Ever wish you could walk outside and cut your own asparagus? Wish you could have fresh, perfect asparagus on your table during the spring, and maybe preserve some for later use? Here’s how to start an asparagus bed in your backyard!
I absolutely adore asparagus. Even once the harvesting season is over, the delicate ferns grace my backyard with a wispy green beauty. Giving me shade in an otherwise low-profile backyard (I have no trees), it’s a gorgeous addition.
Asparagus is unique in that it is the only green vegetable that is grown as a perennial. While there are other minor perennial vegetables and herbs- like the Jerusalem artichoke, sea kale or Chinese artichoke- none have the wide appeal of springtime asparagus.
Because asparagus is a perennial, it does require it’s own dedicated space. This asparagus bed will stay rooted and be producing for 20 years or more, so make sure that when you decide to plant, you know you are making a serious long-term commitment. It also is a “loner”. Asparagus is not happy sharing it’s space, whether it be with weeds or companion plants.
Well-Prepared Bed Location
Make sure that your new asparagus bed is free of weeds, so preparation of the bed may need to begin a year in advance. Make sure that the area is in full sun. Till up your area or build your raised bed first. Once you have set up your area, cover it with cardboard, organic mulch or black plastic to help snuff out any weeds and their roots that may be harboring here.
Asparagus likes a fertile, decently drained soil with a tendency toward loamy. In most instances, very generous additions of compost, leaf mold or rotted manure are required in order to have soil that your asparagus will thrive in. Since asparagus is a “permanent” crop, the investment you make now will be worth it over the long haul. Add some organic fertilizer when you are ready to plant your roots. Rock phosphate can be added in order to give the plants slow-released phosphorus into the soil. Adding sand, fine gravel, granite dust or greensand can help if your soil is dense or clay.
Dealing With Clay
Dig a trench of about 18″ deep and then backfill over your roots. While asparagus needs moisture, even the best-dug trench dug in clay soil can hold too much moisture, reducing aeration. If you have clay, as I do, the best option for your asparagus patch is a raised bed that you can till up and properly amend the soil in order to have happy asparagus.
The raised bed I have was the best option, as I have seriously dense clay that dries into almost bricks over a drought. Instead of tilling and digging so deep in order to fix the soil, building a raised bed and mixing in 32 square feet of compost was the easiest option for my asparagus bed. I’m expecting that the roots will outlive the wood frame of my raised bed, so I keep an eye on the frame to prepare for the eventual need for replacement.
Instead of tilling and digging so deep in order to fix the soil, building a raised bed and mixing in 32 square feet of compost was the easiest option for my asparagus bed. I’m expecting that the roots will outlive the wood frame of my raised bed, so I keep an eye on the frame to prepare for the eventual need for replacement.
Plant in Spring
Asparagus “crowns” are planted in the spring. Purchase at least 1-year-old roots from a good nursery. Do not trust big box hardware stores for your delicate asparagus. Plant your roots 12″-18″ apart, in rows 3-5 feet apart in a 6″ to 8″ trench. Cover with only a few inches of soil. As the shoots grow in the trench, gradually backfill with the rest of your displaced soil. After planting, make sure that the roots are well-watered, and cover the bed with a light covering of lightweight mulch. (I prefer straw for this application.)
Do not harvest the first year. Harvesting so soon can leave permanent damage on the plant, and impede future harvests. I recommend not harvesting at all until your plants have been in your prepared bed for 3 years. This gives the roots plenty of time to grow, root, and mature to high-yielding, strong plants. The feathery asparagus fern will grow and seed itself within your prepared bed over this period, adding not only strength but numbers to your asparagus patch.
While I prefer heirloom plants, finding and cultivating heirlooms can be difficult. I chose the hybrid Jersey Knight for my own patch. This is the standard variety today, especially in my Northern part of the country. It also seems to be the most tolerant to the overspray of the chemicals my lawn-loving neighbors use to keep their yards free of weeds and unattractive grasses.
Worth Your While
If you love asparagus as much as I do, investing your time and energy into having a backyard asparagus patch is well worth the effort. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to harvest your own vegetables, prepare and cook them, and then know that, from start to finish, you did that. You know where your food came from, how it was prepared, and that it is not coated in chemicals. It doesn’t get any fresher than asparagus from your backyard.