Plants that look like asparagus

Quick Guide to Growing Asparagus

  • Plant asparagus in spring or fall in a sunny spot with nutrient-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Asparagus takes a few seasons to mature but will reap a harvest for 15 to 30 years, so choose a planting location that will go undisturbed for a long time.
  • For spring planting, prepare your garden bed in the fall by improving the soil with compost or other rich organic matter, then cover the bed with mulch for the winter.
  • In spring, dig 6- to 8-inch deep rows and plant asparagus 12 to 18 inches apart.
  • As asparagus grows taller, backfill the rows with soil until it is eventually level with the garden bed.
  • Once your rows are level with the soil line, lay down a layer of mulch to retain soil moisture and prevent weeds.
  • During the growing season, feed regularly with a continuous-release plant food.
  • Wait until your second or third season to harvest. You can pick mature asparagus once they reach 8 inches tall.

Soil, Planting, and Care

The key to growing asparagus is to have healthy, vigorous plants that produce a lot of spears. Choose a sunny, well-drained site on the edge of your garden where it will not be disturbed by the activity of planting and re-planting other areas.

Planting asparagus is like preparing for a trip. Careful preparation makes the journey easier. It is the same with asparagus. Before you buy the plants, you need a prepared bed. How well you prepare the bed determines the vigor of your asparagus patch for years to come. (See more on that below.) When you do buy plants, make sure they’re Bonnie Plants® asparagus. Strong and vigorous, these young plants will give your asparagus patch an excellent start—and put you way ahead of where you would be if you were to plant seeds.

In autumn, prepare the soil by mixing in several inches of organic matter (think compost or aged leaves) or compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil with the native soil in each row. This will provide all the nutrition your new asparagus plants need to start growing. Mulch for the winter, or grow a cool-season cover crop that can be turned under before planting in spring.

In spring, after danger of frost has passed, dig a depression 6 to 8 inches deep running the length of the row, mounding the amended soil on each side for later use. Set seedlings into the lowest part of the depression, planting about 2 inches deeper than they were originally growing. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart. (Asparagus can also be planted in the fall. For more on that, check out our How to Plant a Fall Garden article.)

In addition to great soil, asparagus needs a steady supply of plant food to grow its best. Feed your plants with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules regularly during the growing season, following the directions on the label. In addition to feeding your plants, this organic fertilizer feeds the beneficial microbes in the soil that help those plants take up more nutrition.

As plants grow taller, rake a little of the soil on the edge of the row into the depression where plants are growing. Soon the bed will be level. Mulch to prevent weeds.

Then all you need to do is be patient. The idea is to wait at least 2 seasons and probably 3 before harvesting. It may be hard to resist tasting the first spears to emerge, but go easy on the plants until they mature. You’ll be rewarded in the long run!

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable. It takes three years from planting to get an appreciable crop, but the fresh asparagus is well worth the wait. A well-maintained asparagus patch will continue to yield for 15 to 20 years.

Choosing a Bed for Asparagus

Asparagus foliage will grow tall enough to shade any surrounding vegetation, so it is usually grown in a prepared, dedicated bed. A few things to consider when selecting a site for your asparagus bed include:

Other things to consider for an ideal asparagus bed location include:

  • Asparagus doesn’t compete well with other plants, so the bed should be dedicated only to growing asparagus.
  • The plot should not be subjected to digging or tilling.
  • Asparagus should be planted 12″ to 18″ apart.
  • Plan around 12-15 plants per person when selecting your garden spot.
  • Select a spot in your garden where the ferns won’t block out the sun for other plants.
  • Each plant can yield 10 to 20 spears, so choose a plot that is spacious enough for this type of yield.
  • Keep watered but don’t over water since asparagus doesn’t have wet feet. A slow drip irrigation system is ideal for an asparagus bed.

Preparing the Bed

Since asparagus plants live so long, it is important to prepare the plot before you plant. Asparagus thrives in rich, well-drained, organic soil.

