How to Grow Asparagus

Whether planting from seed or from crowns, follow this step-by-step on how to grow asparagus for years of fresh harvests.

Asparagus is a wonderful perennial vegetable that has been on humans plates for millennia. It is packed full of great nutrition to add to your spring cooking to kick your body out of the winter diet. Full of folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamins A, B6, and C, it is pretty versatile to cook with. It lends well to being raw in salads or for snacking. And even a simple oven broiling or quick chop to add to dishes gives versatility to spreading this nutritious spring veg into your meals.

Some people don’t realize that asparagus is very seasonal. If you are growing it in your yard or garden, shoots of this lovely green super food emerge with full force in the springtime. It quickly bolts and tries to set seed as soon as temperatures start to rise. This is confusing to most as grocery stores usually carry the green stalks all year round. The grocery store asparagus is more than likely shipped from another state or another country all together unless in season. But don’t worry! There are many ways to enjoy this short season crop all year round from your own property.

Types of Asparagus

There are several different varieties of asparagus out there and even different colors. But don’t get overwhelmed with all of that. The most popular variety in the United States over the last hundred years has been ‘Mary Washington’. Purple varieties, such as ‘Purple Passion’ are slightly more nutty and sweeter since their natural sugar content is a little higher and they are full of anthocyanins with the purple coloring. In addition to antioxidants and fighting free radicals, anthocyanins may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits. But don’t be bummed when they turn green while cooking. Most kids love seeing this magic happen before their eyes and the cooked version of the purple varieties still have a lot of nutritional value even if the anthocyanin qualities are broken down by cooking.

Different color varieties of asparagus come in green and purple.

The internet is also full of pictures of white asparagus. These are not white by variety, but rather by a practice of mounding dirt over the emerging spears or covering them with plastic making sure that they don’t get light and photosynthesis. This is a kind of novelty version of asparagus that can lend it to be sweater than if it were to green up. You can thank the Germans for this spring trend. It’s quite labor intensive so is usually priced higher than it’s green or purple counter parts.

Starting Your Own Patch at Home

There are two ways you can go about getting your own patch of asparagus established somewhere on your property:

Get seeds and start your own

or

Get crowns from a nursery or friend

Asparagus roots need a couple of years of getting big enough, especially if started from seed, before the stalks are thick enough to harvest and the roots are big and strong enough. So if you are in a hurry, try buying plump crowns from a reputable source or find a friend that won’t mind you digging out some crowns from their patch.

So how do you get your own patch started? First decide what your budget is. Ask around to friends that may have an established patch all ready that would be willing to give or sell for cheap some crowns for you to use. These are more than likely all ready established in your growing zone and have good vigor. If you can’t find a friend growing asparagus and you can afford started roots, then order crowns from a reputable source. If getting them from a big box store, make sure you visually can see if the roots are plump. A lot of times they sit in their packages for a while and dry out. If they look dry or shriveled at all DON’T BUY THEM. Reputable mail order nurseries ship them out quickly after harvesting roots and during a good time of year to plant in your area to make sure that you have success with your growing.

The other option is to start them from seed. This can be a tricky and long process as the seeds take a while to germinate. After they germinate it takes quite a while for the roots to get big and established. So though his method is cheaper and not impossible, it’s also not for the impatient and faint of heart. I will go through each method of getting your own patch established step-by-step so that you can make the best decision on how you want to start.

How to Start Asparagus Seed Indoors

  • Order Seeds Ahead of Time. To start seeds indoors, you will need to sew indoors 12 to 14 weeks before your last frost date. Make sure you order your seeds far enough ahead that you have them in hand.
  • Have Good Light. Your going to need to start your seeds in a window that gets full sunlight or under a grow light.
  • Use a good Potting Mix. Something dark and loamy with plenty of nutrients for your little starts as well as moisture retention.
  • Growing Pots or Container with Drainage. You don’t have to go all out and buy fancy new trays and growing cups if that’s not in your budget. Recyclable plastic food containers or even solo cups with holes in the bottom will do. Use a tray or something to catch excess water that drains out the bottom of your growing cups.
  • Be patient. Asparagus seeds are to be planted about 1/4 inch deep. But be very patient on germination. Make sure to keep them moist. They can take 21 or more days to pop their first green above the soil. And you’ll need to grow out those starts for several more weeks until the seedlings reach about two inches in height.
  • Preparing Your Bed. Pick a spot in your yard, in a perennial flower bed, or in your garden that the asparagus can grow for years to come that has good drainage. You’ll want to prepare your bed by assessing the soil that’s there. If it’s compact and heavy soil then you broad fork or fork loosen the compact dirt and top dress the bed about 2″ good compost and remove all weeds. If your soil is all ready a prepared bed that is in pretty good shape then just add a top layer of compost for added nutrients for the growing plants. Asparagus can also benefit from some added amendments such as bone or blood meal, leaf mold, wood ashes, or a combination of all of these.
  • Transplant Out. Follow the next set of directions below for “How to Plant Asparagus from Crowns”.
There are a couple of steps to take when planting your own asparagus bed that will produce for years to come.

How to Plant Asparagus from Crowns

  • Planting Out. You’ll want to wait till all risk of frost has passed in your growing area. Great companions for asparagus are strawberries, tomatoes, parsley, basil, beets, lettuce, spinach, trellised grapes, marigolds, nasturtium, rhubarb, and horseradish. When planting out, dig trenches 12 inches deep and wide that are spaced 2 to 3 feet between each other. Mound the center part of the trench slightly (not the full 12 inch depth) to make a resting place for your asparagus crowns. Sprinkle some compost on your mound and any amendments you choose. Place your crowns at the top of the mound with roots placed down slope of the mound on either side and space each crown 15 to 18 inches apart. Cover crown with 2 to 3 inches of dirt and pat firm. As your plants start to grow over the next couple of weeks you will continue to pull 2 to 3 inches of dirt that you dug out of the trench each time and cover them until you use all the excavated trench dirt.
  • When to Harvest. Like being patient with asparagus to germinate, one must also be patient to wait to harvest. You may get some decent sized shoots the first or even the second growing season after planting. But DON’T PICK THEM. Those first two years are important for great root growth for you plants to flourish and produce strong for you for 20+ years. So just don’t do it. Wait till that 3rd year to start harvesting.
  • Cutting Back Growth. Your asparagus will sprout up and most likely be pretty thin the first two years. Allow that growth to go ahead and do it’s thing. It will be tall wispy fronds that will go to seed. Feel free to cut back all growth after it has died and turned brown in the fall, winter, or early spring before the next seasons spears attempt to emerge. It’s good to clean up the beds of dead growth to keep pests and weeds at bay and give a clean visual to see those beautiful spears burst through the ground.

You Can Enjoy this Spring Crop All Year

You might be thinking after finding out this crop only produces one small part of the year, “why bother?” Don’t fret, ya’ll. There are plenty of ways to make sure that your spring harvest and this delish veg can be enjoyed longer than it’s small window of a growing season. I go through all the ways you can preserve asparagus at home whether it’s purchased from a local grower or grown from your own patch. Check out my article here on Preserving Asparagus.

I hope that this encourages you to find a spot in your yard to start your own asparagus patch and enjoy your own harvest of crunchy fresh asparagus for years to come. Happy Growing!
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