Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden
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Asparagus has been considered a spring garden delicacy since Roman times and is a vegetable crop that home gardeners can easily grow and enjoy. Asparagus is a perennial, and if you plant and manage it properly, it will produce for 15 years or more. Because this crop will occupy the land for many years, you should select the location and prepare the growing bed carefully. Let’s discuss a few strategies that will aid your efforts to grow asparagus in Pamlico County.
Varieties — Asparagus is dioecious, which means that male and female flowers form on separate plants. The female plants expend more energy to produce seeds; therefore, the female plants will have a much lower yield than the males. Old standard varieties like Mary Washington (a rust-resistant variety) produce a higher percentage of these female plants and may be less desirable. However, the all-male hybrids like Jersey Gem (cercospora leaf-spot tolerant) and Jersey Knight produce significantly more male plants than female plants, resulting in greater yield.
Soil and Soil Preparation — When growing asparagus, choose a site in full sun and relatively free of perennial broadleaf weeds and nutsedge. Any well-drained soil will produce good asparagus but it does best in deep, fertile, sandy loam or loamy soil. Using a raised bed amended with organic matter is especially helpful in heavy soils. Conduct a soil test at least 6 months before planting, taking soil samples up to a depth of 12 inches deep. Follow the directions on the soil test report to amend the soil and achieve a soil pH between 6.7 to 7.0. Asparagus grows poorly in acidic soils, which will also support greater disease development.
Planting — Crowns (roots) should be planted in rows 5 feet apart with the crowns spaced 12-18 inches apart in the row. The distance between rows can be reduced, but this may shorten the life of the bed. Use large, well-rooted, one-year-old, disease-free crowns, purchased from a reliable source.
In eastern North Carolina, plant the crowns in February in a furrow 6 inches deep. Make the furrow wide enough to accommodate the root system of the crowns when fully spread out. In placing the crowns in the furrow or trench, be sure to have the buds pointing upward. Cover the crowns with 2 inches of soil. As the plants grow, pull soil around the plants gradually until the trench is filled. This method is used to ensure little compaction occurs above the crowns aiding in spear emergence.
Annual Care of the Bed — Cultivate growing beds to control grass and weeds, which will help to ensure a good crop of large spears. However, remember crowns and roots can be easily damaged even by shallow cultivation.
Each spring, just before the spears start to grow, broadcast a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 on the bed at the rate of 2 to 5 lbs. per 100 ft2. Give the bed a second application of fertilizer at the end of the cutting season.
Allow the plants to grow in the fall until they have turned brown. Then cut down the fern and destroy it. If cut down ferns before frost, the next year’s crop of spears will be reduced.
Harvesting — Do not harvest asparagus the first growing season after planting crowns. Weak plants and small spears will result from harvesting too much, too early. Plants can be harvested (cut) for a short time (not to exceed two weeks) during the second year. In the third year following planting crowns, harvest asparagus from 6 to 8 weeks each year. Weak plants should be harvested for less time.
Exercise care in cutting the spears to prevent damage to those spears that have not yet emerged. Cut or snap the spears at ground level, which reduces the possibility of damaging other emerging spears.
For more information on growing asparagus, review the NC State Extension publication titled “Growing Asparagus in a Home Garden”. You may also contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or firstname.lastname@example.org for additional questions or general garden inquires.