Option to Plant Cover Crop

Many gardeners start an asparagus bed by planting a cover of green manures. These are plants grown for the sole purpose of turning them under to provide mulch for the asparagus bed. Once the cover crop is mature, you need to turn them under. After this stage, you can begin preparing the asparagus bed for planting:

  1. Remove all weeds and grass. Asparagus will falter if the bed has weeds and/or grass.
  2. Till the ground to a depth of 12 inches.
  3. Place three inches of compost over that and till to mix it thoroughly with the dirt.
  4. Finally, till in the fertilizer. A mixture of 10-20-10 applied at the rate of two to three pounds per 20-foot row is usually recommended.

Choose Either Seed or Crown Asparagus to Plant

You can either buy asparagus seeds or crowns to plant. It’s far easier to grow asparagus from crowns than to grow using seeds. Most gardeners opt to buy bundles of roots, called crowns.

How to Buy Asparagus Crowns

Asparagus crowns are available in the spring. There are a few things to keep in mind when you shop for asparagus crowns. For example, new hybrid asparagus varieties provide only male asparagus since these produce more asparagus than female asparagus. Some gardeners prefer to plant heirlooms. Should you opt for an heirloom asparagus, you’ll receive male and female asparagus crowns.

Things to consider when buying asparagus crowns include:

  • Purchase one-year-old crowns.
  • Buy bundles of 10 to 25 crowns, with firm, fresh roots.
  • When purchasing male crowns, check the label or description to ascertain if the mix is all male or a mix of male and female plants. If the mix isn’t evident move on to another choice until you find what you want.
  • Choose a variety recommended your zone (information on packaging or web).

How to Plant Asparagus Crowns

Asparagus should be planted in the spring as soon as the ground thaws. However, gardeners in the southern region of the United States often store the crowns in the refrigerator until the summer heat has passed. The crowns are then planted in early fall as soon as the temperatures drop. If you store the dormant crowns in the refrigerator, make sure you keep the roots moist with damp paper towels. Is you live in a cooler region, you can store in a paper bag and fill it with sawdust, storing in a cool place like a root cellar.

A few simple steps for planting dormant asparagus crowns include:

  1. Dig a trench that is 6″-18″ deep and 4″ wide.
  2. If planting more than one trench, space 4′ apart to allow enough space for the plants to grow.
  3. Using mulch, soil and compost create a 3″-4″ mound along the center length of the trench.
  4. Place each crown on this center mound being careful to spread the roots out and allow to cascade over the mound.
  5. Space the crown 12″-18″ apart.
  6. Add compost and soil around the crowns leaving 2″-3″ of shoots above ground.

  7. As the shoots grow from the crown, continue filling in the trench so that the shoots just barely peak through the dirt, about 2″-3″ high.

  8. You’ll continue this process until the trench is completely filled.

  9. Keep the soil along the center of the trench mounded so the water properly drains.

Tips for Fall and Spring Plantings

A few helpful tips for planting asparagus crowns in the fall and spring ensure your crop survives. Take these precautions for a healthy growth.

  • If planting in the spring, the trench should be filled in by the end of the first year.
  • Fall plantings are best served by filling in the trench once the crowns are planted. The shoots will emerge through the soil without any problems.
  • Many gardeners planting in the spring prefer to fill in the trench at one time. This method is acceptable and won’t harm the crowns.

Caring for Your Asparagus Crown Plants

The first three years of growing asparagus requires a bit of patience. It’s possible to start harvesting a few spears the second year.

Year One

During the first year, do not cut the asparagus shoots. They need to grow into asparagus ferns to feed the roots so they can survive the first winter. Water the plants weekly, giving them 1″ of water each time. When winter comes and the asparagus ferns die, cut them back to about 1″ above ground.

  • Discard all cut vegetation to prevent the spread of the asparagus beetle.
  • After cutting the ferns from the asparagus, spread three inches of compost on the asparagus bed.
  • Fertilize with a mixture of 10-20-10 fertilizer at the rate of two to three pounds per 20 feet of row.

