Try Growing Asparagus

 Donita Garrett
Frederick County Master Gardener

(4/4) Asparagus is not a fussy perennial. If you offer it nourishment, water, and keep weeds away, asparagus will feed you and your family for years to come. For the best flavor, youíve got to grow your own because asparagus quickly loses its flavor after itís been cut. Asparagus is so easy to grow; you will wonder why you didnít plant this sooner.

The Site:

Since asparagus remains productive for 15-20 years, choosing a good growing site is essential. The plants will perform best in full sun. The plants grow 40-60 " in height, so If possible, choose a place in your garden at the northern point so the tall ferns wonít shade other plants. Also, try to choose a site away from the garden edge to keep weeds from creeping in. Good drainage is essential.

Best Varieties:

Open-pollinated types: Martha Washington and Mary Washington are both old fashioned cultivators.

Rutgers Hybrids: Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and Jersey King are male varieties that produce huge crops of thick tender spears. University of Maryland recommends this variety.

Planting:

The best time to plant crowns is in early spring,

Asparagus performs best in a slightly acid to slightly alkaline soil. If you are unsure about the pH of your soil, have your soil tested and make amendments before planting.Prepare the bed as early as possible and enrich it with manure, compost, leaf mold, or a combination of several of these materials. Mix in a balanced fertilizer at planting, following label instructions. If you are not planting asparagus this spring, plan to prepare a bed this fall so it will be ready for the following spring.

Open pollinated types should be planted 8-12 " deep: hybrids approximately 6" deep. Plant crowns in rows (18" x 4í to 5í), or in wide beds of three rows with plants 18 inches apart in all directions. Crowns should be raised slightly above the roots. Place the crowns in the bottom of the hole, and spread the roots out evenly. As the ferns grow during the summer, gradually fill the hole with soil no more than 2" at a time, until the hole is filled.

Growing:

As far as vegetables go, asparagus has a pretty big appetite for nutrients. Because they are perennials, the plants need to produce enough energy to feed us, produce new ferns, and survive the winter. Make regular applications of compost or rotted manure throughout the growing season. It is really important that weeds, especially perennial weeds, are controlled as the plants are getting established.

Harvesting:

The first year that you plant, do not cut any emerging spears. In the second year, cut sparingly- only harvest for one week. In itís third season, you can harvest spears for up to two weeks. After that, the plants are established well enough that spears can be harvested for 8-10 weeks. To harvest, snap the spears off below the soil line when they are 6-8í tall.

Now that you see how easy it is to grow, time to dig a hole and plant! Then enjoy years of fresh asparagus. To learn more about asparagus, please visit,http://extension.umd.edu/growit/vegetable-profiles-asparagus

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