Growing Guide
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Vegetable (Cool Season) - Other

Asparagus officianalis
Liliaceae Family

Among the earliest crops in spring, plantings of this hardy perennial can last for decades if well cared for, and the fine foliage makes it a natural for edible landscaping. The tender spears are tastiest when eaten as soon as possible after harvest.

Site Characteristics
  • full sun
  • part shade

Soil conditions:

  • tolerates acid soil
  • tolerates droughty soil
  • requires well-drained soil
Prefers loose, deep soils high in organic matter. Prefers pH near 7.0, but tolerates a wide range. Add lime and fertilizer before establishment.

Hardiness zones:

  • 2 to 8
Plant Traits

Lifecycle: perennial

Ease-of-care: moderately difficult

Height: 5 to 9 feet

Spread: 2 to 2.5 feet

Flower color: green

Small, yellowish green. Older varieties such as Mary Washington have male and female flowers on separate plants. Male flowers are larger and longer than female.

Foliage color: light green

Foliage texture: fine

Fernlike, finely dissected.

Shape: upright

Tall with fern-like fronds.

Shape in flower: same as above

Special Considerations
  • salt
Special characteristics:
  • not native to North America - Mediterranean.
  • bears ornamental fruit - Small, bright red berries on the open-pollinated cultivars only.
Special uses:
  • edible landscaping
Growing Information
How to plant:

Propagate by seed, division or separation - Purchase disease-free, 1-year-old crowns for planting. Divide plants in early spring, if desired. Asparagus can also be grown from seed, but requires an extra year to establish.

Germination temperature: 70 F to 77 F

Days to emergence: 10 to 12

Seed can be saved 3 years.

Maintenance and care:
Carefully consider site before planting this long-lived perennial. Test soil and apply phosphorus, potassium and lime as indictated before planting. Avoid frost pockets as late killing frosts will damage spears.

Plant crowns 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost, 18 to 24 inches apart in trenches 8 inches deep. (5 inches deep for Jersey series cultivars.) Spread roots in bottom of trench and cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil. Gradually cover with more soil as the plants grow.

Do not cut back ferns in fall until they die naturally.

For highest yields, plant all-male hybrids, such as the Jersey series from Rutgers University (Jersey Giant, Jersey King, Jersey Knight). If using older varieties, such as Martha Washington, you can identify the less productive female plants at flowering and replace them with male plants. The flowers on male plants are larger and longer than the female flowers, have six stamens and a small nonfunctional pistil. The female flowers have six small nonfunctional pistils and a well developed, three-lobed stamen.

Water during dry spells during the first year. Do not overwater as plants don’t tolerate water-logged soils.

To blanch asparagus, carefully hill soil over spears or grow under opaque buckets or row covers.

Midsummer mulching with hay, straw, leaves or grass clippings helps control weeds and keep soil from drying out. (Be careful not to bring in weed seeds with your mulch.) Regular applications of compost or well-rotted manure provide a steady source of nutrients.

Weeds can be challenging. Keep plantings well cultivated and mulched to prevent weeds from getting established. Mulch heavily around plantings to keep spreading weeds such as quackgrass from invading. While plants are salt-tolerant, the old practice of using salt to kill weeds is not recommended. With older varieties that are not all-male, weed out volunteer plants from females that set seed.

Asparagus beetles (common and spotted) - Handpick in small plantings.
Fusarium wilt, crown rot - Use disease-free crowns or seed. If you are starting with seedlings, do not overharvest. Rogue plants that are severely diseased. Remove and discard or destroy entire infested plant along with immediately surrounding soil and soil clinging to roots.

Other diseases: Rust (Puccinia aparagi)

Browse asparagus varieties at our Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website.

Varieties recommended for New York include:

Jersey Knight and Jersey King - Widely adapted, do well in warm climates.
Jersey Giant - Good for colder regions.

The Jersey series from Rutgers University in New Jersey features hybrids with all-male plants and good resistance to rust and fusarium crown- and root-rots. Yields two to three times more than open-pollinated varieties.