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Winter Blanket for the Asparagus

Growing asparagus isn’t especially difficult, but it has that reputation. Yes, it’s a little tricky to plant at first. Yes it requires fertile, well-drained soil. Yes it takes a few years to get a decent harvest. However once established, I’ve found asparagus to be relatively low-maintenance, and a true garden favorite. There are a couple key practices to remember though when you put your bed to bed for the winter.

Parts of the Asparagus Plant

Like its cousins the onions, Asparagus officinalis is a member of the Liliaceae or lily family. It’s been cultivated since ancient times. Asparagus is a dioecious, which means there are distinct male and female plants. In recent decades, the all-male hybrid varieties from New Jersey (like the “Jersey Giant”) have become very popular. Male plants produce a greater number of spears, and no berries which eventually germinate and become like hard-to-pull weeds. Asparagus does not compete well with weeds. Weeding the bed is generally by hand because any deep cultivation can damage the asparagus. Neglected, weedy beds do very poorly. Asparagus plants have three parts, the top (fern), the crown (just under the surface where the buds form), and the roots (below the crown). The fern creates energy which is stored in the crown. The more energy and nutrition stored in the crown during the summer and fall, the more spears in the spring.

Asparagus Ferns Cut in Late Fall

Asparagus Ferns Cut - Ready to Mulch

That’s why it is important not to cut back the ferns until November when they’ve completely browned and lost all viability. In fact, it is always the last act of my gardening season. I like to cut the the ferns a few inches above the surface, pull any weeds, and then cover the bed with a good 6 inches of lightweight mulch. I use composted wood shavings from the chicken coop. It is excellent fertilizer and not too heavy. The cut fern stubs help hold the mulch over the crowns, providing a good insulating layer against the winter cold. Healthy and robust crowns are really the key to growing asparagus. By next growing season, nutrients from the manure will have leached-in, and the thick layer of  shavings will be mostly composted and reduced. Each year the bed does get a little more raised, but that’s a good thing. It makes for better drainage which is important for the asparagus roots.

The Asparagus Bed Ready for Winter

A well-maintained asparagus bed will be productive for 20 years or more. There aren’t too many cultivated plants which can claim that. With just a little proper care in the fall, you will be rewarded by many juicy green spears when spring comes around. Asparagus can be that easy.

10 Responses to “Winter Blanket for the Asparagus”

  • Andy says:

    I used to hunt pheasant in an asparagus field in NJ 30 years ago. It had been planted decades before, and the only maintenance it saw was to be burned off each year as soon as the snow melted. I think the minimal maintenance made for some thin crops of asparagus, but the field was thick with birds. As far as I know, it’s still a going pick-your-own operation.

  • Becky says:

    Just wondering if one could plant aspargus in an above ground frame work say 2ft wide by 12ft long? My ground is not the greatest so I have to gardening in pots or wooden frame work.

    • Butternut Valley Farm says:

      Sure, I’ve heard of asparagus growing in raised beds. I guess there would be a couple things to consider. Asparagus roots reach down 5 feet or more. I assume you’re not going to build your bed that high, so you’ll want at least some permeable soil under there. An asparagus bed is a longterm comitment, so build the bed to last. I’ve seen cinder blocks used for sides. The most serious consideration though could be frost. Depending on where you live, this might be a big factor. We’re talking about a perennial obviously. A 2 foot wide bed will warm up rapidly above ground level, but by the same token it will cool down. That’s not alot of soil mass to ward off freeze damage to the crowns. You might need to put some secondary insulation around the sides and top of the bed, haybales, plastic, etc. Good luck. Let us know how you do.

  • This was so helpful…I have been trying to grow this in Ms. I am not having good luck but now I maybe will do better. Thanks again.

  • Jenny Schultz says:

    I had moles digging up the asparagus bed this spring.
    Could this be the cause of a aparse harvest this year?

    Thanks for your opinion.

  • Sarah Wojciechowski says:

    I haveasparagusin raised beds and have dine pretty well. I have wondered what to do inthe fall so now with this new informattion I think I should really have a great tear2013 . thanks

  • Brenda Sorel says:

    We just planted a new bed this year in Connecticut. Is the method any different to prepare for winter for a new bed? Any information you can give me would be appreciated.

  • Joanne Verwey says:

    This fall I am going to do the right thing by my sole asparagus plant of two summers and cut it down as late in the season as possible (it has never been cut). That means pre-snowfall that stays in order to get down that 6-inch layer of mulch. I now appreciate its importance vis-à-vis the crowns so much more. I have learned from you that mine is a female plant with its plentiful berries that had me a little bewildered. I count 20-25 spears with less than 10 of edible diameter (I have great patience but now perhaps I can anticipate a wee delectable harvest understanding the plant a little better. The only weed I discern may be its one spear that has no fern coverage whatsoever. Thank you for becoming my most beneficial resource and maybe the only resource I will consult before grilling my first spears next spring. If I do I will be grateful to Butternut Valley Farm.

  • Theresa (Fairfax, VT) says:

    I am new to gardening and bought a small (6 inch sq) pot of asparagus this year. Stuck it in the ground all together and then was told more about growing asparagus. So now I have this bunch together with about 2 feet or so tall ferns. My question is, don’t I have to separate these less than pencil size stalks so they will grow next year? It doesn’t look like I should leave them all bunched together. Probably shouldn’t have from the start? I love asparagus and trying to “go green”, but all of this is confusing LOL Composting took me a year to get under control, but that seems to be going great! Thanks for your help. Theresa

  • JPaul says:

    Theresa -
    It sounds like you only got a single “crown” (ie plant) when you purchased it. I doubt the sellers would have fit more than one in a 6″ pot. If it is only a single crown, you DO NOT have to separate the spears. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see that many spears will emerge from a single crown. This is normal for the plant. If you like where it is, and it’s growing well (the first year can be a bit slow…), I’d just leave it in the ground and not worry about it.

    I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you’d (carefully!) remove some of the dirt near the base of the plant, you’d see that all the spears are connected to a big mass (the crown). If they’re not connected, then, yes, you could potentially separate them, but be very careful and make sure they’re not part of the same plant and that you get as much of the root system as possible.

    I’m still pretty new to this as well, but I’ve managed to transplant 2 year old plants. They were planted as crowns from the local store and in the ground for a season when i decided I didn’t like where they were. I moved them (about 6 crowns total) but I was careful to get as much of the root system I could, which, by then, had already grown out to about a 3 ft diameter circle for each plant – lots of soil to move. They’ve done wonderfully this summer and hopefully I’ll get a small harvest next spring. Just remember not to harvest all of the plant. By late spring, you’ll want to let the ferns grow out again so you can continue to harvest for many years.
    -JP, Western Washington

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