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Winter is perfect time to start an asparagus patch

Published 8:37pm Monday, January 6, 2014

By Jacob Searcy

If you love fresh vegetables straight from the garden but don’t have time to plant crops each year, consider starting an asparagus patch. Asparagus is a perennial plant that will continue to produce spears from the same roots for a good ten to fifteen years.

Mid-January through mid-March is the time to set out dormant asparagus roots or crowns, which can be purchased from garden centers or online suppliers in January and February. Plant five plants per household asparagus eater (e.g., to have enough fresh asparagus in the garden to supply a family of four, you’ll need twenty asparagus plants in your patch).

Choose a site with good drainage and full sun, and amend the soil with weed-free compost or aged manure. (The soil should have adequate amounts of phosphorus and a pH that is between 6.0 and 7.0.) Dig a trench 6 inches to 8 inches deep and 12 inches to 18 inches wide, and set out the crowns so that they are 15 inches to 18 inches from each other. Cover the crowns with 2 inches of soil. As the plants grow, add more soil (2 inches at a time), so that the solid, thick crown of the plant remains growing just below the soil level.

The first year, to encourage the growth of strong roots, mulch and liberally water the plants and refrain from harvesting any of the spears. The plants will send up 4-foot to 5-foot fern growth during the summer, which encourages the crown and roots to grow abundant spears the next year. During the spring of the second year, when the newly emerging spears grow to 7 inches to 9 onches tall, harvest for just two weeks and then stop. Leave any subsequent emerging spears unpicked to encourage fern growth and strengthen the plant for the next year’s crop. The harvesting period can be increased to four weeks in the third year, six weeks in the fourth year, and eight weeks from the fifth year on.

Expect to pick spears every two or three days in cool weather and then daily during warmer spells. Asparagus is drought-tolerant but should be watered as needed during dry spells. To ensure a good yield, add an organic or slow-release fertilizer (1.5 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) in early spring and a layer of weed-free compost after each harvest period.

The information for this article is given courtesy of the Beaufort County Extension Master Gardener program. If you have a gardening question, please contact the Beaufort Extension Master Gardener hotline at 946-0111 or email your question to: jacob_searcy@ncsu.edu

For local horticulture updates, follow me on Twitter: Jacob Searcy@BeaufortCo_Hort

Gardening calendar for January

Lawn care

Use a slow-releasing fertilizer on cool-season lawns if you choose to do so.

Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn.

Fertilizing

Spread ashes from the fireplace around gardens and bulb beds where soil pH is below 6.0. Avoid acid-loving plants. (Three pounds of ash equals one pound of limestone.)

Now is the time to put out limestone if needed (it takes about three months for lime to change the soil’s pH).

Fertilize houseplants as needed.

Planting

Asparagus crowns can be planted at this time.

Propagation

Hardwood cuttings of many landscape plants like forsythia (yellow bells), flowering quince, weigela, crape myrtle, juniper, spirea and hydrangea can be taken this month.

Pruning

Prune grape vines.

Any dead or diseased wood can be pruned out any time of the year.

Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.

Spraying

None

Other activities

Poinsettias should be placed in the sunniest room in the house.

If you have received your soil recommendations, apply lime as suggested. Don’t apply fertilizer until spring.

Order fruit trees and grape vines now if you wish to plant them in February and March.

Continue putting the leaves from your yard into a compost bin.

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