Year Two

When new shoots emerge in the spring, you can cut the ones that are thicker than your finger. As soon as the shoots become smaller than this, quit cutting them. Allow the shoots become ferns and grow until winter, when you’ll cut them back to the ground. Continue to water weekly, giving the plants one inch of water each time.

Year Three and Beyond

Treat the asparagus bed the same as you did in year two. You can harvest asparagus shoots until they become as thin as a pencil, about six to eight weeks each year.

  • When the stalks become as thin as a pencil, allow them to grow asparagus ferns.
  • Continue to water weekly, giving them 1″ of water each time.
  • Each winter, cut back the ferns to about 1″ above ground.
  • Keep plants mulched to retain moisture.

Growing Asparagus From Seeds

Growing asparagus from seeds is more economical than purchasing dormant asparagus crowns. You will need to start the seeds indoors about 14 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors. Depending on your region, you may transplant the asparagus in the spring or early fall.

  1. Soak seeds for 2-4 hours.
  2. Use sterile seeding mix for growing medium.
  3. Plant seeds ½”deep in 2″ peat pots or a deep planting tray.
  4. Use a grow light, but allow plants total darkness for 8 hours out of every 24 hours.
  5. Seeds will germinate between 2-3 weeks.
  6. Keep soil temperature around 70°F-80°F (use a seedling heat mat).
  7. Acclimate plants for one week prior to transplanting.
  8. Transplant in prepared asparagus bed spacing 12″-18″ apart.

Transplant Asparagus Seedlings Into Temporary Bed

Another practice for asparagus grown from seed is to use a temporary transplant bed for the first year (prepared like final bed). You’ll transplant the seedlings 6″ apart.

Second Transplant

At the beginning of the first-year fall, you’ll transplant the asparagus seedlings into the final growing bed, spacing the plants 18″ apart. If your first transplant is in the fall, you’ll wait until the following fall to move the seedlings into the final grow bed. Set the plants 18″ apart just as you would asparagus crowns.

Care and Maintenance of Asparagus Grown From Seeds

The care and maintenance of asparagus grown from seeds is the same as those grown from crowns. Keep plants mulched, weeded, fertilized, and watered. Begin harvesting in the third year.

How to Harvest Asparagus

It’s easy to harvest asparagus. Once the spears begin to grow, you should be able to harvest every 3-4 days. As temperatures climb, some gardeners find their harvesting requires daily or even twice daily.

  • You will harvest the spears whenever they reach 8″-12″ tall.
  • You want to harvest spears while the tips are firm. Tips that are unfurling are too old to harvest.
  • You can cut the spears at ground level using a knife.
  • Some gardeners prefer to snap the stalks by hand at ground level.

Harvesting Guidelines for Years One, Two and Three

Most gardeners refrain from harvesting asparagus during the first two or three years. This allows the asparagus tips to open and grow what’s called ferns. The ferns nourish the root system in preparation for next year’s crop.

  • While you can harvest a few spears the first year, limit harvesting to one week only.
  • The second year, you can harvest spears for up to two weeks.
  • On the third year, you should limit harvest time to three to four weeks.
  • After the third year, you’re free to harvest spears.
  • Stop harvesting when the spears decrease in diameter and resemble pencil sizes.

How to Divide Asparagus Plants

Over the years, the production of your asparagus plants can slow down. This is an opportune time to divide the asparagus crowns and transplant into a new bed. A few easy steps can reap more asparagus next year.

  1. Once you’ve cut back the ferns in the fall, dig up the roots you wish to divide.
  2. Cut the shoots into crowns so each has attached roots.
  3. Plant the divided crowns in the new bed.
  4. Allow the divided plants one year to reestablish their root systems.
  5. You can start to harvest the asparagus in the second year.

