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‘Sweet Purple’ asparagus (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
‘Sweet Purple’ asparagus (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Zones A1-A3, 1-24, 29-45
Full SunPartial Sun
Full, Partial
Regular Water

Asparagus, Edible

Deciduous, Perennials, Vegetables

Native to the seacoasts of Europe, North Africa, Asia. Asparagus is one of the most permanent and dependable of home garden vegetables. Plants take 2 or 3 years to come into full production but then furnish delicious spears every spring for 10–15 years. They take up considerable space but do so in a grand manner: plants are tall, feathery, graceful, highly ornamental. Use along a sunny fence or as background for flowers or other vegetables.

Seeds grow into strong young plants in one season (sow in spring), but roots are far more widely used. Set out seedlings or roots (not wilted, no smaller than an adult’s hand) in fall or winter in mild-winter climates, in early spring in cold-winter areas. Make trenches 1 ft. wide, 8–10 in. deep; space trenches 4–6 ft. apart. Heap loose, manure-enriched soil at bottom of trenches and soak. Space plants 1 ft. apart, setting them so that tops are 6–8 in. below the surface; spread roots out evenly. Cover with 2 in. of soil and water again. (Where drainage is very bad, plant in raised beds.)

As young plants grow, gradually fill in the trench, taking care not to cover growing tips. Soak deeply whenever the soil begins to dry out at the root depth. Don’t harvest any spears the first year; the object at this time is to build a big root mass. When plants turn brown in late fall or early winter, cut the stems to the ground. In cold-winter areas, permit dead stalks to stand until spring; they will help trap and hold snow, which will furnish protection to root crowns.

The following spring you can cut your first spears; cut only for 4–6 weeks or until the appearance of thin spears indicates that roots are nearing exhaustion. Then permit plants to grow. Cultivate, feed, and irrigate heavily. The third year you should be able to cut spears for 8 to 10 weeks. Spears are ready to cut when they are 5–8 in. long. Thrust a knife down at a 45° angle to the soil; flat cutting may injure adjacent developing spears.

Cleaning up debris from asparagus beds in fall will help get rid of overwintering asparagus beetles. Use row covers over beds in spring. If the beetles appear during cutting season, handpick them, knock them off plants using water jets, or spray them with a pesticide registered for asparagus.

Asparagus seeds and roots are sold as ‘traditional’ (‘Mary Washington’ and others) and ‘all-male’ (‘UC 157’, ‘Jersey Giant’, and ‘Jersey Knight’). The latter kinds are bred to produce more and larger spears because they don’t have to put energy into seed production. Such varieties still produce an occasional female plant.

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