Asparagus has unfortunately earned a bad reputation for being notoriously hard to grow, but that is simply not true. Asparagus is a fabulously hearty perennial vegetable that once established will continue to produce an abundant crop of spears every spring for the next 20 to 30 years. The key here is “once established.” Asparagus is not for the impatient, greedy gardener who wants to harvest bushels of spears right off the bat. It does need a couple yearsof babying to allow the roots to develop and strengthen, then it will be one of the top consistent producers in your garden.
We love asparagus because it gives gardeners the opportunity to start out right. This is going to be a long lived crop so take the time to pick out the perfect growing location and the perfect variety. Asparagus does best in a sunny, well-drained garden with a soil pH between 6.5 and 7.5 and if you have ever wanted to try a raised bed garden, asparagus is a great candidate to start with as they thrive in a raised bed.
Soil preparation is also a key component to a healthy asparagus crop. Asparagus are the introverts of vegetables, they insist on growing by themselves and will not produce if there are other vegetables, weeds or grasses competing for their space. They need room to grow and a completely weed free environment. So when preparing the soil, make sure there are no weeds growing and keep it mulched and weeded regularly to ensure proper growth.
The location is set, the soil is prepared; now let’s get on to the planting stage. We recommend planting one of the newer varieties which are less work to plant and produce almost twice as many spears per plant than the old Martha Washington standard; you will need about 10 plants per asparagus lover in the house. The newer varieties are also more resistant to fusarium rot and asparagus rot, two common asparagus diseases.
First, dig a trench about 12” deep and a foot wide, then put a shovel full of compost and a cup of all purpose fertilizer in the trench about every 18” along the length, mix it up with a little soil and shape it into a small mound. Place an asparagus crown on top of each mound of dirt, allowing the roots to dangle down around the mound of soil, the crown should be about 6” below the rim of the trench. Cover the roots and the top of the crown with soil and generously water. As the shoots begin to spring up, continue adding soil until the trench is full and the ground is level once again.
You can harvest a few spears this first year, but only a few. Go ahead and harvest spears when they are about 5” to 7” tall but only for about two weeks this first year and then stop so that the fern like fronds can develop. These fronds feed the root system and give it the energy reserves it needs for hearty development. The next year, you can harvest for three weeks and after that, your asparagus should be hale and hearty and you can harvest for four to six weeks or until the spears only produce stems less than ½” in diameter. The last tip to keep you asparagus crop booming for years is to let it go ahead and grow after the harvesting season is over. The spears will continue to grow four to six feet high and develop beautiful lacy green fronds with pretty red berries. The longer they are left to grow unhindered, the more energy the roots will store up for the next year so let it grow and grow. Once the fronds turn yellow you can trim them down to a couple inches off the ground for overwintering and when the spring returns, be ready to feast on an abundance of asparagus once again.