How to Grow Asparagus

Establish an asparagus bed and reap rewards for years.

| September/October 2010

Grilling Asparagus

Grilling fresh asparagus creates a sizzling and delicious side dish for your next picnic. Puccio

In some parts of the country it grows wild, and in others it is a significant cash crop. Word of its first appearance, whether in the garden, grocery store or fencerow, creates a wave of whispers among friends eager to experience that sumptuous springtime flavor. I’m talking about asparagus, not some elusive springtime mushroom. A harbinger of longer days and delicious dinners, asparagus is a wonderful spring sight, and it has been for centuries; following is all you need to know about how to grow asparagus.

Records indicate asparagus is one of the earliest vegetables humans ever cultivated. It is thought to have been first grown by the Macedonians in approximately 200 B.C., and appears in Egyptian tomb drawings as early as 4000 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it for medicinal purposes; the Greeks believed it was a cure-all for nearly every ailment. It spread throughout Europe when the conquering Romans brought it with them to foreign lands. In France in the 1600s, King Louis XIV ordered greenhouses built for it to suit his lover’s belief that it improved his prowess behind closed doors. From Europe, asparagus was brought to the newly formed American colonies, and entrenched itself both in the wild and in our gardens.

Packed with minerals and vitamins, asparagus is a powerhouse among vegetables, delivering a more complete balance of nutrients than any other. It’s teeming with good things such as vitamins A, B6 and C, with iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. High in fiber and low in carbohydrates, asparagus contains no fat, no cholesterol and has only 20 calories per ½-cup serving.

A serving also provides more folic acid and glutathione than any other vegetable. A single serving of asparagus has more than half the recommended daily allowance of the folic acid needed for blood cell formation, prevention of liver disease and decreased risk of neural tube birth defects. Studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute found glutathione, a potent cancer-fighting agent, to be higher in asparagus than any other food tested.

Cultivate an interest

The place of asparagus as a nutrient-rich vegetable can’t be disputed, but for a vegetable that has been cultivated for millennia, there are plenty of differing opinions about how to grow it – ranging from what type of soil to what the optimum pH level of that soil should be; how much water it requires, when to harvest, how to harvest and what size spears are the best. Even the proper way to eat asparagus is the subject of heated discussion. All of this conflicting information might make growing asparagus seem daunting to the home gardener, but all it takes is some preparation and patience. Considering the health benefits it provides, and also the price of fresh asparagus in markets, it is well worth the effort to grow your own. 

Asparagus, a member of the Lily family, is one of only a few perennial vegetables. Its name, from the Greek word asparogos, means shoot or sprout. When most vegetable seedlings are too tender to plant outside, or still but a seed containing a dream, asparagus is already thrusting its delectable spears through the spring soil. A bed of asparagus is sometimes called a “lifetime planting.” The plants can yield spears for an average of 15 to 20 years, and sometimes for as long as 50 years, although the spears tend to get smaller as the plants age.

7/6/2014 9:05:55 AM

We will be moving and I'm so sad to leave my newly planted asparagus. It it now summer. I just planted the crowns in the spring and already have small spears and ferns growing. We are only in the beginning stages of moving so we do not know how much longer we have in this house. My question is, can I dig up the crowns and store them somewhere? And if so, when is the best time for this? I was thinking that I could dig them up in the fall and store them in a bucket (??) or black garbage bag (??) in a cool dry place until we get to the new house and plant them either in the spring or fall, depending on when we move. Is this feasible? Can you dig the crowns up and have them wait patiently for you to replant? I hope so. I know it's only been a couple of months but I've grown attached to them. They feel like my babies :( Please help.

11/25/2013 3:20:15 PM

I just received some asparagus crowns in the mail. Is it too late to plant these now or should I wait until spring. I live in Central indiana and we have experienced some cold temps and the crown is somewhat frozen at the surface.

Judy Williams
9/16/2012 5:13:47 PM

Is it normal to have a 2nd crop in one season? After the severe drought we had this yr we now are getting as much if not more than we had earlier.

Jim Minor
8/29/2012 1:45:51 PM

I just purchased my first plant from a store 60 days ago and planted it in a large pot. It is growing incredibly fast. Thanks to your article I will resist the temptation to sample the spears that are growing among the ample ferns. A recipe I came up with to cook asparagus is also very simple. I marinade it in a mixture of toasted sesame oil and Montreal seasoning then cook it on the grill for about 6 minutes. My kids will fight over the last few spears which is unusual for kids and vegetables.

6/20/2012 2:38:38 PM

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5/31/2012 8:27:09 PM

I planted my first asparagus plants this spring. They look like ferns, do I need to do anything to the plants before autumn comes to town. I tasted the little ferns tops.Can't wait till next spring!

Richard Alexander
5/25/2012 2:16:50 AM

Thanks for the article. I didn't know anything about growing asparagus when I bought my first crowns a few years ago, and most of what I knew prior to reading this article came from observing the crowns I planted. I've never tried to grown anything like asparagus; I wasn't even sure which way to put it in the ground! Amazingly, a few of those plants are still alive. Some YouTube videos helped a bit. Now, I'm planting a new row, and I'm going try doing better this time.

Barb Marvin
5/15/2012 11:06:58 PM

What can I do with a bed that has been overtaken by grass and weeds. Would it be good to till it a little in the fall and add some sand. Or just mow it down in the fall and mulch with leaves.

Jason Grover
5/5/2012 2:57:32 PM

Great article should help me with my asparagus

4/12/2012 3:21:28 AM

No, Yadatore, don't cut them - let them grow all summer. The ferns contain chlorophyll that provides energy for the plant; the plant uses that energy to produce a bigger crown. A bigger crown means you'll have a bigger harvest. I suspect the crown you planted last summer is still too young to produce (many) edible spears. It's a typical practice to wait 2 to 3 years after planting to harvest asparagus.

yadatore chandrashekhar
4/10/2012 7:08:58 PM

mine is not at all like what is shown in the pictures. I planted some crowns last summer and this spring some have emerged to be like 2' tall with braces (ferns I guess, they call them) not short stubby ones. what am I supposed to with the tall ones" cut them?

11/28/2011 2:29:46 PM

I live in Hawaii, so there is not even a mild winter for the asparagus to "rest". Any suggestions for me re this specific climate?

Cindy Murphy
10/16/2010 8:30:13 PM

Tom! I'm sorry your question went unanswered for so long, but I just noticed it. Yes, you can transplant already established asparagus, but it's no easy task; it's downright difficult, actually. A crown that's been in the ground for 4 years will most likely be huge, with an extensive and deep root system. Start by determining exactly how large it is; this may take some ginger exploration in the soil, probbing around to find the outer edges of the crown. Last thing you want to do is just dig in, and slice into it. Once you determine the width of the crown, circle around it with a spade. The roots are going to be deep; you can't save them all but try to get the big, fat ones; this is where the bulk of the plant's energy is stored. Good luck. Hope it's a success.

Tom Demma
9/14/2010 9:45:00 PM

Can you dig up established asparagus beds and replant them elsewhere? I am planning to move and hate to leave my 4 year old plants behind. This is the 2nd time I had to move and leave good beds behind.

Tom Demma
9/14/2010 9:38:56 PM

Can you dig up established asapargus beds and replant them? I'm moving soon and hate to leave behind my 4 year old plants.

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