Asparagus is one of those wonderful plants that keeps on giving. Plant it once, and you’ll be harvesting it for generations. Not only is this an easy perennial crop to grow, but it’s good for you. This delicious veggie is packed with potassium, vitamin C, and folic acid, which is an essential B vitamin. Here’s how to get started with growing asparagus!
Asparagus can either be started from seed or from crowns. Crowns, which are the dormant, rooted section of the plant, are usually your best bet since they grow more reliably and establish themselves much more quickly than seed. If you choose to go with crowns (which you’ll find early in the spring at most garden centers), make sure that you’ll be ready to plant them within a day or two of purchasing them so that they don’t sprout before they’re in the ground.
Speaking of ground, you’ll need to pick a good spot for your new asparagus bed. These plants will do well in both full sun and part shade. The most important thing is to give them well drained soil. In fact, you can plant it in droughty areas, but it won’t thrive as quite well as it will in well drained but not drought-prone soil. Asparagus will also grow in poor soil, but soil with some organic matter will yield you larger crops.
When it comes time to plant asparagus crowns, there is a specific way to do it:
- Dig a trench that is 12 inches wide, making sure that it is long enough for each crown to have 18 inches of room. Your trench can be wider, but make sure that it doesn’t go more than four feet so that you can reach the center without stepping inside the bed.
- Make small conical mounds of soil every 18 inches. Spread out each crown’s roots, then place them over the mounds.
- Once you’ve placed all of your crowns, start filling in the trench. The top of each crown should be covered with approximately two inches of soil.
- Thoroughly water your new asparagus bed.
After planting, let your asparagus go for a year. The following spring, you’ll be able to come back and start harvesting.
Caring For Your Asparagus Plants
Asparagus doesn’t require much care past the first year. In the first year, make sure to water whenever the soil dries out. During the second year, in midsummer, you can start mulching to prevent weeds from sprouting. The reason that you want to wait until midsummer is that the plants should be somewhat tall so that you don’t inadvertently smother new shoots.
The last point to remember is to not cut back the asparagus ferns until after they’ve died back in the fall. This keeps your asparagus bed healthy and strong, which means bigger harvests the following year.
Each spring, when the shoots are between four and eight inches high, you can start harvesting. Every time you harvest, make sure to leave a few shoots behind so that the asparagus can continue to photosynthesize. Use a knife to cut the asparagus at ground level or simply snap the shoots off close to the ground.
For new beds, there is something of a science to how long you can harvest each year. Asparagus can take several years to fully establish itself, so in the first year, don’t harvest any at all. The second year, you can harvest for two weeks, in the third year, harvest for four weeks, and by the fourth year, your plants should be strong enough to tolerate a full eight-week harvesting season.
What Are the Best Varieties of Asparagus?
There are many different types of asparagus to try, each suited to a different purpose. If you live between USDA hardiness zones 4 and 6, try any one of the Jersey hybrids (like “Jersey Giant” or “Jersey Knight”). Jersey asparagus is known to produce the largest harvests.
People living in zone 3 will need a cold-tolerant variety. “Guelph Millennium” emerges later, but is able to survive harsher winters. Finally, there are specialty varieties. “Martha Washington” is the most well-known heirloom asparagus, while “Purple Passion” produces purple spears instead of green.
If you’ve never tried growing asparagus, this is one crop that you’re missing out on. After that first season, you’ll be able to harvest this delicious vegetable year after year. Best of all, asparagus beds take very little maintenance to produce a bumper crop.
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.