil moisture is important during the first growing season. Irrigate or water your asparagus enough to wet the soil 8 inches deep every week.
The Second Growing Season
DO NOT harvest the asparagus spears that grow from 1 year crowns during their first season. Allow all of them to grow into brush which looks like dill or a ferny bush. Late in the fall of the first growing season, after the brush has turned completely brown, remove the brush (old stalks) and any weeds. (Note, in the fall, we have 2 year old crowns of Mary Washington asparagus that can be harvested in Spring of the following year.)
Early next spring, sprinkle some lime as needed to maintain the proper soil pH. (about 1 lb for a 10 X 10 bed) Add compost and organic fertilizer again. Thorough watering (1-2 inches of water) slowly applied every two weeks during dry weather is sufficient. Remove the brush each succeeding fall after it has turned brown.
Each succeeding spring, before the asparagus emerges, add lime if needed and add compost and organic fertilizer. Rake the fertilizer and lime into the soil gently, 1 to 2 inches deep. Take care not to damage the asparagus crowns.
Use a knife to harvest spears. Use one hand to hold the top of the spear you are harvesting. Cut the spear off about one inch below the soil line. Be careful not to cut too deep – it will damage the asparagus crown.
Harvest all the spears that come up during the harvest season. A good general rule for length of harvest season is the 2-4-6 week sequence. Harvest for 2 weeks the second year the plants are in the garden, 4 weeks the third year, and 6 weeks the fourth and all following years. Each succeeding fall, remove any brush after it has turned brown.
If you harvest asparagus that will be eaten later, wash the spears and place the cut ends in about 2 inches of water. Like fresh flowers, they will keep in the refrigerator for several days.remove the brush (old stalks) and any weeds.