Curious about adding a family favorite to your garden? We have some great information to help you choose the type of asparagus to buy, how to plant it, maintain it and harvest. In addition to strawberries, potatoes, onions and other cold-tolerant veggies, this is something you can plant now to satisfy your spring fever and get a jump start on your garden.
First, it is important to decide what type of asparagus you want to plant. We have two different varieties available at Delaney's. First is Mary Washington, which is an old-time favorite and an outstanding variety. It is a strong grower with large, rich green stalks. It is very hardy, rust resistant and withstands freezing soils. The other variety is Jersey Giant. This is an all-male hybrid, which means all the energy goes into producing spears. It is very productive and yields 2-4 times more spears. The spears will be larger, but the starter root is more expensive. It is also rust resistant, cold hardy and handles frozen soil.
Asparagus needs deep, well-drained soil without hardpan or clay subsoil layers. If the roots are too damp when they are dormant, they will die out rapidly. The only way asparagus will survive for long on heavy ground is in raised planters filled with sand. To prepare the soil, dig out a 24" wide trench about 18" deep, keeping individual rows 5' apart. Blend in a couple inches of compost and fill the trench until it is 5" deep.
When planting the asparagus roots, spread them out in their natural fan pattern in the bottom of the trench and cover with about 1" of soil. Space the crowns about 12" apart down the row. In the first year, the crowns will sprout and produce a single, spindly shoot. As it grows, gradually fill the trench until the crowns are about 5" below the surface. Shallow crowns produce spindly asparagus, and deep crowns grow more shallow with each year's growth.
You do not want to harvest your asparagus the first year, but you should get a light yield the second year. The first harvest will only last a couple weeks, but an established bed can be cut for a month before it begins to weaken. You want to stop harvesting when the size of the shoots tapers off. Let the crowns rebuild their food reserves all summer by growing the ferns.
Each fall, cover the bed with a mulching of good compost. Each spring, immediately after you have finished harvesting, sprinkle the area with a balanced fertilizer, such as 16-16-16 or 10-20-20. Grow the ferns. Keep the bed well-watered and weeded. Remove female ferns before the seedballs drop, otherwise the bed will self-seed and become overcrowded with small crowns.