Put your cruddy old jeans on because you're going to be getting down in the dirt this weekend. It's asparagus planting time. THIS is the year you're actually going to do it.
Every year you say you wish you grew asparagus and every year you continue to buy bundles wrapped in rubber bands from the store.
Fresh cut, homegrown asparagus can be eaten raw right out of the ground. It tastes very similar to peas when you eat it like this, which I often do as I survey my asparagus plants.
BUT it wasn't always this way because I, like you, kept putting off planting asparagus.
Asparagus is one of those things that everyone (me) seems to put off planting because they (me) hate the fact that they have to wait 15 (actually 2) years to harvest it.
I'm going to convince you by the end of this post to plant some this weekend, because the window for this year is closing.
To reiterate, THIS IS THE YEAR YOU'RE GOING TO FINALLY PLANT ASPARAGUS! GOOYA! (The phrase is similar to Booya, but more like what a baby would say if they scored a touchdown)
Asparagus is a much bigger miracle than a toothless baby quarterbacking in the NFL let me assure you. It's a perennial vegetable that will stay strong and grow bigger and bigger for decades, feeding your family for generations.
Plus it's decorative
Asparagus you see, turns into 4-6' tall ferny plants once it's done producing asparagus in the spring. So you get to eat it all spring and then you just let it do its thing and it'll become a bushy, ferny bed that looks nice and can act like a privacy screen.
Basically asparagus is fantastic all around. But you can't harvest it for the first 2 years. Which is where asparagus loses a lot of people.
The actual job of planting asparagus is easy. It's the waiting that's hard.
Table of Contents
How Does it Grow?
Asparagus can be planted from a seed or from a crown.
What is a crown? The crown is the top knobby part of the asparagus where the shoots will come out of. It has roots coming from the bottom.
The actual asparagus grows above ground from the top knobby bits of the crown. These shoots push up in the spring exactly like you see them in the grocery store as perfect solid spears.
As the season progresses, the stem portion of the asparagus continues to grow and gets taller, and the tip of the asparagus opens up and flowers with long thin branching. By the beginning of summer any asparagus that has been left to grow will develop the long stems and ferny top, often growing as tall as 7'
How to Plant
- Dig a 10" deep trench.
- Add 2" of compost to the trench.
- Make a little mound of soil for each asparagus crown to sit on.
- Spread the roots out.
- Fill the trench in making sure the crowns are covered by 2" of soil.
- Once the asparagus starts to emerge in the spring, add another 2" of soil or compost.
** Unlike strawberries, you want the crown of the asparagus to be under the soil by about 2" **
You buy the asparagus crowns (they look like big spiders) either at a local nursery or through mail order and then you put them in the ground. Easy.
You just have to get over the idea that you won't be able to eat any of it until you're frail and elderly. It's 2 years. You will not be frail and elderly. You probably won't even have cleaned behind your couch by then. You will have asparagus before your next behind-the-couch cleaning. That's not too long to wait is it? No it is not. 2 years isn't a big deal.
Now. Don't you wish when you first thought of planting asparagus that you'd actually done it because you could be picking and eating that asparagus this spring?
Yes. Of course you do, because you're not an idiot. You're just weird about planting asparagus.
Healthy, robust crowns like this will cost you anywhere from $0.75 - $1.50 per crown. I ordered my crowns from a wholesaler that grows the asparagus crowns themselves and got 50 of them for $37.50. Which is cheap. If you're buying them from someone other than a wholesaler expect to pay twice as much.
Most garden centres have asparagus crowns for sale in the spring so grab yourself some of those and start planting.
The first thing you should do is figure out how much you need to buy.
How Much to Grow
Expect to plant around 10 crowns per family member that loves asparagus.
50 plants for a family of 4.
Plant MORE if you want to blanch and freeze asparagus for the winter.
Of course you don't have to plant this much, it's just a guideline.
What Variety Should You Plant?
Asparagus is a dioecious plant. That means there’s boy asparagus and girl asparagus plants.
A girl asparagus plant will produce thinner spears because she’s concentrating on reproducing, which in this case means seed pods and therefore lots of asparagus babies. The only thing cuter than an asparagus baby is a cabbage baby.
Male asparagus plants on the other hand don’t care one whit about making babies they just want to grow up big and strong themselves. So they only concentrate on making big, thick spears. Male plants don’t have to produce seeds so none of their energy goes towards producing them. It only goes towards making spears.
Up until 20 or so years ago all asparagus varieties produced both male and the less desirable female plants. Then agricultural scientists made a break though and created a hybrid asparagus plant that was ONLY male.
For generations the most popular variety of asparagus was Martha Washington but the all male varieties have now taken over in popularity.
"Guelph Millennium" one of the most popular and productive all male varieties is what I grow. Other male varieties are the Jersey collection: Jersey Supreme, Jersey Giant or Jersey Knight.
Millennium was developed over the course of 12 years at the University of Guelph in Canada. The other thing about all male hybrid asparagus plants is they don’t self seed which in the case of a hybrid is good. When a hybrid plant self seeds you don’t get an exact reproduction of the original plant, you get a version of the original plant which is always a weaker, worse version.
With female plants you constantly have self seeding happening which is why your asparagus bed will spread so quickly, but it’s spreading with an inferior product.
White, Purple or Green
WHITE asparagus is the same thing as green asparagus. It’s just been grown in darkness which means it doesn’t develop the green colour because it doesn’t develop chlorophyll. If you want white asparagus just mound soil over it as it grows so the spears never see the light of day.
PURPLE asparagus is a variety of asparagus that grows purple all on its own without doing anything special to it. The same way some tomato varieties are different colours this asparagus variety is a different colour.
GREEN asparagus is regular old asparagus.
When to Plant
They can be put in the ground as soon as you can get out into the garden and work the soil in the early spring.
You want to plant asparagus crowns while they're still dormant and not showing any signs of growth.
As long as your beds aren't goopy with mud or frozen sold you'll be fine.
- Asparagus grows best in zones 4-9
- Plant 10 crowns per family member.
- Dig a 10" deep trench.
- Add 2" compost to your trench before planting.
- Plant crowns 15" - 18" apart on mounds of soil with the roots spread out.
- Cover crowns with 2" of soil.
- Add another 2" of soil when shoots first emerge.
- Let your asparagus patch grow for 2 years before harvesting.
- On mature plants only pick shoots that are bigger in diameter than a pencil.
- Don't cut the fronds at the end of the season until they have all died back.
- Replenish the soil of your patch every year with a 2" thick layer of compost to the top.
I eat from my asparagus patch in the spring until the sight of asparagus triggers my gag reflex. At that point I blanch and freeze it to use in the winter for making soup, quiche or even roasted.
See? Not so hard. You just need to know a few things. It's the same story for another vegetable that confounds people - zucchini. Did you know that it only has 1 stem and you should stake it like a tomato? If you do that it'll only take up about 1.5 square feet in your garden instead of becoming a sprawling mess. You can learn how to grow zucchini properly in this post of mine.
Get the roasted asparagus recipe here.
Do those things and you'll be eating asparagus in no time.
Well ... in 2 years actually. Which will seem like 15. But there's NO RULE that says you can't snap off and sample a few spears in those first 2 years to satisfy your curiosity.