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from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Please Pass the Asparagus

Early spring in the asparagus bed

My own 20-year old asparagus bed in mid-April, at the start of the harvest season. Look, no weeds!

Asparagus is one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables you can grow. At my house, the asparagus harvest will soon be drawing to a close. Some of us are rather happy about that. We’ve been eating asparagus at least once a day since the end of April. Steamed, parboiled, sautéed and roasted. In omelets, pasta salads, stir-fries and soups, but mostly on its own with olive oil, pepper and sometimes a little balsamic vinegar. Leftover asparagus makes a delicious lunch snack. Giving away extra spears makes friends very happy.

Asparagus is one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables you can grow. Plant it once and you can eat from the same plot for the next 25 years. So if you’re planning to stay put for awhile, and you have a sunny, well-drained spot that gets plenty of moisture, consider planting some asparagus. Planting is a job for very early spring, when the clusters of asparagus roots, called crowns, are available. Summer is the right time to start planning where your bed will be located, and start preparing the planting area.

Week 3 in the asparagus season

Week 3 of the asparagus season. Three more weeks to go!

One thing asparagus plants will not tolerate is weeds, so preparing a weed-free planting bed is essential. A raised bed is ideal. Crowns should be planted 6 to 8” deep, about 1½ feet apart. This means eight crowns will fit in a 3×6′ bed. If you plant all-male, hybrid asparagus, such as Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant, rather than the quaint but underwhelming variety Mary Washington, eight crowns will produce an adequate supply of asparagus for two adults; 16 crowns will ensure a bountiful crop with lots to share.

New asparagus bed

A raised bed of asparagus in our Burlington, VT, display gardens. This is the third year and we have started to harvest.

Growing asparagus requires patience. For best long-term results, don’t harvest any spears until year three. This gives the roots a chance to get well-established before you start depriving them of their tender shoots. When it is time to begin harvesting, cut spears at soil level and continue harvesting until shoots get to be as thin as a pencil. Then stop harvesting until next year and let the rest of the spears develop into mature “fronds”. The plants will use this foliage to produce energy and feed their roots for next year’s harvest.

Purple asparagus

The asparagus in our display gardens is purple. Really beautiful. Turns green when you cook it.

Apply a granular organic fertilizer to your asparagus bed in early spring and again in mid-summer. Add a couple inches of compost in spring and fall. If the soil is acidic, add some lime. Mulch the soil surface with shredded leaves or straw to retain moisture and minimize weed growth. Cut fronds to the ground in late fall and destroy. This will help keep asparagus beetle populations in check.

For more information, check out the guide to growing asparagus from the University of Missouri Extension Service.

-Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply

30 Comments

  1. June 4, 2009    

    Excellent and informative post!

  2. Anonymous
    June 4, 2009    

    So for those of us with limited space, can we grow anything else in this space during the rest of the growing season – in between the crowns?

  3. June 4, 2009    

    Hi there,
    For the past couple years I have been growing some strawberry plants in among my asparagus. The plants are doing fine. Unfortunately I have yet to claim a strawberry before the chipmunks have made off with them.
    I have also successfully grown both sunflowers and annual poppies in between the crowns. They look pretty mingling with the soft asparagus fronds and because they’re annuals, they don’t seem to compete. In late fall you can just cut back the fronds and pull out all the annuals. — Kathy

  4. June 4, 2009    

    Could I plant the asparagus in a large wine barrel if I’d like to travel with it if I move?

  5. Anonymous
    June 5, 2009    

    How about planting in a mixed ornamental perennial bed? I like the fluffy fronds for texture once I’m done eating…

  6. Anonymous
    June 5, 2009    

    Hey Anonymous…try basil in between. They are annuals (at least in my zone) and will give you something tasty, and don’t have much of a root spread to compete with the asparagus.

    Thanks for the article! I appreciate the advice!!

  7. Carroll
    June 5, 2009    

    I would like to move mine to a better spot. Any suggestions on when to do this and how? How far down should I dig to be the plants out?

