Thursday, December 8, 2011

Asparagus: Not Just Food

Asparagus planted last year from seed.
       I recall mentioning to another Master Gardener that I planned on starting an asparagus patch behind the rose garden. She responded with comments on how lovely that would look. Lovely? Asparagus? I'd never viewed this vegetable in that light. Only a couple of years later, and a little wiser, I now agree so much that I'm puzzled as to why I can't find asparagus in my encyclopedia of garden plants.
       Asparagus is a weed. It will spread from the pretty red berries produced abundantly on the female plant. I moved some seedlings to my apple guild. If I get usable stalks from there, that will be a bonus, but I don't expect much. Asparagus likes to be babied. To avoid self-seeding, you can buy all-male varieties, which are said to produce larger crops.
Ferns from stock originally planted over 30 years ago.
You can see a few red roses behind to the left.
       For something that requires babying, these plants are remarkably hardy. I found ferns still surviving from a bed my mother-in-law planted more than thirty years ago.  I dug these up and moved them behind the rose garden. I followed planting directions from my Master Gardener basic book, but not many of them survived. Turns out there was an error in the book. They should have gone into a trench eight inches deep, not eighteen. Goes to show, if it doesn't sound right, check it out before you do the work, regardless of the source.      
Asparagus ferns in November.
       Most people start asparagus from crowns, purchased mature roots, which they set in a trench about 16 inches apart. These are apparently heavy feeders and will benefit from compost added at planting and fertilizer added later. As the stalks grow, fill in around the plants, being careful not to bury the tips. Mulch and cultivate for a vegetable crop. Don't harvest anything the first year, and harvest sparingly the second year. Cut asparagus stalks at ground level and eat right away for best flavor. I never liked this vegetable until I tried it right-from-the-garden fresh.
       As tasty as fresh asparagus is, don't be blinded to the fact that this is an attractive plant suitable for use among ornamentals in you landscaping.


  1. Last spring, I planted Purple Passion in one of my raised beds. Over summer, I overplanting with summer squash but I think they shaded the fronds too much. Now I am trying ti decide if I should move them and grow the solo or leave them where they are and overplanting with tomatoes, basil and parsley. I have also heard of people overplanting with strawberries. The bed they are in is one of my few very sunny beds so if they stay there, they have to share. What do you think?

  2. I started some asparagus from seed last Spring, they have grown into beautiful bushy fronds. I'm wondering what the next step is, it's so hard to find information for this stage because all the tutorials are directed towards people who are growing from crowns. Should I cut back the ferns in the Spring? Thanks. I'm in Indiana.

    1. I started asparagus from seed in 2010. Cut back ferns in the spring, but don't harvest any spears the first year. You can harvest a few the second year. The third year and later, harvest larger-then-pencil sized spears. You may want to dig out female plants (those with berries). If you don't you'll have volunteers coming up all over the place.