Home Garden Asparagus Production

Revised 1/01-- Author Reviewed 1/01 HIL-8002

Douglas C. Sanders
Extension Horticultural Specialist
Department of Horticultural Science
College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
North Carolina State University

 

Asparagus has been considered a garden delicacy since Roman times. Any home gardener can grow and enjoy this spring vegetable. Asparagus is a perennial. If you plant and manage properly it will produce for 15 years or more. Since this crop will occupy the land for many years you should start the asparagus bed properly -- location, soil type, soil fertility, size and age of crowns and correct planting are important.

Varieties
Mary Washington (a rust-resistant variety) is a standard variety for most home gardeners. The all male hybrids Jersey Gem (cercospora leaf spot tolerant) and Jersey Knight produce significantly more yield. They produce no seed, thus, no seedling asparagus, considered weedy, will be produced. Jersey Gem and Jersey Knight can only be purchased from Sam Walker in Vineland, NJ. Atlas is a very large diameter spear and is available from California Asparagus Transplants and Seed, Davis, CA.

How Much To Plant
To produce enough asparagus for fresh table use, plant 10 crowns for each family member. If you are especially fond of asparagus or want a surplus to can or freeze, plant at least 25 plants for each family member. If you use the new hybrids reduce the number of plants by half.

Soil and Soil Preparation
Any well-drained soil will produce good asparagus. Use deep, fertile, sandy loam or loamy soil. If your soil is clay, you should condition it with peat moss, leaf mold, or straw so spears will emerge straight. Using a raised bed is especially helpful with heavy soils. Have a soil test made at least 6 months before planting. Take soil samples 12 inches deep. The soil pH should be 6.0 to 6.7 because asparagus grows poorly in acid soils. Choose a site relatively free of perennial broadleaf weeds and nut-grass.

Start building up the organic matter (humus) content of the soil at least a year in advance of planting. This can be done by turning under green manure crops, animal manure, straw, peat moss or leaf mold. Till the soil deeply several times during the year to have it in fine tilth at the time of planting. Use commercial fertilizer in addition to manures. Follow soil test suggestions. On average soils that have not been tested, broadcast 3 to 5 lb of 5-10-10 per 100 ft2 of bed.

Planting
Crowns (roots) should be planted in rows 5 feet apart with the crowns spaced 12 inches apart in the row. The distance between rows can be reduced, but this may shorten the life of the bed. Closer in-row spacing will increase yield. Use large, well-rooted, one-year-old, disease free crowns, purchased from a reliable source. To grow your own crowns, drill seed in the spring 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows 2 to 3 ft apart. Germination is hastened by soaking seed in water for 5 to 6 days before planting. Dig and transplant the crowns the following spring. One oz of seed produces about 700 crowns.

In eastern North Carolina, plant the crowns in February. In the Piedmont and Mountains, plant in late winter after danger of hard freezes is over, but before plant growth starts. Plant the crowns in a furrow 8 inches deep. Make the furrow wide enough to accommodate the root system of the crowns when fully spread out. In placing the crowns in the furrow or trench be sure to have the buds pointing upward. Cover the crowns with 2 inches of soil. As the plants grow, pull soil around the plants gradually until the trench is filled.

Annual Care Of The Bed
Cultivate when necessary to control grass and weeds to insure a good crop of large spears. During the harvest period, asparagus can withstand shallow cultivation. Most weed management can be achieved chemically. For details see the N. C. Agricultural Chemicals Manual or contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.

Each spring just before the spears start to grow, broadcast a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 on the bed at the rate of 2 to 5 lb per 100 ft2. This should be done about March 1 for the east and 2 weeks later for the rest of the state. Give the bed a second application of fertilizer at the end of the cutting season.

Allow the plants to grow until they have turned brown. Then cut down the fern and destroy it. If cut down before frost the next year's crop of spears is reduced.

Harvesting
Do not harvest asparagus the first growing season after planting crowns. It can be harvested (cut) for short time (not to exceed two weeks) the second year. Weak plants and small spears result from harvesting too much, too early. After the second year after planting crowns, harvest asparagus from 6 to 8 weeks each year. Weak plants should be harvested for less time.

Exercise care in cutting the spears to prevent damage to those spears that have not yet emerged. Cut or snap the spears at ground level. This practice eliminates the possibility of damaging other spears.

Preparation For Use
Asparagus loses edible qualities rapidly after harvest. Fiber develops rapidly after harvest. To maintain asparagus quality, wash and cool asparagus soon after harvest. If the asparagus wilts, it can be made turgid by soaking in cool water.

Typical Schedule for Establishing Asparagus From Seed

Spring

First year

Plant seed for crowns

Spring

Second year

Dig crowns and plant in permanent site

Spring

Third year

Harvest lightly (2 to 3 weeks)

Spring

Fourth through 15th year

Harvest 6 to 8 weeks each spring.


Published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service


Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.