When I was kid, my aunt had a mature asparagus patch that would reward both her, and the many of us that lived near to her, with delicious spears every May. I had the pleasure of accompanying her on a few trips into the ‘patch’ which had to be carefully navigated. She had grown her’s from seed and in its maturity was a compilation of what she had sown and what it had sown over the years.
Hence there was no real order to things. Plants could be anywhere in the 5′ x 50′ row, so you had to be especially careful where you put a foot. It was a little like weeding and walking an asparagus Twister Board.
By the time I was walking the patch with her, it was about 15 years old, therefore we were walking soil that had 15 or more year’s worth of manure and mulch. The soil was dark, aerated, rich goodness; like plodding your way through a row of coffee grounds. She was a fast gardener my aunt Amelia. Mulching wasn’t a spreading chore, it was a dumping chore, so when I say 15 years of mulch and manure, think 15 years of whole-wheelbarrow-loads of cow manure dumped right on top. It’s a wonder things weren’t drowned.
My bed is an homage to Aunt Amelia with the following improvements. Firstly, my ground drains very well. I placed the site on the graveyard of an old stream, so the soil beneath my patch is a 5 foot thick bed of riverstone. Secondly, I have a never-goes-out wood burning stove, so I have access to a vast supply of wood ash…an alkaline favorite of asparagus, rich in potassium and trace minerals. Thirdly, my patch contains the unmatched purple variety of asparagus that in my experience out produces the green kind in flavor, hardiness and quantity.
Male Asparagus Plants
Asparagus is dioecious, meaning that some plants are female and others are male. Each sends up asparagus stalks, that later open into fern-like fronds, that soon after that, erupt into flowers (bees love em), but the female plants are the ones that develop asparagus berries (and seeds) and the male flowers are the pollen producers. The stalks of both plants taste identical, but the male plants are preferred over the female ones for two reasons. Firstly, male plants send up more shoots so they are more productive. The photo at the top of this page is a male plant and you can see the many stalks emerging from one root base. Secondly, since male plants will not produces seeds, it’s less likely that your patch will be overrun by a the offspring of female plants as shown here.
How To Plant Asparagus
Before planting my bed, I did a good deal of reading on what to do, reviewing stuff I saw on line as well as material that had been written by various state extension offices. Here is a summary of some of the stand out techniques I read about, all of which I’ve tried or not tried, without much discernible difference in the outcome. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do for your plants are: make sure that the bed has good drainage, plant them in a relatively deep hole (at least 8 inches down) and feed them before and after harvest (I use 10-10-10).
- Dig a trench 1 foot deep
- Sprinkle superphospate in the hole (0-60-0) to give the roots plenty of phosphate to draw from over the years that they produce
- Fan the roots out like an octopus when you place them in the bed
- Fill the hole in gradually as the plants emerge
As I said earlier, I’ve tried some of the above in all kinds of combinations. In my experience, asparagus, is pretty easy to grow provided the soil drains well. It’s likely that you could just dump the roots in the dirt and they would emerge just fine, though I do believe it has been shown that more-deeply buried plant roots produce fatter spears.
The bed as it looks today.
I love photographing it!