Every spring, home gardeners are eager to get their first crops on the ground, and…
Asparagus: A Classy Addition to Your Edibles Garden
In every season, Texas gardeners plan their menus around certain reliable home-grown crops: lettuce in the cooler seasons, onions and potatoes planted early in the year and harvested in the spring, home-grown tomatoes as we move into summer. One edible makes a beautiful, classy, and nutritious addition to the garden: asparagus. It’s easy to grow and comes back, year after year, with very little effort from the home gardener, and once established, asparagus can be harvested spring through fall. What’s more, the tall, feathery foliage is also a beautiful addition to the landscape. Basic supplies for standard vegetable gardens work well when growing asparagus:
- Garden Soil Builder– Soil Mender’s blend of aged humus, manure, and alfalfa meal is excellent to amend soils intended for vegetables, and it can be used in place of soil when growing edibles in raised beds and containers.
- Compost—Incorporate compost into your garden seasonally before each planting to replace any soil that has washed away, lighten compacted soil, and give existing garden beds a mild fertilization.
- Fertilizer— Always choose an organic fertilizer for edibles; Espoma’s Garden-tone is an excellent option.
- Liquid Seaweed or Root Stimulator— These organic enhancements promote resistance to temperature fluctuations and help establish a healthy root system.
- Mulch— a 2”-3” layer of mulch helps hold in moisture and keeps weeds out.
Plant Asparagus in February
Though it can be grown from seed, asparagus is most commonly grown from one or two-year-old starts called crowns; planting this way will speed up the establishment of your asparagus bed and harvest. Asparagus has separate male and female plants. The female varieties tend to produce smaller, more abundant spears, and the seed they produce may cause the plant to spread outside the bed. Male varieties are more disease resistant and are better producers of larger spears.
Choose the Site for Your Asparagus Bed Carefully
Asparagus spreads by rhizomes – lateral underground stems – and a mature bed can slowly expand to 4’ x 4’. It grows best in a bed by itself and requires full sun and excellent drainage, with soil that has been richly amended with organic compost.
Prepare a Trench for Planning
Dig a trench at least 10” deep and 10” wide. For a large, square growing bed, space additional trenches 4’ apart. Blend the soil dug from these trenches with a generous amount of organic compost, then put 2” of this amended soil back in the trench. Top with 2” of well-rotted manure blended with compost and 1-2 teaspoons of organic garden fertilizer per linear foot; blend into the soil/compost base below. Finally, backfill the trench with 1” of amended garden soil and rake lightly to blend. Make a slight mound of this amended soil down the center of the trench, and you’re ready to plant.
Just Prior to Planting
soak the crowns briefly in a root stimulator or liquid seaweed solution. Plant the crowns in the prepared mound 12”-14” apart with the roots spreading outward. If you’re planting two rows, zig-zag the crowns so that they aren’t directly across from each other. Immediately cover the crowns with 3” of compost to prevent drying out, then water them in a well. In several weeks, the first young asparagus spears will appear. As they grow taller, gradually add the soil/compost mix around the spears and lightly mulch around the growing plants with 3” of a lighter material such as pine straw to retain moisture and discourage weeds. At the end of the first growing season, the trench will be level with the surrounding soil. When the bed is well-established, maintain a 4”-6” mulch layer.
Nurture Your Growing Crop, and Be Patient
Asparagus beds are not fully mature until the third year; delaying your harvest will promote robust harvests in the future. Don’t harvest at all your first year, and a very small amount, if at all, the second year. The emerging spears will arise from the ground and grow up into the feathery foliage; do not cut them back. During this time, hand-pull weeds, keep developing beds mulched, and water as needed.
Enjoy Your Harvest!
By the third growing season, your asparagus bed should be well-established. Spears are ready when they are 6”-8” long and can be cut at the ground with a sharp knife or pruners. Harvest often, as soon as spears are mature; older spears are tough and fibrous. Asparagus can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or covered glass dish for 2-3 weeks. After the first hard freeze, the foliage will die back and can be cut to the ground to prepare for spring growth. Mulch again in winter and fertilize in early spring to promote new growth.
Are you new to growing your own food and looking for guidance? Perhaps you plan to refresh your landscape or put in a pollinator garden and want an experienced gardener to help brainstorm a garden design. A private appointment with a North Haven Gardens “Garden Coach” will give you the knowledge and confidence to move any project forward. Learn more at https://www.nhg.com/garden-coach-program/.