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ABC’s of asparagus

Asparagus is bundled to be sold.
Asparagus is bundled to be sold.

TIPTON, Ind. — Asparagus is a crop that’s fairly easy to grow in your home garden, if you know the basics.

Amanda Baird, Purdue Extension educator in Tipton County, led a webinar about the plant.

“Asparagus is a very early spring crop,” she explained. “It can be one of the first crops you get in the garden. It can be grown through June. It’s a long-lived perennial crop.

“One of the best things I love about asparagus is that you plant it one time, and you can have a healthy asparagus patch for 15 or more years. Asparagus, once it’s started, is easy to manage.”

Growers may encounter weeds, but will generally see less insect and disease pressure compared to other vegetables.

“Weed control can be the biggest issue in asparagus patches,” Baird said. “We can do hand pulling or hoeing. We can cultivate very carefully in between rows or on the top 1 to 2 inches.

“We can add 2 to 4 inches of mulch, or use pre-emergence herbicides. Do not use salt as a weed killer.”

Asparagus grows well in many different soil types, from sandy to clay soils.

Good drainage is a must. A soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is ideal. It does not do well with a pH of less than 6.

“Asparagus is a medium-heavy feeder,” Baird said. “It requires annual nitrogen in late winter or very early spring.”

Baird advised applying 1 pound of 0-42-0 fertilizer, or 2 pounds of 0-20-0 fertilizer per 50 feet.

Planting Tips

• Plant throughout Indiana from early April to late May.

• Soil temperatures should be around 50 degrees.

• Plant them at either the west or north side of the garden to prevent shading.

• The plant enjoys full sun, 6 to 8 hours.

• Buy 1-year-old healthy, disease free crowns.

• Dig furrows 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide.

• Crowns should be 18 inches apart in the row.

• Rows should be 5 feet apart from center to center.

For many growers, harvest will be from about mid-April to mid-June. It’s important not to harvest asparagus the first year you plant it.

“Harvest in the morning,” Baird advised. “If spears are left out in hot, summer afternoons, they can start to be very perishable.

“Early in the season you’ll harvest 7 to 9 inch spears. Later in the season they may be 5 to 7 inch spears.”

Once a grower sees spears less than a pencil size in diameter, it’s a sign to stop harvesting the crop.

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