Though the harvest season is relatively short, an asparagus patch is a wonderful addition to the vegetable garden. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a perennial, and if properly planted and well-maintained, the plants can produce for 25 years or more. The key is to buy quality crowns and get them off to a good start. Asparagus is hardy to Zone 3 but may struggle in very hot areas of the country. It can be grown from seed, but crowns, which are a root mass with a shoot attached, are a better choice. Look for one-year-old male plants (more productive than seed-bearing females) for the best results.
For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our Vegetable Growing Guide.
Habit: The edible portions of asparagus are the young shoots of the actual plant, which is an airy, needle-leafed herbaceous perennial.
Days to Harvest: A newly planted asparagus patch should not be harvested for its first year -- it needs this time to become established in the garden. The second year, you can harvest selectively over a two-week period. The third year, harvest over four weeks. The fourth year and beyond, you may harvest over an 8- to 10-week period, up until new shoots emerge thin and spindly.
When to Plant: Plant crowns in early-mid spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Keep the asparagus patch free of weeds, especially for the first couple of years.
Light: Full sun.
Soil: The site should be well drained and the pH neutral (get a soil test before beginning an asparagus patch). As with most vegetables, average soil amended generously with compost will produce best results.
Watering: Water frequently as crowns get established. After a few years, supplemental water should be required only during periods of drought.
Fertilizing: Apply a balanced organic granular fertilizer in early spring each year.
Pest Problems: Slugs prey on young shoots; trap or handpick. Aphids may set in but can be washed off with a hose.
When to Harvest: Asparagus is only edible while plants are producing new shoots in spring. The period you may harvest the spears extends as the plants mature (see "Days to Harvest" above), but every year, you must stop harvesting when emerging spears are weak and spindly. This indicates that it is time to let the plant grow and mature its foliage to regain its strength.
Planting Asparagus: Step 1
Asparagus crowns are sold bare-root. It is best to dig a trench large enough to accommodate all the crowns and plant them all at once. The trench should be 6 to 8 inches deep and crowns should be spaced between 8 and 14 inches apart. Short spacing results in thinner spears, wider in stockier spears.
Planting Asparagus: Step 2
Gently spread roots out and point shoots upward as crowns are placed in the trench. Barely cover the roots with soil at first, but once shoots appear, continue covering the emerging growth with soil a bit at a time until the trench is filled to the top.
Planting Asparagus: Step 3
In early spring each year, plants will begin producing shoots.
Planting Asparagus: Step 4
Harvest by snapping off approximately 2 to 3 inches above soil level.