Today we’re going to learn all about Asparagus. Boys versus Girls.




I don’t mean to boast, (but really I do) but I have quite a knack when it comes to growing asparagus.  For those of you who don’t know, Asparagus is one of the very few perennial vegetables around.  Asparagus is started either from seed or from tiny Asparagus crowns that have to be planted in a nursery bed, kept free of weeds and left to grow for several years before you can harvest from it.  So it’s not a beginner plant.  You don’t get any immediate satisfaction from it and it needs to be babied a bit in the beginning.

I’m sure you all know by now that I’m not a beginner gardener, so my success with Asparagus is due in no small part to my years of experience.  I’ve been growing asparagus for 6 years.

Those spears you see?  They were lovingly coaxed from the soil and picked just 2 weeks ago by some asshead professional Asparagus farmer because it sure as hell wasn’t me.  I’ve been growing asparagus for 6 years and I’ve received exactly one asparagus spear the thickness of a strand of spaghetti. Not even spaghetti.  Spaghettini.  

I suck at growing Asparagus.  SUCK!

This isn’t one of those blogger tricks where they pretend to be “not perfect” so everyone can relate to them.  Yes.  Bloggers do that.  Not me, but other bloggers.  Tricky bloggers.  This is a bona fide, I suck, moment.  I. Cannot. Grow. Asparagus.

Exhibit A.   This is the Asparagus I grew  a few years ago.



Luckily for me I know I can’t grow asparagus so when asparagus season rolls around I’m smart enough to go out and buy it when it’s in season instead of thinking mine will magically sprout from the soil.

Yet.  I’m going to try again this year.  This year, I’m going to start all over again and start asparagus indoors from seed.  (my original experiment was starting asparagus from crowns that I bought)  I bought the seeds for what’s known as an all male hybrid asparagus.




Because there’s boy asparagus and girl asparagus.  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 Chinese 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.

So I bought “Guelph Millennium” asparagus seeds which produce only all male spears.  These are fairly new on the market and were developed just over the hill from me at the University of Guelph.  It took 12 years for them to develop this seed.  So it should be foolproof.  Although these seeds haven’t met this fool.

They are your regular, plain green variety of asparagus plants.  WHITE asparagus is the same thing incidentally. It’s just been grown in darkness which means it doesn’t develop the green colour because it doesn’t develop chlorophyll.  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.

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.

By the way.  Just for fun, there are other people (professional people from Universities and stuff)  who say Male plants do NOT grow thicker spears, they grow thinner spears and more of them, while the female plants grow fewer, thicker spears.  So basically the exact opposite of what I’ve said.  I based my information on what OTHER professional people from Universities and stuff said.  No one can agree on the thick versus thin point which I find curious because I mean, it’s asparagus. How difficult can it be to figure out?

I’m leaning towards believing what I’ve said because I’m clearly very intuitive about asparagus.  I mean 6 years and one spear?  That’s an almost impossible feat that no other asparagus growing  has been able to accomplish I bet.

I’ll grow them indoors until they’re transplantable and then I’ll move them outdoors to their final location in a raised bed filled with compost.  I’ll test the soil pH, plant them properly on little mounds of soil and stare at them hopefully.

For the next 6 or so years or so.  If yet again I’m not successful, I’m going to do what anyone with brains would do. I’d just declare it a special variety.  Watch for Karen’s Invisible Asparagus coming to a seed catalogue near you soon.
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  1. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Very interesting..I think I will let the asparagus growing to the Amish farmers here..

  2. Ruth says:

    I have never had (and probably will never have) asparagus because it’s neither grown nor sold here, but – man! – I flat out choked on this gem: “Although these seeds haven’t met this fool….” DWL!!!

    Happy invisible asparagus growing. :D

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      No asparagus? My condolences! Where in the world are you, if I may be so bold to ask??

      • Ruth says:

        I am over here in the sunny isle…. Jamaica, West Indies. We can grow almost anything in rural Jamaica, so I’m sure if someone managed to smuggle in asparagus seeds it would probably take off (since it just looks like a fern of sorts), but there’s this little thing about getting ‘plant matter’ past the custom officers….

        Something about the possible effect on native plants… probably hogwash, but who knows?

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        Well Hola Ruth, from sunny hot and humid southern Ontario! We’ve been to Jamaica 3 times (Ocho Rios, Negril, and a cruise ship stop which allowed us to hire a driver and tour around up in the mountains . . . gorgeous! We only gave him 2 rules, no straw markets and no ganga. Lol)
        Not sure I would be willing to smuggle seeds into the country for you. They do tend to get bent out of shape about things like that! And you’re right, we do have a house plant called asparagus fern but I don’t know if it’s in the same plant family.

  3. Tigermom says:

    I was soooooooo ready to congratulate you on your asparagus growing efforts.

    Now I have a deeper appreciation for the asparagus I buy and a bit more understanding for its price.

  4. Heather says:

    Do you think Karen’s Invisible Asparagus would still cause asparagus pee?

