Stillwater News Press

Garden

February 8, 2014

In the Garden 02-09-14

Asparagus really not that hard

 Can a novice learn enough to successfully grow asparagus in less than one thousand words? I believe so, for as gardeners we are but facilitators of earth’s basic rhythms. Before continuing on from last week though, let me first correct the first bullets’ misprint — asparagus crowns should be positioned two feet apart, not two inches.

The first choice one must make is whether to start with seed or asparagus crowns. Either choice has its own benefits — cost, time to harvest and cleanliness of stock. Crowns (one or two year dormant roots) usually cost more than $1 each and harvest can begin the second year from planting. While most varieties now sold are resistant to asparagus rust, seed proponents fear fusarium — a fungal disease that causes rot and decline may be introduced on crowns. Scientists now know that this fungus, persistent in the soil, can also be seed borne.

“The best defense is a good offense” is a truism that can be applied to asparagus cultivation. Drainage is critical for a healthy, productive asparagus bed. Work sand, leaf mold, aged manure or fine compost into the top 12-14 inches of soil. Although the majority of roots will grow horizontally, the crown or seedling should be placed 10 inches below ground.

The University of Illinois monitored productivity for 15 years comparing plants/crowns planted at a depth of five inches and those planted 10 inches. Although the shallower plantings produced spears earlier, the deeper plantings produced larger and tenderer spears — probably due to increased warmth of soil and air. Additional research shows that plants set out on a mound with the roots draping downward produced fewer number of spears, but overall, the weight and quality of the harvested asparagus over the entire season was greater.

Once the bed has been excavated, and a ridge of amended soil is formed in the bottom, place the plants or roots out on a warm day after the danger of hard spring frosts is past. Backfill the bed with only two to three inches of soil, continuing to add two inches at weekly intervals until the bed is mounded slightly above ground level.

Park’s, Johnny’s and many other companies offer varieties Mary Washington and Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant seed. Crowns of these and strains of purple asparagus can be easily purchased as well. (F1) to the right of the name indicates fusarium resistance; (R), rust resistance — both desirable qualities indeed.

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct questions to her by emailing leeannbarton@sbcglobal.net.

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