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In The Garden: Fresh Asparagus Anyone?

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Fresh asparagus shoots make for a warm spring welcome! Photos Leslie Halleck
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In The Garden: Fresh Asparagus Anyone?

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Yes, yes, I know we just survived our annual Icepocalypse. But that doesn’t mean that gardening stops in Dallas! If I didn’t crack my gardening whip and tell you to hop out of that gardening armchair, you just might miss out on planting some of the most desirable homegrown veggies. Specifically, asparagus.  Asparagus needs to go in the ground before mid-March.

There aren’t many perennial vegetables we have the luxury of growing here in Dallas. Asparagus is an exception that can establish and produce for up to twenty years. When harvested and prepared fresh, you’ll enjoy spears that are much more tender and flavorful. While there are some tricks to growing great asparagus, overall it’s less challenging than you might expect. Basically, asparagus needs climates that have a hard freeze in the winter (check). They tolerate high soil pH, which we have here in Dallas (check). They also need lots of sun (double check). Beyond the basics, there are a few more tips for planting a great stand of asparagus.

Halleck_Asparagus_purple
Looking for something unusual? Try asparagus ‘Purple Passion’.

Remember that your asparagus can live in the same spot for 20 years or more and it doesn’t like to share. Dedicate a sunny raised bed just for your asparagus in a sunny location. While you’ll read that asparagus tolerates some shade, I’ve found that without a good 6 hours of direct sun, plants can become thin and weak. Asparagus likes being in a spot where the late-winter sun will warm up the soil early on. Loosen the soil with plenty of organic compost, some composted manure and expanded shale.

You’ll buy asparagus crowns bare-root from your local garden center now. Look for 1 or 2 year-old crowns. You won’t be able to harvest your asparagus until the 4th season in the ground, so 1 or 2 year crowns will give you a jump start.

Soak your crowns for about 20 minutes before you plant. Dig trenches in your bed 12-inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. Spread the roots out, growing point up, and set in trench about 1-2 feet apart. Back fill your soil and mulch the bed. Keep the beds weeded as asparagus doesn’t like competition. Asparagus is a heavy Nitrogen feeder so be sure to fertilizer well through the growing season. Keep consistently moist in summer, but not wet. Know that asparagus plants grow into 5-foot tall feathery plants…so give them some space!

If you like to experiment, you may want want to grow an heirloom variety or a purple-stalked variety like ‘Purple Passion’.

Now, this is just a quick asparagus primer. Be sure to stop by your local garden center for all the best tips and tricks to growing fantastic fresh asparagus.