NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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April 16, 2012 Horticultural Column

Howdy!!!

Well, we are getting fired up to do our weekly horticulture news column.  This column will likely include some chatter but the majority of the content will pertain to gardening.  This past weekend I attended Grand Forks Gardening Saturday and learned a few things to bring back to you, but before I get to that I do need to have a little chatter. 

It is so hard to believe how fast time flies.  It seems only yesterday my kids were in elementary school and now those same kids have children entering elementary.  With time flying by so fast is also an indicator how much older I am getting, along with others I may know.  Sunday mornings’ we usually stop for breakfast after church and Sunday was no exception.  Deb has a cousin named Audrey along with her husband Dave joined us for breakfast.  Audrey was pretty brave and announced that she is now the big 60 and we did have a little fun with that.  In the conversation I did have to remind her that she is a fair bit older than me and that I would never catch her.  Happy belated 60th birthday, Audrey.

One topic of interest at the Grand Forks Gardening Saturday was growing Asparagus.  I have included some tips on planting new asparagus and hope this will help you start a new asparagus bed.

First off lets’ start by starting a new asparagus bed.  I would recommend buying one-year-old, healthy, disease-free crowns from a reputable crown grower. A crown is the root system of a one-year-old asparagus plant that is grown from seed. Each crown can produce 1/2 lb. of spears per year when fully established. Asparagus can be planted from seed. However, caring for the small seedlings until they become established can be time consuming. Also, because the seeds are spaced a few inches apart, the crowns will have to be dug and transplanted to their permanent, wider-spaced location in the garden after one year. Thus, one year of potential spear production is lost due to transplanting.

If you have the option select the all-male hybrid asparagus varieties.  Seeds produced on female plants fall to the ground and become a seedling weed problem in the garden. Female plants also have to expend more energy to produce the seeds that decreases the yields of asparagus spears on female plants. The all-male hybrids will generally out-yield the female varieties.

Asparagus can be planted from mid-April to late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees F. There is no advantage to planting the crowns in cold, wet soils. They will not grow until the soil warms and there is danger of the plants being more susceptible to Fusarium crown rot if crowns are exposed to cold, wet soils over a prolonged period. Plant the asparagus at either the west or north side of the garden so that it will not shade the other vegetables and will not be injured when the rest of the garden is tilled.

Dig a furrow no deeper than 5 to 6 inches. Research has shown that the deeper asparagus crowns are planted, the more the total yield is reduced. Apply about 1 lb. of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate) or 2 lbs. of 0-20-0 (superphosphate) fertilizer per 50 feet of row in the bottom of the furrow before planting. Appling fertilizer is not absolutely necessary but will enhance asparagus yields, however Omitting this procedure will result in decreased yields and the spear production will not be as vigorous.

Toss the crowns into the furrow on top of the fertilizer. The phosphorus fertilizer will not burn the crowns (the application of nitrogen by the crowns will burn the crowns), and the plants will grow regardless of how they land so don't bother to spread the roots. Space the crowns 1-1/2 feet apart in the row. If more than one row is planted, space the rows five feet apart from center to center. Wide between-row spacing is necessary because the vigorously growing fern will fill in the space quickly. Wide spacing also promotes rapid drying of the fern to help prevent the onset of fungus diseases.

After planting, back fill the furrow to its original soil level. It isn't necessary to gradually cover the crowns with a few inches of soil until the furrow is filled in. However, do not compact the soil over the newly filled furrow or the emergence of the asparagus will be severely reduced. Spears should emerge within one week in moist soils.

Do not harvest the asparagus during the planting year. Spears will be produced from expanded buds on the crown. As the spears elongate and reach a height of about 8 to 9 inches, the tips will open. The spear will become woody to support the small branchlets that become ferns. The ferns produce food for the plant and then move it down to the crown for next year's spear production.

Asparagus is very drought tolerant and can usually grow without supplemental watering because it seeks moisture deep in the soil. However, if rainfall is insufficient when planting or afterwards, it is beneficial to irrigate the crowns. Otherwise the plants will become stressed and vigorous growth will be impeded.

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