  8. June 5, 2009    

    Wow! I can’t imagine trying to dig out my asparagus. I know how deep and how extensive the root system is, because I’ve been fighting bindweed, which has snuck into one end of the bed. Hate that dang stuff.
    Anyway, if your bed has been established for awhile, you’ll probably need to go down at least 18 inches. I’d do it in late fall once the fronds begin to yellow. Cut them to the ground and start digging. This timing will give the plant all summer to store as much energy as possible in its root system. Replant. Pamper. Hope for the best!
    If you don’t already have the relatively new all-male asparagus, you might want to consider starting over with new crowns. The all-male cultivars are supposed to yield 2 to 3 times more than the old ones.
    Good luck! – Kathy

  9. April 8, 2010    

    I just received the Asparagus Crowns from Gardener’s Supply. They seem to have a long root or some type of stem growing from the crown. What do I do with that? Do I remove that when I plant?

  10. April 8, 2010    

    The dangling things attached to the crown are the plant’s roots. Don’t cut them off! They should be spread out from the crown and covered with soil.
    We have a new article on gardeners.com about growing asparagus — you can search for it on our website. It’s called “How to Grow Asparagus”.
    http://www.gardeners.com/Growing-Asparagus/7343,default,pg.html
    -Kathy

  11. SavtaDeby
    May 5, 2010    

    I planted Purple Passion asparagus two years ago, and am just beginning to harvest a little bit. Yum! Unfortunately the gophers have decided they like it, too. Any suggestions? The neighbor’s cat has been helping with them, but he is not full-time!

  12. May 5, 2010    

    Hi folks, so if I need 16 or 25 crowns, how big an area will this require of dedicated garden? I didn’t see how far apart to plant them? I noticed a question from last june re: large wine barrel… and didn’t see a response so I’m guessing that won’t work, but I have a v. small garden area and want to be as efficient as possible… but would LOVE asparagus! How many hours of full sun does it need?

  13. May 5, 2010    

    Hi Satva,
    BAD gophers! You might want to check out the article about gophers in our new Pest and Disease DETECTIVE. There are some suggestions including below-ground fencing and little garlic repellent sticks. Go to gardeners.com and search on “pest and disease detective” and then click on the ad for “Animal Problems” to get to the page about gophers. Good luck!

  14. May 5, 2010    

    Jen Johns,
    There’s an article about asparagus in the”Vegetable Encyclopedia” that lives inside our Kitchen Garden Planner: http://www.gardeners.com/Kitchen-Garden-Planner/kgp_home,default,pg.html
    In that article we explain how many plants will fit in a 3×6 raised bed. Since your space is limited, doubling up the crowns in a raised bed/wide row will be more space efficient than planting long, individual rows. But if you decide to go the traditional way, the crowns should be planted about 18″ apart down the row, and I’d suggest a minimum of 3 feet of space from crown to crown. That way you will still have a narrow walking path once the plants reach their mature girth. Full sun is best. 6-8 hrs minimum. Maybe you can start with one or two 3×6 beds and see how that goes. Raised beds are good for asparagus as you can pamper them and they really like that!

  15. May 5, 2010    

    i bought crowns without knowing the bed needed to be prepared a year in advance–anyway to still plant them this year or are they trash?

  16. May 5, 2010    

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. May 5, 2010    

    Hi eatinginseason,
    You don’t HAVE to prep the bed a year in advance. Can you make a nice planting bed now and just make sure to remove every bit of sod or bad perennial weeds?
    If so, while you’re waiting, you can “heel in” in those crowns in a part of your garden that’s cool, moist and a little shaded. Try to keep the plants as sleepy as possible for a couple weeks while you take time to prep the new area. The roots are sort of fleshy. They shouldn’t dry out, but nor should they be too wet or they’ll go moldy. Good luck! – Kathy

  18. May 6, 2010    

    i think the bed’s been started (we got the crowns for my mother in law and i belive my father in law dug out the bed a few weeks ago) and we have the crowns in some sand, as the sales rep at gardeners’ supply suggested.

