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KSL Tips Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Thanksgiving Point Office
Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables. It is one of the first vegetables harvested from the garden each year and for asparagus fanciers it is an excellent treat. Once planted, it will last for many years and may even outlast you so variety selection and careful bed preparation are important.
'Mary Washington' was one of the first varieties to show resistance to the disease asparagus rust. It was developed in the 1920s and still popular today, Improved strains of 'Washington,' such as 'Waltham' or 'Roberts,' are sold for home-garden asparagus in Utah.
Asparagus plants are dioecious, meaning the male and female plants are separate. In most plantings, the male and female plants are distributed about equally. Male plants produce 25 percent to 40 percent more spears, but female plants produce larger spears.
Several years ago, plant breeders at Rutgers University developed all-male varieties of asparagus that out yield the mixed male and female varieties. The most widely available of these is 'Jersey Knight.' It adapts well to heavy clay soils. Other all-male varieties include 'Jersey Giant,' 'Jersey Queen' and 'Jersey Gem.'
Asparagus grows best in fertile, high organic matter soil that is well-drained. Asparagus needs at least six hours of sunlight a day. Plant it an area where it will not be disturbed as it because it need to stay in the same place for many years.
Asparagus is deep rooted so loosen soil at least a foot deep. Apply large amounts of compost or well-rotted manure, as you will not get a chance to amend the soil again. Asparagus does not tolerate poorly drained soils.
Plant asparagus in the early spring. You can start asparagus from seed, but germination takes four weeks or more and weed control is difficult. Most gardeners buy plants and large, one-year-old crowns are best. These transplants well, produce vigorous plants as vigorous and are cheaper than two-year-old crowns.
Plant asparagus crowns 12 inches to 18 inches apart in the row. When you want more than one row, space rows 4 feet to 6 feet apart. Traditionally, crowns are planted in a deep trench or furrow. Recent research shows no benefit from planting crowns deeper than 4 inches to 6 inches in the trench.
Spread out the fleshy roots at the bottom of the furrow. Lightly cover the crown with soil. Gradually fill in the furrow as shoots emerge. Never completely bury the developing asparagus fern. By mid-season of the planting year, add soil to form a ridge that is 4 inches to 6 inches high and 2 feet wide over the asparagus crowns. Maintain this rise on heavy soils to allow better drainage and soil aeration.