What are the stages of growing asparagus?
Asparagus is a perennial crop that, once established, returns every year with new, tender spears to be harvested. In addition to the edible spears, gardeners love them for the ornamental foliage they produce.
Figuring out all the stages of growing asparagus is the key to a rewarding experience. But for many newbie asparagus growers, the vital questions are what are these stages and how does understanding the various stages translate into a rich harvest?
These and more are what we would be discussing in this article. Whatever the case though, keep in mind that growing asparagus is not as complicated as it looks. You’d discover that sticking to the right techniques coupled with a huge dose of patience are what you’d need. For some gardeners, patience is literally the most important factor when growing asparagus.
Stages of Growing Asparagus
There are several varieties of asparagus and all can be grown in most temperate regions. But they thrive best in regions that are cooler and have long winters. Winter is when they go into dormancy in preparation for the following spring’s growing season.
One of the most crucial things about growing asparagus (this is where patience plays out) is that they can’t be harvested in the first couple of years. It takes at least two years for most varieties to be established enough for harvest.
Once beyond the established stage though, all your patience becomes worthwhile and you’d get why so many gardeners love these perennials. At this point, you can rest easy and keep harvesting the spears for over ten years, and even up to 30 years in some cases, with minimal care.
Because of this long productive period, it is important to plant the very best variety at the initial stage.
And talking about stages, there are basically 3 primary stages when it comes to growing asparagus. These are the planting, care/maintenance, and harvesting stages. A secondary stage is the dormancy period that occurs every winter after the growing season.
All the stages are pretty straightforward as long as the right conditions are in place.
Let’s now take a detailed look at each stage and unravel the magic of growing asparagus.
1. Asparagus Planting Stage
This stage is where any decision you take would affect everything else going forward. Things like where to grow the asparagus, asparagus variety to plant, whether to use raised beds, garden beds, containers, or pots, and whether to use seedlings or crowns are to be considered carefully.
First off, you don’t want to plant your asparagus in pots or containers. The only mitigating factor is if you don’t have enough garden or outdoor space.
To be clear, asparagus can flourish in pots or containers with the right care; and like growing them in the garden, the process isn’t complicated.
But the major limitation with growing container asparagus is linked to the number of years you can harvest the spears. Matured asparagus in containers have a limit of not more than five years harvest at the best of times. Garden asparagus though would give at least ten years of harvest.
So if you have enough garden space, don’t limit yourself with containers or pots.
Let’s look at other factors to consider under the planting phase.
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Soil – The garden soil or raised bed should have good drainage with a soil pH between 6.5 and 7.5. For container planting, using a potting mix is highly recommended for best results.
And whether garden or in containers, the soil must be exposed to between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight daily. This could be another mitigating factor for using containers if your garden can’t get enough sunlight. The pots or containers can be moved to a spot that gets the requisite daily exposure to sunlight.
Planting seeds – You can start your asparagus garden by planting seeds. The best time is in early spring.
You could plant the seeds indoors in late winter and later take them outdoors to transplant after the last frost. Transplant them when the sprouts are about 12 inches tall. With proper care, the plant would mature in fall.
Male asparagus varieties are preferred whether your planting in containers or garden bed.
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Planting Crowns – Using crowns to start your asparagus removes about a year from the time it would for the plant to mature and be ready for harvest. The crowns are young asparagus about a year old.
While you need just a small hole in the soil to plant seeds, you’d need a mini trench about 8″ deep and 18″ wide to plant the crowns. When planting the crowns, spread the roots carefully before covering each crown with garden soil.
2. Care and Maintenance Stage
This stage would last at least 2 years leading up to the harvest. For experienced gardeners, it’s simply the usual plant care & management routine but for an extended period.
As with most crops, this stage entails watering, weeding, fertilization when necessary, mulching, trimming of dead foliage, etc. Essentially, just your regular plant care and maintenance routine.
Water – In the first couple of years, your asparagus would need about 2 inches of water. The sticking point is that the soil must always remain moist or never be allowed to dry out. So how often you water the plants might depend on the weather conditions. You can use drip irrigation if you don’t have the time to water the plants manually.
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Fertilizer – All asparagus varieties love their nutrients and would thrive when there is a steady supply of the right fertilizer. Experts recommend using organic fertilizer in the growing season. Remember to read the instructions carefully to get a hang of how to use the plant food.
Weeds – While the asparagus is growing, expect to deal with weeds throughout the two years. This is unavoidable. Weed control is important for optimal growth because weeds have perfected the art of sucking vital nutrients from the soil.
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It is advisable to carefully remove sprouting weeds with your hands so as not to disturb the asparagus roots. Later, as the plants mature, the weed situation would not be a major issue
Mulch – Mulching is an aspect of weed and water management. By smothering the soil with the right mulch, weeds can be prevented from growing and invading your garden. Also, mulching helps the soil to stay moist longer especially when the weather is hot and dry. Grass clippings or compost work best as mulch.
Trimming – Trimming dead foliage is also part of the management routine in the first two years. The smart move is to trim out these dead foliage about a couple of inches above the ground. Preventing and control of asparagus diseases and pests are two critical benefits of cutting dead foliage.
3. Harvesting stage
Asparagus get to the harvesting stage about 2 years after the planting stage. This is the culmination of all the patience of the last 24 months.
Resist the temptation to harvest them earlier because the plants need that length of time to establish the root system. With the root system set, you can continue harvesting the spears every year for at least 10 years in the growing season.
Asparagus plants are ready for harvest when the spears are 8 – 10 inches high. However, some folks prefer harvesting when the spears are between 5 and 6 inches tall because these are more tender. The thickness of the ready-to-harvest spear is between half an inch and ¾ of an inch.
Another important point is to harvest before the tips start to get loose. Beyond this point, the asparagus would become too tough to be edible.
The actual harvesting is straightforward. Simply use a sharp object (knife, scissors, pruner, etc) to cut the spears close to ground level.
The harvesting period can last up to 3 weeks for young asparagus and 8 weeks for older plants. It is best to check the plants daily for harvestable spears because the spears grow very quickly.
Keep harvesting and stop only when the thickness of the asparagus spear is less than half an inch in diameter.
There are also several post-harvest practices to ensure each plant continues to thrive for several years. These include:
- Fertilize the asparagus after harvest in early summer with organic fertilizer or compost
- Allow the ferns to grow. This helps replenish the plant nutrients that would be used in the next growing season
- You can cut the ferns to the ground only after the foliage dies in winter and the plant goes into dormancy. The stem would grow back again next spring to restart the growth circle.
The nutritious and tasty asparagus vegetable is quite easy to grow. It might seem complicated at first due to the length of time of about two years it takes to mature and be ready for harvest.
With patience and an understanding of all the stages of growing asparagus, you should be harvesting the healthy spears every year for at least a decade. However, the number of years you can harvest asparagus is reduced to about 5 when grown in containers or pots.
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