  19. Anonymous
    May 9, 2010    

    I have 3 raised beds of Asparagus, 2 at 4X8 feet, 1 at 2 X 8 feet, all @ 12 inches deep. All male plants, 4 years old. I get a few spears – usually enough to garnish a salad – each year, but many of the plants come up with a thin woody/ferny inedible stalk. The beds were started with 3 inches of peat, topped by a commercial potting soil with moisture control and fertilizer(leaving brand name out intentionally). Any suggestions, beyond finding the nearest farmer’s market for my Asparagus?

  20. May 10, 2010    

    Hi. Here are couple thoughts in response to the information you’ve provided: 1. Is your asparagus bed in full sun? Asparagus fronds need a several full summers of good growth to feed and develop a strong and ultimately productive root system. 2. Have you done a pH test on the soil in that bed? Asparagus needs a neutral pH of 6.5. Some even recommend a pH of 7. The peat moss you added to the bed initially would have acidified the soil. If the pH is too low, that’s a relatively easy thing to correct. 3. Is the soil in the bed soggy or well drained? Asparagus prefers a sandy, light soil. You can improve heavy soil (as I had to do) by adding leaf mold and other organic matter. But if the soil in the bed is super-heavy and the plants have been in there for awhile, you might be better off starting anew. Good luck! -Kathy

  21. Ken
    June 3, 2010    

    Kathy, how high do the fronds get? Do they need to be staked or just let them grow all summer? Since I live in So. Cal., when (or even should I) cut off the fronds? I just planted the asparagus about a month ago.

  22. June 3, 2010    

    Hi Ken,
    Thanks for the heads up — I’ll add information about end-of-season care to the article!
    Depending on the health/vigor of the asparagus bed, the fronds may grow well over 6 feet tall (mine do). Let them grow all summer long, keeping the soil surface weeded, mulched and adequately moist. Once the fronds yellow, which is in late September/early October where I live, they will have done their job feeding the roots. The fronds can be left in place over winter, but there are two reasons to cut them close to the soil level and remove them from the area. First is that asparagus beetles can winter-over in the fronds. The other is that you’ll need to remove the fronds in the spring anyway, and that’s one less springtime chore!

  23. Ken
    June 3, 2010    

    Thanks, Karen! Should I stake the fronds?

  24. June 3, 2010    

    I have never staked my asparagus fronds. Once you have a mature asparagus bed and a thick bed of fronds, they will easily stand on their own. But if you’re in a windy location and/or the fronds are spindly and seem like they’re going to break or bend, you might need to stake them.

  25. February 8, 2011    

    I read once that you can plant twice as much asparagus bed as you need. This can give you two seasons of asparagus. Let the first half go to frond at the beginning of the season while you cut the second half for asparagus. Later in the season, when they have gathered root strength, you can cut them down. When the newly-cut half starts to come up, you can get a second season of asparagus. I have never tried this.

  26. claudia
    April 3, 2011    

    If I plant asparagus in a raised bed how deep should it be and can I put it on concrete with a weed barrier?

  27. April 4, 2011    

    Hi Claudia,

    When planting asparagus, we recommend a trench that’s 12 inches deep. For complete instructions, read How to Grow Asparagus: http://bit.ly/asparagus-blg

    I wouldn’t recommend planting asparagus in a lined planter. If you live in a cold-winter area, your plants are not likely to survive without the insulating effect of being planted in the ground.

    -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

  28. Lori
    August 31, 2011    

    I’m preparing to build a raised bed just for asparagus. I’m putting it on top of my lawn (after removing the top layer of sod, of course), putting down some newspaper for a weed barrier, a couple of inches of rock for drainage, then a good mix of soil. How high should I build my box?

  29. September 6, 2011    

    We do ours in a 7-inch high bed. Learn more in this article: http://www.gardeners.com/Berries-Asparagus-Raised-Beds/7562,default,pg.html

  30. dale in montana
    May 30, 2012    

    Would love suggestions on how to control gophers. IN SPITE OF CHICKEN WIRE 12 INCHES DEEP AROUND MY GARDEN, THE GOPHERS WIPED OUT A 7 YEAR OLD ASPARAGUS BED THIS WINTER. HELP. DALE IN MONTANA

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