Avoiding Problems

The major problem for most asparagus beds is weeds. Since you should not hoe or rake around the asparagus plants, the only solution is to pull weeds by hand. If you don’t pull weeds growing among the asparagus, the weeds can either take over the bed, and dominate the asparagus or sap vital nutrients from the plants.

Tall Asparagus Fern-Like Fronds

The tall, fern-like fronds are actually produced by the asparagus plants themselves, so don’t mistake them for weeds. The frothy plume-like foliage produces food for the plant each year and is vital to its health and success.

Asparagus Varieties

Asparagus officinalis has several varieties you can consider growing. The main differences besides appearance is the taste.

  • You can choose a pink tipped asparagus variety.
  • The most common and traditional asparagus variety is green.
  • White asparagus has no color as the result of cultivating. The plants are always underground. The lack of sun for photosynthesis gives the spears a white color.

Easy Steps for How to Grow Asparagus

Asparagus takes a little patience in the beginning, but you’ll be rewarded with the harvest you get for many years. For best results, maintain the asparagus bed with proper weeding, fertilizing, mulching, and watering.

Traditional backyard gardens tend to be full of annual vegetables that need to be started year after year from seed, and while those veggies can be well worth the time and labor it takes to grow them, planting some perennial vegetables in your garden and yard can end up putting food on your plate for far less effort.

Unless you live in a region with a year-round growing season, your tomatoes and peppers (which are perennial by nature) will need to be planted anew each spring, because they can’t handle the cold temperatures of winter, but there are other vegetables that can overwinter in many places and spring back to life as soon as soil temperatures are warm enough. By dedicating a garden bed or two to perennial vegetables, especially in a polyculture with other perennials, you can pack a lot of food production into a small area.

6 Perennial vegetables that keep on giving, year after year:

1. Asparagus: This slender spring beauty is probably the most well-known perennial vegetable, and one of the most coveted early spring vegetables (and the relatively high price in the produce section to prove it). It’s not a quick producer, such as many annual vegetables are, but asparagus can end up providing tasty green treats every year once they get established. Although it’s possible to start asparagus from seed, you can speed up the harvest timeline by at least a year or two by planting crowns that are several years old, which are usually available in garden centers every spring (or if you know someone with a large asparagus patch, you may be able to convince them to give you some crowns when they divide their plants).

2. Sunchokes: Also known as Jerusalem Artichokes (even though they don’t resemble artichokes at all), sunchokes are a relative of sunflowers that produce an edible tuber that is crisp and sweet. This perennial vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked as you would a potato, and is often described as having a nutty flavor. The sunchoke plant itself can grow rather tall, as a sunflower does, so it’s well suited to planting as a border or along an edge of the garden. The tubers are harvested in the fall, with some of them left in the ground (or replanted after harvesting) for next year’s plants.

3. Groundnut: The American groundnut (Apios americana), also called the Indian potato, is one of those perennial vegetables that doesn’t get much attention, but could be a great addition to any garden. The groundnut is a perennial vine that produces edible beans and large edible tubers (more properly “rhizomatous stems”), and is native to the eastern portion of the US. The vines grow to about six feet long, and can be grown up a trellis (or up other plants) for dense plantings. The groundnuts are harvested in the fall, and as with sunchokes, some should be left in the ground for next year’s growth.

4. Artichoke: These thistle relatives, properly called globe artichokes, aren’t the most soft and cuddly vegetables, but yield a large tasty flower bud Eeyore would absolutely love. Growing artichokes does take a bit of room in the garden, as they can grow to 6 feet or more in height, and like most perennial vegetables, a couple of years of growth is often necessary before they’ve matured to the point that you can harvest enough flowers to grace your table. While they can be started from seed, artichokes can also be planted from dividing an established patch, or from starts available from the garden center.