  5. Shirley says:

    Yeah it sucks. My husband has been trying for 3 years. First year they all died. He replanted and now 5 have one long skinny shoot each. Hopeful they will survive, they came through the worst winter in Nova Scotia anyone can remember so there is hope. Got a fence up to keep the chickens out too so that might help.

  6. Jay says:

    When we moved to this house 13 years ago, the first thing we did in the spring was build and asparagus bed. We’re on heavy clay soil and asparagus like good drainage, so using recycled scaffolding planks from a builders’ yard we built a box 1.2m by 3m, 3 planks high and filled it with topsoil and compost.
    We’ve had a couple of lacklustre years but the majority of the time we have absolutely masses. Here in the UK the rule of thumb is that you can cut as much asparagus as you want from the time it appears (usually early May) until the summer solstice. After that, leave all the shoots to grow and replenish the vigour of the plant for next year’s harvest. More than 6 weeks of harvesting the shoots exhausts the plant and makes future crops less likely.
    It is also essential when planting asparagus crowns that they not dry out at all – I would suggest you order them from a garden catalogue and plant them within 24 hours of receiving them. If they’ve dried, they’ve died. (More or less). Again, in the UK that means getting them in March and having the planting area ready and waiting for them.
    Hope this helps

  7. Jack Ledger says:

    And so to the question of what kind of water is best for the growing of asparagus the answer would appear to be perspiration. It is now evident to me as to why asparagus is so expensive to buy……..very interesting blog but the one question I would have is where does our asparagus come from? Is it imported or grown locally? Okay, that is two questions.

    • Karen says:

      In the spring you can buy local asparagus because that’s when it’s in season, anything later than spring and it’s imported from somewhere like Chile or California. ~ k!

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        Mexico or Peru!
        It never ceases to amaze me when it’s “on” for $1.99/lb given the labour intensity.

  8. marilyn says:

    thick for me and yes the spec has been channeling you..or vice versa..great story today about asparagus.

  9. Meg says:

    I’ve never really considered growing asparagus, but do know grows from a rhizome like hops for beer brewing. We’ve had success growing hops after purchasing the roots. Is growing from an asparagus crown the same? I’m guessing not… I wonder if those farmers ever sell the mature roots….

  10. Karol says:

    OMG, I am such a city slicker! Boy and girl asparagus?! Who knew.

  11. Debbie Neal says:

    I planted a big raised bed about 6 years ago from crowns in Memphis, TN. It took 2 years for them to be noticeable asparagus. The 3rd year we could harvest some SWEET spears. Then the last 3 years, a ton of them came up . The trick is to weed, mulch, and notice when the spears are coming up. I swear they can grow 6 inches in a day. If you miss it, they will go to seed. I just left the ferns there all summer and in the fall, cut them back put a thick layer of compost and let them sleep all winter. The one mistake I wish I didn’t do was to buy more crown of an obviously different variety and they came up looking hairy and ugly. ARGHHH! We have since moved to Florida and I miss being able to go to that garden and have fresh asparagus at my fingertips!

  12. brenda says:

    karen are you just starting them from seeds now ?

    here’s my favourite asparagus recipe … roast them in the toaster oven for a wee bit with olive oil and salt and pepper with fruit (figs or cherries or blackberries, etc) with some walnuts (or pecans), with a little pot of pesto warming on the side to dip the asparagus spears in

    you could iCal this and try it in 6 years

  13. Jody says:

    It’s asparagus day! Your post and an article in The Spec. Good luck with your Guelph seeds. I’ll be following your blog for the next 6 years to see how they turn out.

  14. Ann says:

    Hmmm…I have no trouble growing asparagus. Maybe warmer climates help some? I put in crowns when we bought this house a bit over 6 years ago. My bed is now gorgeous and we pick all we want for about 6 weeks each spring. I purchased what were supposed to be all male plants but that has proven to be totally a falsehood. I have many plants that flower and go to seed each year. The volunteers from these seeds are all over our property and honestly, those volunteers produce some of my best spears.

    Asparagus does not like competition from weeds. So after I pull out the dead foliage in the fall, I mulch the bed very heavily with dried leaves and/or compost from the chicken run. I don’t work it in at all, just leave it on the bed to finish composting all winter. Another thing that makes a difference in growing asparagus is the depth you put your crowns. They need to be deep and in an area that is not soggy wet when you have one of those endless rainy spells like we are having now. And of course, not over picking in any year, especially the first 2.

    I have to say, I have not noticed much difference in size between my obviously female plants and the males. When I go out later this morning I will try and be more observant and come to my own conclusion on that one. I know that I have some with spears the size of pencils and others the size of garden hose, I swear. I have both green and purple and I even get white sometimes when I have the mulch deep enough. The purple disappears when you cook it by the way. To me, the larger spears are more tasty and tender. My husband would rather eat the smaller spears raw. If asparagus really cured cancer, like they try to tell us on the internet, he would absolutely not be having to fight the good fight right now!!

