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Asparagus officinalis
Asparagus officinalis

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Zones A1-A3, 1-24, 29-45
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Asparagus (edible)

Deciduous, Perennials, Vegetables


There are about 150 kinds of asparagus besides the edible one—all members of the lily family.
Those listed here are native to South Africa. The edible variety, Asparagus officinalis, is listed in this database under Asparagus (edible).

Best known is fern asparagus (Asparaagus setaceus), which is not a true fern. Although valued mostly for handsome foliage of unusual textural quality, some of the ornamental species have small but fragrant flowers and colorful berries. Green foliage sprays are made up of what look like leaves. Needle-like or broader, these are actually short branches called cladodes. The true leaves are inconspicuous dry scales.

Most ornamental asparagus look greenest in partial shade but thrive in sun in cool summer climates. Leaves yellow in dense shade. Plant in well-drained soil amended with peat moss or ground bark. Because of fleshy roots, plants can go for some time without water, but they grow better when watered regularly. Feed in spring with complete fertilizer. Trim out old shoots to make room for new growth. Ornamental asparagus will survive light frosts but may be killed to ground by severe cold. After frost, plants often come back from roots.

Asparagus (edible)

Native to seacoasts of Europe, North Africa, Asia. Asparagus is one of 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 to 15 years. They take up considerable space but do so in the grand manner: plants are tall, feathery, graceful, highly ornamental. Use along 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 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 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 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 to 6 weeks or until 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 knife down at 45’ angle to 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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