5. Rhubarb: This perennial vegetable is not only edible, but is also a colorful addition to the garden, and comes in varieties of red, pink, and green (the color of the stalks). Rhubarb is best planted from a crown, which can be acquired from a garden center (or a neighbor whose rhubarb bed is out of control), and should be allowed to grow for several years before harvesting the stalks for that perennial summer favorite, strawberry rhubarb pie. Only the stalks of the rhubarb are edible, but the leaves, which are toxic to humans, make a great addition to the compost pile.

6. Horseradish: While it’s a stretch to call horseradish a vegetable (it’s more akin to a condiment that you either love or hate), this perennial plant from the mustard family is a must-grow for the spicy crowd and the sushi lovers. The leaves of the horseradish (also edible) are rather plain and unassuming, and the small white flowers are nothing to write home about, but the large root of the horseradish is source of the strong flavor that can bring one to tears. In some areas, horseradish can take over the garden with the invasive growth habit of its roots, so when harvesting them in the fall, it can be good practice to remove as much of the roots as possible, and to only replant enough of the root sections as you will need for next year.

What other perennial vegetables for backyard gardens or as part of an edible landscape do you grow?

By Doug Oster / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nothing compares to freshly sprouted asparagus. Photo by Doug OsterThere’s nothing comparable to fresh asparagus eaten raw in the garden. The perennial vegetable is tender and sweet when first emerging early in the spring. Like most veggies straight from the garden, it’s packed with flavor and nutrients.

“Is the asparagus up yet?” is a question I often get from my wife this time of year. Little does she know, I’ve been snacking on it for a week. But there’s plenty to go around for everyone. It’s an incentive for the family to spend a little quality time in the garden hunting spears.

It’s the roots of the plants, called crowns, that are usually planted. Gardeners can buy 1- , 2- or even 3-year-old crowns, and the older ones are more expensive. Local nurseries will have the crowns for sale, but also might have some overwintered plants in pots. They can be planted now or in the fall.

One-year-old crowns planted this year won’t be ready to harvest for at least two seasons. That’s why the older ones cost more; the harvest comes sooner. A properly prepared asparagus bed will outlive the gardener and could thrive for generations. It’s wonderful to stumble onto a patch at an old farm site and see it filled with thick spears.

If spring planting is in order, the ground has to be ready for digging. If the soil sticks to the shovel, it’s still too wet. Wait until the garden has dried out a bit, but don’t delay when it’s ready. That will guarantee three weeks of solid rain.

Like every job in the garden, there are lots of ways to get a bed ready for asparagus crowns. You can dig a 12- to 18-inch-deep trench and fill it with compost or other organic matter like well-aged animal manure. Or you can build mounds with the same material. I do the former and dump wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of compost on top of a bed. I plant crowns 6-8 inches deep in the soft compost. They will start to sprout after just a few weeks.

The most popular and productive varieties are all male hybrids developed at Rutgers University. ’Jersey Giant,’ ’Jersey Knight’ and ’Jersey Supreme’ outperform the standard heirloom, ’Mary Washington.’

If planted in the spring, even 3-year-old crowns should probably be left alone until the next spring. It’s important that they become established. Once they do, the tasty plants will reliably return each spring. The worst thing gardeners can do is over-harvest. Never remove spears smaller in diameter than a pencil. In established beds, start harvesting as the spears appear and continue for 6-8 eight weeks, then let the bed alone.

Some gardeners harvest asparagus with a knife, cutting the plant just below the soil level. I like to snap off spears by hand, fearing a knife could spread diseases. Also, there’s no need to trim off the tough ends in the kitchen.

One of the most often asked questions on my Sunday morning radio show is what to do about weeds in a mature bed. A good layer of mulch applied before the spears emerge will go a long way toward keeping the bed weed-free. Hand-weeding and adding more mulch as the plants appear helps, too.

When harvesting is over, the plants will unfurl into ferny-looking fronds. These tall stalks will capture sunlight and energy to feed the roots below. They should be left in place until late in the season, when they turn from green to brown. Cut them back just as winter looms. The longer the fronds remain, the better the plant will produce the following spring.

