Asparagus offers numerous health benefits, including healthy doses of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While many people savor the softer (and slightly less bitter) shoots, others prefer the stalk. Regardless of how or when you prefer to eat it, you’ll be relieved to know that asparagus is generally easy to grow and maintain, even for novice gardeners. For most gardeners, the beginning is the most difficult part.
A lot of work and dedication goes into planning and perfecting the area you’ve selected to grow the asparagus. Once you’ve successfully planted it, however, this perennial crop becomes largely self-sufficient — asparagus can grow in its first bed for 20 years or more with very little maintenance. From timing to location, it’s essential to understand the basics of growing asparagus:
- Timing — If you’re planting crowns (as most gardeners do), it’s best to do so early while the crowns are still dormant. For some crowns, this might mean late winter. However, it’s possible to wait for the middle of spring if the roots are healthy. It’s best to plant during a stretch of time when there’s no frost on the ground and you’re able to work with the soil. Crowns often need at least two inches of soil for adequate protection against hard freezes.
- Location — Asparagus is quite tough and does best in areas with dry seasons or winter ground freezes, which is nearly anywhere except the Gulf Coast and Florida. You’ll need a raised bed or garden patch with well-drained soil for successful planting. If you decide to plant the asparagus in a bed, make sure it’s approximately four feet wide and is clear of all perennial weeds and roots.
For best results, dig a generous amount of aged manure or compost into the soil before planting the asparagus. Your chosen spot should be relatively sheltered and receive plenty of sunlight.
Proper Care and Watering
After successfully planting the asparagus and eagerly tracking its growth, it’s time to focus on proper care and watering. Removing excess dirt and controlling the surrounding weeds is just half the battle. Although asparagus is largely self-sufficient, proper care and watering is key if you want to end up with the best possible asparagus:
- Care — Grasses and various perennial weeds can quickly wipe out all of your asparagus. However, you can avoid this problem by keeping the soil well-mulched from the start. Leaves and straw make great mulching options for asparagus. Some gardeners rely on companion plants to boost vigor and vitality. Parsley or basil planted underneath the asparagus can also encourage growth, while tomatoes deter potentially lethal asparagus beetles and pests. Other asparagus-friendly plants are coriander, dill, marigolds, and comfrey.
- Watering — Asparagus requires routine watering during its first two years of life. A large, extensive root system eventually takes over, which means you may only need to water the asparagus during a particularly dry or hot spell. Avoid using a sprinkler system, though, as too much water can drown or kill the plant.
- Pests and insects — Pests and insects are common problems for many plants and vegetables, including asparagus. The asparagus beetle is a well-known intruder, especially in the spring and summer. This small insect typically feeds on the asparagus spears and lays its eggs on the surface. Simply scraping the eggs off can keep the asparagus safe, but heavily infected plants might need insecticidal soap or spray to properly recover. The asparagus miner, another common pest, also feeds on the foliage. It’s best to destroy any ferns that are infested with this critter.
- Organic gardening — If you want to grow healthy and sustainable asparagus, stick to organic products. Many gardeners wonder whether it’s best to use organic or non-organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizer is often loaded with essential nutrients. As opposed to organic fertilizer, traditional fertilizer loses its organic matter over time, causing any additional chemicals that are applied to the soil to leak through. You can also mix and match to find the right organic soil makeup for your asparagus.
Extra Tips for Growing the Best Asparagus
Why settle for simply growing asparagus when you can make it the best asparagus ever? It doesn’t take much of a green thumb to successfully plant and grow asparagus. Consider these helpful hints and tips for successful asparagus growing:
Give it some breathing room. Asparagus prefers a generous amount of personal space. Space the rows apart by roughly five feet. Each asparagus crown should be approximately 15 to 18 inches apart.
Don’t overwater. Giving the asparagus too much water can drown it.
Understand the harvest cycle. The harvest cycle for asparagus is approximately six weeks long. Asparagus spear growth varies depending on the temperature. You may need to harvest it daily in hot temperatures, yet only every three days in cooler weather.
Don’t pick too much. Take just a handful of spears from each plant in the first year after planting. This process should last roughly two weeks. However, harvest time increases to three weeks the following year and an additional four to six weeks over subsequent years.
If you’re new to growing vegetables or gardening in general, asparagus is an ideal place to start. This hardy veggie is quite forgiving, especially after the first few years of its life. You’ll need a bright and sunny spot and well-drained soil to begin. When it’s successfully planted in the right spot, asparagus can thrive for 20 years or more. If it’s one of your favorite veggies, you can enjoy it for the long haul!