One of the real prizes of the garden is Asparagus. A successful plot of asparagus is a testament to the dedication and patience of the home gardener. It's not that asparagus is difficult to grow. But you should not expect to have much asparagus for the table until your plants are at least three years old.
Therefore, most gardeners plant asparagus crowns (established plants) that are already one or two years old which are available at most local garden shops. However, for your patience you are rewarded with a plant that will produce for 15 or 20 years. There are records of asparagus plants producing for 50 years.
Growing asparagus at home can become a consuming hobby. One can get involved in studying soil condition, types of fertilizer, harvest techniques, disease and pest control and more but that is not our objective here. Our goal is to focus on the basics for the home gardener wishing to grow asparagus.
Asparagus is a perennial, emerging each spring. It tolerates cold winters and frozen ground. Since your asparagus will be in your garden for a very long time, care and thought should go into selecting their location. Asparagus likes full sun and in addition to producing the eatable spears, also produces ferns that grow high enough to shade nearby plants. It does not do well with soggy roots so select a location that drains well.
It is possible to grow asparagus from seed. However, most home gardeners prefer a faster crop and choose to plant one or two year old plants (crowns), obtained from the local garden shop or mail order seed catalogs. The two year old plants do not really seem to offer any significant advantage, are harder to find and they costs more. Therefore the one year old crowns are more popular.
You should plant one month before Spring or as soon as your soil is workable. Dig a trench 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Fill the trench with 5 inches of good compost and 1 inch of well-aged manure. Sprinkle a little compost on top of the manure so the roots are not in direct contact with the manure. Plant the crowns 18 inches apart, spreading out the roots, in rows 3-5 feet apart. Cover with 2 inches of soil and tamp down firmly. Water well. Asparagus roots will spread 3-4 feet from the crown and go as deep as 6 feet. So do not crowd them. Also, asparagus does not compete well with weeds so you must keep the weeds pulled.
As the sprouts emerge, cover with more soil, leaving the sprout tops exposed. Continue this process until the trench is filled in to ground level.
You should not harvest any of the asparagus spears until the 3rd year (two years after planting 1 year old plants). In the 3rd year you can harvest for 2 weeks. The 4th year you can harvest for 4 weeks. In the 5th year and beyond, harvest all you want.
It's imperative not to cut back the asparagus foliage while it is still green. To produce a good crop next spring, the asparagus plants must manufacture and store adequate levels of food in their roots and crowns. The dead (brown) tops can be cut back in late fall. However, it's generally recommended that the dead top growth be allowed to stand over winter.
Watering And Fertilizing
Water heavy in the spring and then lighter when spears emerge. Fertilize with a side dressing (5-10-10) in the Spring. Spread a dressing of fertilizer at the base of the spears without touching the spears and work into the soil.
As stated, asparagus is not difficult to grow, it just takes time. Follow these tips, and with a little patience, you can have one of the real prizes of the garden for years and years.