Growing Asparagus

Rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C and B vitamins, asparagus is one of the first crops to be harvested in the spring and if given the proper planting and care, an asparagus bed can be productive for 15 years or more.

The asparagus bed should be located in a sunny area. It can tolerate a little shade but the plants will not be as vigorous and full sun helps minimize the threat of disease.

The soil will need to have a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and be well drained as soggy soil will cause the crown and root to rot. It is best to have the soil tested as asparagus will not grow well if the soil pH is less than 6.0 and the levels of potassium and phosphorus are also important to the vigor of asparagus.

Bare root asparagus crowns can be planted early-April thru late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees. Dig a furrow about 5 to 6 inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the spread of your asparagus root system. Apply to the bottom of the furrow about 1 pound of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate) or 2 pounds of  0-20-0 (superphosphate) fertilizer for every 50 feet of row. This will make phosphorus available right away to the newly planted crowns. Planting 1 year old crowns will of course produce a quicker crop than sowing seeds.  Space the crowns about 1 ½ feet apart in the row.  The crowns need to be centered in an upright position in the furrow and the roots spread out. If more than 1 row is planted, the rows should be spaced about 5 feet apart. Wide spacing promotes the rapid drying of the fern tops to help prevent disease.  After the furrow is filled back in to its original soil level do not tamp it down as asparagus roots like loose soil.

Asparagus beetles are voracious feeders of the tips of shoots as soon as they push through the soil in the spring.

Keep an eye on the foliage for signs of asparagus beetles. Their chewing of the foliage will cause the stem to turn brown which will lead to a reduction in the next years yield. An insecticide sprayed on the ferns will give those beetles something to think about. As far as diseases go, rust is about the most common one. In the spring it will first appear as small, round to oblong reddish-brown, powdery masses on tops and stems. Black masses will replace the reddish-brown color later in the season. Spray the foliage with a fungicide, according to label directions, after harvest is finished. Look for rust resistant cultivars when planting a new bed. Yellowing and wilting of foliage can be caused by root rot or fusarium crown.  Always plant healthy crowns in areas that have not been previously infected.

Do not harvest the asparagus shoots during the year the crown was planted. The ferns that emerge from the spears produce food for the plant and move it down to the crown for the next years spear production.

Asparagus is very drought tolerant and usually does not need any supplemental watering once the roots are established. However, if rainfall is short, a little watering would be beneficial  to newly planted crowns.

Do not cut the fern growth at the end of the growing season unless insects or disease have been a problem, then it is best to remove the tops after they have turned brown. Leaving the tops intact over the winter will catch snow for additional soil moisture and provides insulation for the crown. Remove the old fern growth by cutting or mowing it off as low as possible.

On a side note, a few of the first crops that can be sown in the ground once the soil dries out enough are radishes, spinach, swiss chard, carrots, lettuce and beets. Plan to make successive sowings every few weeks so you can harvest over a prolonged period of time.

Also, this would be a good time to get your soil tested if you haven’t done so in a number of years. Testing supplies with instructions can be obtained through your local Extension office.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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