How To Properly Grow Asparagus

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

My friend Will Cook likes to grow asparagus. In fact he has planted several new varieties and asked me what I knew about it.

I didn’t know much.

The old farm place my family purchased and moved into a few years back has some asparagus growing in what was an old fence row. I don’t know the variety, but I know it has survived tremendous abuse and neglect and is deserving of attention.

Grown for its stems or spears, asparagus yields 8 to 10 pounds or more per 100 square feet of bed if tended well. For most home gardeners, a 20-foot row or 100 square feet of bed is adequate for a family of four. That’s equivalent to 20 planted crowns or 10 pounds of harvested asparagus per season.

Because asparagus remains in the same place several years, it is important to select the right spot and prepare the seedbed well. Asparagus does best in full sunlight and deep, well-drained, sandy or light-textured soils. Asparagus plants make a good border around the edge of a garden or along a fence.

To begin preparations for planting, spread a 3-inch layer of organic matter such as manure, rotted sawdust, or compost over the beds in late fall. Till or spade them to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, and turn the soil to cover all organic matter.

Asparagus grows well in high-pH soils and poorly if the soil pH is below 6.0. Test the soil before planting the beds and add lime if needed to adjust the pH to 6.5 to 7.5.

The hybrid asparagus cultivars ‘Martha Washington’, ‘UC 157’, ‘Jersey Giant’, and ‘Mary Washington’ produce better than the standard cultivars. Male asparagus cultivars such as Jersey types (‘Jersey Giant’, ‘Jersey Knight’, and ‘Jersey Supreme’) are more productive and resist disease better than the female cultivars (‘Washington’ types). Also, female cultivars are less vigorous and produce many red, berrylike fruits that become volunteer weeds in the garden.

Asparagus is grown from 1- or 2-yearold crowns planted in January or February, or as soon as the round can be worked. Crowns can also be grown from seeds planted in flats or peat cups. It takes at least a year to grow a good crown. To shorten the period from planting to harvest, buy and plant healthy, vigorous, 1- or 2- year-old crowns from a nursery, garden center, or seed catalog.

After the asparagus beds are tilled, mark rows 5 feet apart. Dig a furrow 4 inches wide and 4 to 12 inches deep. Separate the crowns by size, and plant those of similar size together for best uniformity in spear size at harvest.

Spread super phosphate fertilizer (0-46-0) as a band in the furrow at a rate of 2.0 pounds per 1,000 square feet or 0.75 ounce per 20-foot row. Place the crowns 12 to 14 inches apart in the furrow. Planting too closely can cause small spears. Wider planting results in larger spears but lower total yield. In loose soils, plant the crowns 6 to 12 inches deep; in heavier soils, plant them 4 to 6 inches deep.

The simple planting method is to plant the crowns at the suggested depth and immediately fill in the furrow with soil to its original level. Using this method, you do not need to gradually cover the crowns with soil, as long as the soil is not compacted over the newly planted crowns.

It takes 2 to 3 years from the time the crown is planted until the bed is in full production. When conditions are favorable, buds arise from the crown and develop into edible spears. If not harvested, the spears will develop into fern-like stalks.

From these stalks, the mature plant manufactures food and stores it in the underground crown. This reserve supplies the energy necessary to produce spears the following year.

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