to garden lineup

February 25, 2010

by Michael Vandeveer,
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by  Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
New asparagus is emerging from seed next to its 3-year-old mother plant (a female variety) in this raised bed.  Fresh, thick asparagus spears, ready to pick, are growing next to some that were left to mature into a full plant.
Do you count patience as one of your personality traits?

If so, you might consider adding asparagus to your vegetable garden. When started and tended properly, an asparagus bed can yield up to 20 years of springtime production.

Though it is more suited to cooler climates, asparagus can be grown successfully here in South Texas. Full of vitamins and minerals and a great-tasting side dish, it's surprising more of us don't have a stand of asparagus somewhere in our home gardens.

Getting started

As with many vegetables, some pre-planning goes a long way in ensuring success with asparagus. According to the Easy Gardening publication for Asparagus, found at, you'll need a well-drained, sandy/light soil with plenty of sun exposure. Keep in mind, your asparagus plants will remain in the same spot for many years. Think about your other plants and their needs before planting asparagus.

If you haven't performed a soil test lately, now might be the time to do so. Asparagus prefers a high pH level (6.5 to 7.5), so you'll need to amend your soil accordingly if yours is acidic. Also, asparagus doesn't compete well with weeds. Have a plan in place to keep your asparagus area weed free; compost or mulch works great.


When you're ready to plant, you'll need to buy some 1- or 2-year-old crowns. January and February are the best months to plant your crowns. Plant the crowns in trenches 6- to 12-inches deep, 18-inches apart, and cover with an inch of compost, then 2- to 3-inches of soil. As the plants' foliage starts to emerge in the coming weeks, gradually add soil until your trench is filled, never completely covering the foliage. Remember to keep the area around your plants weed free as the crowns start to grow. You can use your favorite fertilizer before planting to help prepare the soil for the new plants.


Remember what I said about patience at the beginning of the article? Let the waiting begin.

It takes 2 to 3 years for your asparagus plants to start full production. Although you will want to harvest asparagus in the first year, do not do it or your plants will perform poorly from then on out - or even die. You can do some light harvesting in the second year - maybe two to three spears per plant. Patience and discipline will pay off in time. In the third year, you should have a harvest season of about eight weeks.

Care of plants

Maintaining your asparagus plants is relatively easy. They need the equivalent of 1 inch of rain per week. You'll want to let the soil around them get dry to about an inch below the soil surface before re-watering. As indicated above, they don't compete well with weeds; so use a layer of mulch, straw or grass clippings around the plants to keep the weeds down. Pull or cultivate new weeds early, before they have a chance to draw nutrients from the asparagus plants. After the first frost kills back the fern-like plant tops, cut back your asparagus plants at ground level for the winter. As warm as our winters often are, you'll want to cut them back if we haven't had a frost by late November.


Come about mid- to late-February, you will want to start harvesting the spears when they grow to 4- to 10-inches long, by snapping the spears off at ground level. Care should be taken to ensure that no part of the stalk remains above ground; otherwise, you'll be left with clumps of woody stumps.

Have you ever bought asparagus and noticed that the stalks are fibrous? This happens when the stalks are allowed to over-mature or are under-fertilized. You can prevent this by harvesting at least every other day during the harvest season. Another sign of over maturing is when the heads start to open. Continual harvesting will minimize the diameter of future stalks and weaken the plants, so stop harvesting when the stalk diameter doesn't grow to at least 3/8 inch.

Locally-grown asparagus

Local gardener Ken Hanslik has been growing asparagus for about 15 years. He started his plants from seed and has had success with the Jersey all-male hybrid varieties. He prefers the all-male varieties, because they don't produce seeds during the summer. Since they don't produce seeds, they can focus their efforts on storing energy in the roots during the summer non-harvest months. Hanslik also notes that because of our longer growing season, he was able to get substantial harvests during his second year after planting. It's not a guarantee of success, but it does potentially shorten the waiting period after first planting your new asparagus.

Hanslik has never had a problem with insects or plant diseases. He advised me that the biggest maintenance issue with asparagus is weed control. To counter the weeds, he tills between rows and recommends mulching (as indicated above). He applies fertilizer after the harvest season (March and April) to give the plants a boost, and help them prepare to store energy for the winter. Hanslik commented that some visitors to his garden mistake the asparagus plants for dill, as the wispy fern-like tops resemble the herb. Many don't notice the stalks hidden beneath the growth. Prepare yourself for lots of bending over during the harvest - asparagus doesn't grow on trees.

Give it a try

Why not add a new member to your garden lineup? With a little work and patience, you could be enjoying some home-grown asparagus next spring and for many springs to follow.

More information on growing asparagus can be found online at; search the site for asparagus - and what you learn will produce many times over
Photo by Source: Jerry Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist
Now is the season to plant 1- to 2-year-old crowns using the trench planting method as illustrated. Plant 6- to 12-inches deep and 18 inches apart. Cover with compost and soil. Take care to not cover the foliage, and keep area free of weeds as the plants begin to grow. Asparagus plants can be productive for up to 20 years.

Asparagus plants in the dormant season have dead fern tops that remain once the harvest season is over. These are cut down prior to new growth in the spring.
Asparagusu grows from 3- to 5-feet tall and looks like a fern when it leaves out, but is only harvestable for eating in the early spring when the spikes are about 8- to 12-inches tall.  Spears growing in the background are already too tall to be edible.

Easy to grow from crowns planted January-February.
Ideal planted along a fence or border for an edge effect.
Highly-desirable vegetable.
Harvest 8- to 12-inch spears in early spring.
Tastes better homegrown than bought.
Male plants are more productive than female.
Takes 2 to 3 years for production.
Fertilize and mulch around plants.
Remove fern-like growth after a freeze and mulch.
One planting may last over 20 years.


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