The first time I snapped off a growing asparagus spear poking up in a dedicated asparagus patch and ate it right there, I felt an energetic buzz to the flavor. There was so much nutrition and vitality in those 6 inches of living, growing asparagus that I knew right away I had to have some of my own.
For me, it's not just about the health benefits of asparagus (and there are many), it's also about the design potential. Asparagus is one of few well known perennial vegetables. We eat the young shoots, but the mature plant's texture is soft and feathery. I've been on a quest to grow an asparagus hedgerow ever since, ideally with some coarse dwarf apple tree or plum tree variety just behind.
Below you will find a description of the asparagus plant, including its height and hardiness and health values; the light, moisture, and soil requirements; cultivation tips for keeping your growing asparagus healthy and tasty; our favorites varieties; and some ideas for how to use asparagus in the kitchen and in your edible garden design, plus a special section on growing asparagus indoors or in containers.
Generally, we all meet the tight young spear of asparagus first. For me, it was steamed, laid over toast corners, and drizzled in a buttery sauce. I liked the toast. (I was 7.)
As it keeps growing, asparagus begins to branch out, eventually forming a tall plume of green finery. The newest shoots are thin and only reach 2 or 3 feet in height. An 8 or 10 year old spear will be thicker than your dad's thumb and grow 6 or 8 feet in height.
Asparagus grows from crowns under the soil surface, and it does not compete well with other plants, so a deep annual mulching is very important.
In late summer, the cloud is adorned with small red-orange berries (unless you have an all-male variety, like Jersey Knight.)
The Basic Requirements
for Growing Asparagus Plants at Home
Light: full sun.
Moisture: good drainage. Do not plant asparagus at the base of a hill. Go up that hill. Asparagus plants are drought tolerant, so other than when you first plant the asparagus crowns, they are very unlikely to need extra water or irrigation.
Soil: Asparagus will grow in almost any soil that drains, but it does not like the pH to dip low. In our clayey soils, I add compost and sand to improve drainage, and
Cultivation Tips for Growing Asparagus
Before you get started: pick a spot that will be sunny and suitable for the next 40 years. Young trees will grow, narrow trees on the edge of a forest will stretch out and get wider.
How to grow Asparagus from seed: yes, this can be done. Use your seedling or nursery bed, or deep pots on the porch. Weed often, water only when truly needed, and plan on transplanting your year old crowns to their permanent home late the next spring when the soil is warmed (well after the grass re-greens naturally, which happens at 40 degrees Farenheit).
How to grow Asparagus crowns: Crowns are year old (or older) root clusters. Wait till the soil is warmed to about 50 degrees Farenheit, then in your prepared asparagus bed, dig a furrow no deeper than 5 or 6 inches.
To the bottom of that furrow, add some form of phosphorus- composted fruit is the cheapest and easiest to "make" at home, but stores will have other forms of rock phosphate and whatnot if you require.
Space the crowns 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart in the furrow, and, if more than one row, the rows 3 to 5 feet apart (err on the side of too wide). The plants will fill in, don't worry. Fill the furrow back in, water well this one time, and, unless there is a drought this first summer, you're done.
Helpful Hint: Purchasing root crowns is the easiest way for starting asparagus, but beware the
order of operations:
1) Get the site prepped with well draining soil (see above)
2) buy the asparagus crowns.
Ideal timing will vary from early spring to late fall depending on how harsh or mild your climate
is. If your asparagus crown supplier only ships in a narrow window to your area rather than year round,
Good cultivation habits:
Don't snap anything the year you plant. After that, snap off (literally snap: grap
the stalk where it hits the ground and snap) most of the growing asparagus stalks
to eat as they reach 7 to 9 inches. Leave the skinniest to mature another year or two, and leave one or two of the biggest asparagus acceptable
(asparagi?) stalks to grow and fruit. Harvest is over when the bulk of the spears are less than 3/8 inch in diameter.
Each year in early spring, when the crocus leaves and snowdrops start to appear at the latest, whack last
year's dried fluff down to the ground and lay down a fat layer of mulch. That's it. I know other folks
will tell you to whack them down in the fall, but they fade a lovely pale buff all winter that is
well worth enjoying.
Special: Growing Asparagus Inside or in Pots
Growing asparagus indoors successfully will be a matter light. A sunroom, a good skylight, artificial light, or some combination of those assets will be required.
As for the 'in pots' portion, the size of the container is key. Asparagus roots need a lot of room, so you need containers 20 inches deep and 20 inches wide. There are plastic containers this large, wooden half barrels, old bathtubs, horse troughs... just be sure there is good drainage.
Add to the drainage by lining the bottom of your asparagus "pot" with a layer of rocks, broken pottery, and whatnot. Add a potting soil mix and plant ONE crown per 20 inches of surface.The proportions will seem whacky at first, but that little crown will grow grow grow.
Varieties to Try
The all-male varieties (Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight) produce more spears, but only reproduce asexually, thus limiting the life span of the asparagus bed. Male-female varieties (Mary Washington) may produce less, but will create truly permanent asparagus patch.
There is a new, purple asparagus out, (Purple Passion) but I've not yet heard if it holds its color through cooking. That could be irrelevant if purple fronds are a needed touch in your edible garden design!
Using Asparagus in the Kitchen
The stem ends of the asparagus are fibrous and not so tasty. The hard core may juice them
but I just compost mine. Hold the stalk in your fingers, one hand on the stalk end, the other a bit above
where the asparagus stalk becomes bendy. Flex the stalk. It'll snap in just the right spot! No more guess
work for you.
Using Asparaus in Edible Garden Design
The feathery asparagus plumes become taller as the root crowns mature. I've
seen asparagus in raised beds growing 6 feet tall, but even then, it was still a narrow row. This makes asparagus a fun, etheral
and ephemeral "fence" option. It also means it could serve as late summer shade for something that doesn't