Asparagus – Appropriate Planting ...and Several Years… Leads to Success!!… …
Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client's Request: I am aware that asparagus is a 2/3/4th year veggie. I am a patient person. However, I am not so talented, or patient enough to start from scratch. Can you recommend a place where I can get starting stock?
In Contra Costa County, the best time to start with asparagus crowns is from mid-January through March. At that time of year, you should be able to find asparagus crowns in the local nurseries. If not, you can also order them online and have them shipped to your home. If you need to find an online source, just do an Internet search for “where to purchase asparagus crowns” and you'll find plenty of sources. Seeds are easy to find in local nurseries.
Perhaps it may be useful for me to make a few suggestions based on my personal experience with growing asparagus. I started my current asparagus bed in Pleasant Hill three years ago. I planted asparagus crowns in February. Most of the crowns grew well, but I had a few areas in my bed where the crowns didn't start producing sprouts. I decided to fill in those areas by planting seeds in mid-May. Those seeds did germinate and produced small plants.
The plants started from seeds are still well behind the ones which had sprouted from the crowns. Starting this year, I did my first harvesting from the crown generated plants. The areas where I used the seeds produced spears, but they were much more spindly (only about a ¼ in diameter) as compared to the ones that came from the crowns which were very robust and between ½ inch and ¾ inch in diameter.
I will probably need to wait at least another year and perhaps two years before the seed started plants are ready for harvest. Nonetheless, I am not sorry that I used the seeds. Had I waited to buy more crowns the following January, those plants would also still be behind the ones I started three years ago. And it would have been tricky to plant additional crowns in the bare spots since crowns need to be planted deeply and lowering the soil depth to put in additional crowns would have disturbed those that were already growing.
I did learn a few lessons from planting my current asparagus bed. Maybe I can save you from making the same mistakes by recounting those lessons learned. First off, take the time to select a good location for your asparagus bed and then prepare it well. Before I moved to Pleasant Hill, I lived in Oakand and had been harvesting asparagus for nearly ten years. I had no problems getting the bed started in Oakland and thought I would find it equally easy in Pleasant Hill. In Oakland, I had planted the asparagus in a raised bed. In Pleasant Hill, I first tried growing it directly in my native soils. I didn't do much to improve those soils and the plants never did well. I even tried two different locations in my garden (after deciding that the first location was too shaded). After those two failures (and wasting three years of time), I finally decided to dedicate one of my raised beds and make it an asparagus bed.
I spent more time preparing the raised bed than I had spent in soil preparation for the first two planting areas I tried. The soil mixture that I used in my raised beds is a fairly sandy mixture. It drains much better than the native soil garden area. That is a good thing for the asparagus which grows best in well drained soils. Because my raised bed had been filled with the soil mixture, I also had to remove excess soil before planting the crowns. The crowns need to be planted about eight to ten inches deep initially. Additional soil is added to the bed as the plants grow, eventually filling the bed to its normal soil depth.
I also installed an automated drip system in the raised bed. Particularly in its first year, asparagus needs to be regularly watered and the automatic system made it easier for me to insure that it got the water it needed. The third try at a bed appears to have done the trick and I expect to be able to harvest my asparagus for many years to come. It was definitely worth the time I spent to finally get a producing bed.
You can find some additional information about growing asparagus in this University of California publication: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/asparagus_growingasparagus.pdf
Good luck with your asparagus bed.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (TKL)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, although we will be moving this spring. We will notify you if/when that occurs. We can also be reached via telephone: (925)646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/)