ShareThis Page
Jessica Walliser

Asparagus crop is worth the effort

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, 12:03 a.m.
This asparagus spear is ready to harvest.
Jessica Walliser
This asparagus spear is ready to harvest.

Q uestion: I planted a small bed of asparagus early this year. It has some green whisks growing but nothing else. How long is the regular growing time for asparagus?

Answer: Asparagus is one of only a handful of perennial vegetables we can grow here in Pennsylvania. While the plants are productive for many, many years, it can be somewhat of a challenge to get them established.

It’s important that asparagus plants are planted and cared for in a particular way for the first few years of their life so they can build up enough energy to begin to produce their delicious, edible spears.

Ideally, when planting asparagus, you should select a cultivar that is all male. Like holly plants, asparagus plants are monoecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. All-male asparagus varieties, like “Jersey Knight” or “Jersey Giant,” are propagated by division to keep the variety all male. These selections tend to reach maturity faster and produce larger spears due to their lack of seed production.

Most often, asparagus is planted from bare-root crowns, but some nurseries do carry the plants. I’ve had the best success when planting from bare-root crowns soaked in tepid water for a few hours prior to planting.

Prepare the patch

Sites with full sun and well-drained soils rich in organic matter are best for growing asparagus. You’d also be wise to mulch your asparagus bed with a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of shredded leaves or straw to limit weed competition and help retain soil moisture.

The whisks you currently see in your new asparagus patch are the “ferns” that the spears eventually turn into as the season progresses. These “ferns” are photosynthesizing and building up food stores to send down to the root and fuel next year’s spear production. This “fern” production is critical as the plants take some time to mature.

Harvesting

Do not harvest any spears at all for the first two years after planting. After that, a light harvest of only the fattest spears can occur for three to four weeks each spring for the following two years. After those four years pass, then you will be able to make regular spring harvests over an eight-week period after the first spear’s emergence. Cutting too many spears off too soon weakens the plants and stifles their long-term production.

No matter how old the plants are, do not harvest any spears that are thinner than a pencil.

After spear harvesting ceases for the season (usually in mid summer), allow all of the spears to develop into the “ferns” and generate fuel for next year’s production. Keep the plants well-watered during times of drought, and top the bed with an inch or two of compost on a yearly basis.

Once established, asparagus patches can produce wonderful crops of spears for 20-plus years. They are well worth the wait.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me