The most bothersome pest is the asparagus beetle. When my kids were little, we’d go out and hand-pick the tiny black larvae, which reduced the populations and was fun, too. The adult beetles will drop to the ground when disturbed. Hold a jar of soapy water under the plants as you hunt and they will be dispatched easily. For those who don’t have time to hand-pick, Capt. Jack’s Dead Bug Brew is a great organic control.

Since the beetles overwinter in plant debris, it’s another good reason to remove the fronds at the end of the season and keep the area around the plants clean.

When I visited Chanticleer in Wayne, Pa., the spears were covered with clay pots to blanch them. This is how you get white spears; they don’t turn green without light. Many people enjoy the milder taste of white spears, but I prefer flavorful, green stalks.

A properly planted asparagus bed will provide decades of thick tasty spears and will act as a legacy for the gardener who planted it.

Doug Oster: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog at Twitter: @dougoster1.

Garlic Asparagus and Pea Pasta

PG tested

Although raw asparagus is my favorite way to enjoy the vegetable, it also goes well with lemon, seafood, chicken and my other favorite garden crop, garlic. It’s also often served with wonderfully decadent, creamy sauces such as Hollandaise.

Use this recipe as a starting point. Make it your own by adding what you love and subtracting what you don’t.

I was taught the technique for “Exploding Garlic” by Donato Coluccio of Donato’s Restaurant in Fox Chapel.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 head of garlic peeled (less if you’re not a garlic fanatic like me); half is minced and the other half chopped roughly

1/4 cup cold chicken stock (plus more to finish if desired)

1 bunch fresh asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups fresh garden peas, shelled, or snow peas

1/2 stick of butter

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound campanelle pasta or a similar variety, cooked al dente and kept warm

1/2 lemon

Heat half (1/8 cup) of the olive oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat.

Add rough-cut garlic and stir constantly for about a minute, then add minced garlic for 30 seconds. If it’s stirred, it will burn and become bitter.

Add cold stock, which stops the garlic from cooking. Set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large, dep frying pan and saute asparagus for a few minutes, depending on desired texture.

Add peas, cooked garlic, butter, salt and pepper and continue cooking until peas are ready — just a few minutes.

Mix with warm pasta and squeeze the lemon over the mixture. Add a little more stock if more liquid is needed.

Serves 4.

— Doug Oster

Asparagus Growing Guide

The arrival of the asparagus season is eagerly awaited each year. The fresh, sweet new shoots seem to appear overnight from the bare soil. Asparagus crowns can be planted from July to December in warmer parts of the country and from September to December in cooler parts of the country.

A native of Europe, Asia, and North Africa, asparagus will produce tall, ferny-looking stems that can reach heights of more than 2m if left to its own devices. Patience is the main resource required when starting an asparagus patch, as it can take a few years for a crop to begin producing enough to feed the family. It’s not a vegetable for the small garden either – it’s a perennial that comes back every year, and it needs space to do so.

Choose a variety:

  • Jersey Giant: produces large spears; the flavour is sweet when the tips are small.
  • Mary Washington: a popular early-season asparagus, widely grown throughout the country.
  • Sweet Purple: a neat-looking dark red or purple variety with a sweet taste when young. Generally only available as seed from catalogues.


Like building a house a good foundation is the key to success in your garden. The better the soil, the better your plants will grow. Cultivate the soil to a spade depth (approximately 30cm) and blend in organic matter like compost or Tui Sheep Pellets to your soil. Water and leave to settle for a month or so prior to planting. Then you can add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix before planting.


The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away.

Mature crowns are available as dormant plants over winter, they are a much quicker option than growing asparagus from seed.

Choose a position in full sun. If planting quite a few crowns dig trenches in the soil to plant in. Plant crowns with their roots facing down 15cm deep and 30cm apart. Rows should be spaced at least 50cm apart. Cover with soil.