  15. Kristina says:

    You are making me nervous with this story. We just planted asparagus crowns for the first time this year and are not the greatest gardeners. Crossing fingers that we see something in a few years.

  16. I grow asparagus. I grew it from seed, many years ago, it took years but it worked, then I moved. A few years later I moved again to a place where asparagus was growing but the owner had turned the garden to grass. Quit cutting the grass where the garden had been, turned it all over and voila, asparagus, lots and lots of asparagus. It started growing everywhere. Then it got some kind of bug! I ripped out the old bed, saved a few roots and started again, Every time I see one start to go to seed I rip it out, or break it off. My patch is much smaller and more manageable now. I do miss that big plot of asparagus and it still grows here, there and everywhere.

  17. Grammy says:

    I grew asparagus from crowns about 35 years ago. Everything seemed fine. The first year I resisted harvesting the spears like they tell us to, so the plants could grow bigger and stronger and give larger harvests when the time comes. The next year, everything was dead. I never tried it again. The local farmers bring lovely bunches of it to farmers market. Works for me.

  18. Christine says:

    Ironically, tonight was the first time I harvested and ate asparagus from my garden for dinner. I have one large plant I put in 9 years ago and smaller plants that I put in 3 years ago. They are in a raised bed with my mint. I haven’t given the aspeagus plants any love but they come back year after year. I’m at 6000 feet and my last frost date is in June, but the asparagus plant come back every spring without fail. Normally I let them go to seed, I’m not sure why, but this year I finally harvested about a dozen spears, wrapped them in procuitto and baked them up. Yum! Even my 4 year old agreed and finished mama’s home grown asparagus tonight.

  19. Dominic says:

    I planted asparagus in my raised bed in Michigan, then moved to New York when it was starting it’s 4th year, I should have gotten to cut some that year. The house in Michigan is my income property now, and when I asked the management company guy about it, he said the renter didn’t know it was asparagus, and tore it out. Asshat. I’m raising the rent.

  20. IRS says:

    Hmm, seems like a plant for masochistic gardeners. Too much confusion, effort, and waiting. Not nearly enough speedy gratification. I had briefly thought about planting some, but after reading this, uh uh, no way, no. I will stick to the produce department to get mine. Thanks, Karen. Sometimes your blog is (for me) The Art of Getting Permission to Not Do Stuff. And not feel guilty about not doing it.

  21. Kathleen says:

    I will never again whine about the price of asparagus. I will cheerfully pay what is asked and enjoy every mouthful. And now I wonder why anybody would ever plant them, let alone farm them! Farmers Market here I come! (Well, I’ll have to wait for September here in sunny South Africa, but what the hell!)

    Thanks for another informative and enjoyable post.

  22. Kelly Borsberry says:

    Since I’m in the same boat when it comes to growing asparagus, why don’t we just agree to meet one Saturday morning, go for coffee and go to the local farmers market to support those who can grow asparagus!

  23. Melissa says:

    I actually prefer the thinner ones. My bed (planted 2 years ago from crowns) has a mix of female and male plants. This was the first year I could harvest any (for about 5 minutes). I’ll have to see if the sex determines the width!

  24. Agnes says:

    Do you think the thin ones are tastier than the thick ones….or is there a difference at all?

    • Karen says:

      I actually prefer the thicker ones. I’m not sure if they taste better or there’s just more to them. People think the thicker ones are tough but they aren’t. Although the bottoms can be woody so just snap them off like I show. Thick woodies. hahah. ~ k!

      • Agnes says:

        I usually go for the thicker ones myself…they just seem heartier. But I secretly wondered if my judging eyes were making my taste buds miss out on something delicious. Oh yes, I always snap off the bottoms :) I love to use asparagus in a risotto!

      • Su says:

        thick woodies…. my day is complete

        Back in the day, when I was about 9 months pregnant with my 2nd child, my mom and I used to ride around out in the countryside stalking the wild asparagus….. i think she was hoping all that climbing up and down the ditch imbankments would induce labor :)…. it was a really nice way to spend time together and chat and enjoy the lovely May/June weather….. neither she or I ever had any luck growing it ourselves, but this post brought back some lovely memories of time spent with my mom ….. now I’m smiling thru my tears remembering…..

  25. Paula says:

    I have been trying to find Asparagus crowns but to no avail :(

    • Karen says:

      You should be able to find those almost anywhere Paula. My local nursery carries the in their seed section plus there are a few places in Canada you can order them from including William Dam Seeds and Vesey’s. ~ karen!

      • Paula says:

        I found seeds but not crowns.

      • Beckie says:

        Paula, I don’t know where int he world you are, but just this past Saturday, I saw asparagus crowns for sale at a Kmart garden center. (of all places!!)

        Most garden catalogs have them, as well.

      • Beckie says:

        Paula, I don’t know where in the world you are, but just this past Saturday, I saw asparagus crowns for sale at a Kmart garden center. (of all places!!)

        Most garden catalogs have them, as well.

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