Shoots will appear as the soil warms in spring. Keep the soil moist but not wet as asparagus crowns will rot in waterlogged conditions.

Sow the seed

Growing asparagus from seed is a slow yet rewarding process – it takes about three years from sowing to harvest. Sow seed in autumn in a seed raising tray. Seedlings should appear within a month. Allow the seedlings to develop for at least one growing season before planting them out in rows the following season. Transplant the seedlings crowns when they are a year old.

Once established asparagus seems to be happy in a sunny, free draining, moist warm soil. In the winter it dies down to the crown and hides underground until the soil warms up again in spring. The cold winters stimulate new season’s growth.


Feed your plants and they will feed you. Plants use nutrients from the soil as they grow, so replenishing the nutrients ensures your plants grow to their full potential. Feed asparagus plants in spring. Select a fertiliser specially blended for your crop like Tui Vegetable Food or use an all purpose variety, such as Tui NovaTec Premium fertiliser.

Cut back the tall, ferny foliage in autumn.


Keep your garden weed free and protect your plants from the elements with layers of Tui Pea Straw Mulch to help keep their roots moist.

Harvest and storage

  • Harvest asparagus grown from crowns after two seasons. If you have grown asparagus from seed don’t harvest any spears until the third season as the plants need to mature and establish their root systems.
  • Cut asparagus off at ground level with a sharp knife. Don’t be tempted to rip it out of the ground as you will more than likely pull out the whole crown. Eat as soon as possible – the fresher the better – although asparagus will store in the fridge for several days.

What Is Ferning Out – What To Do For Asparagus Ferning Out Early

Cultivated for more than 2,000 years both for culinary and medicinal use, Asparagus is a wonderful perennial veggie to add to the home garden. A versatile vegetable, asparagus can be eaten fresh, raw or cooked, or can be frozen or canned. Keep in mind that a little patience is required before you can dive into your culinary masterpieces. It takes a couple of years of ferning out in asparagus before you can harvest it. What is ferning out and why does asparagus fern out?

What is Ferning Out?

Ferning out in asparagus is sometimes confused with asparagus bolt. Many veggies will bolt during lengthy periods of hot weather. Meaning that plants such as lettuce, broccoli or even rhubarb prematurely send up a flower stalk indicating the plant is finished for the season and has gone to seed. Asparagus bolt is really an incorrect term to describe what is actually happening to the asparagus patch, however.

When asparagus first emerges, slim, tender spears appear. These spears are what we harvest and this part of the life cycle lasts four to six weeks in the second year of planting, six to eight weeks in the third year, continuing at that rate for 15 to 20 years! As the spears mature, they become woody at the base while the tips begin to open and develop into fern-like foliage.

Why Asparagus Ferns Out

So what is the purpose of this ferning out phase in the plant’s life cycle? Ferning out in asparagus is actually a good thing, as it indicates that photosynthesis is being promoted, therefore, nutrition production and absorption increases. During the ferning process, the majority of the energy produced is stored in the roots to facilitate new growth the next year.

As the asparagus ferns out, female spears produce green berries that eventually turn red. These berries/seeds, however, are unlikely to produce new plants.

Why is My Asparagus Ferning Out Early?

Ferning, also referred to as “popping,” is similar to bolting in lettuce, hence the misnomer mentioned above. Just as with plant bolting, asparagus that is ferning out early is most likely the result of temperature and weather conditions. The hotter it is, the more rapidly asparagus “bolts” or ferns out.

While you can do nothing about overly hot temps, asparagus may fern out early due to inadequate rainfall as well, which is something you can control. During times of drought, be sure to water once a week or enough to keep the soil moist 2 inches below the surface.

Plant the asparagus in a raised bed in well-draining soil and mulch around the plants to conserve soil moisture and retard weeds. Once the asparagus has ferned out, cut the foliage back in the fall and mulch heavily with compost to over winter. Remove the mulch in the spring and wait patiently for the delicious, tender shoots to emerge.

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