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If it's spring in Iowa, there must be asparagus

If it's spring in Iowa, there must be asparagus

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Spring and asparagus are synonymous.

Amazingly, an asparagus patch can produce crops from 15 to a whopping 30 years — if planted in the right location and properly maintained.

It also takes patience because spears can’t be harvested for the first two years after planting. These hardy perennials need to become firmly established before snapping spears. Plus, these airy, ferny-looking plants are ornamental in a perennial bed.

Asparagus needs at least six hours of direct sun daily and well-drained soil. Early spring – from April through early May — is ideal for planting. You can purchase 1-year-old asparagus crowns from garden centers and nurseries.

Here is the method for planting suggested by Iowa State University Extension and other sources:

  • Asparagus crowns should be planted in shallow trenches or furrows.
  • Thoroughly weed the planting site.
  • Planting depth depends on soil type: 8 to 10 inches deep in light, sandy soils; 6 to 8 inches deep in heavier soils. Mix in well-rotted manure or compost into the soil at the bottom of the trench before planting.
  • Soak crowns briefly in lukewarm water before planting.
  • Space crowns 12 to 18 inches apart in rows that are 4 to 5 feet apart. Spread roots in the trench with buds pointing upwards.
  • Completely fill in the trench with soil. It is not necessary to follow the tradition of gradually filling in the trench as the plants grow.
  • Weed regularly by hand to prevent disturbing roots. Mulching with compost can reduce weeds and preserve soil moisture. During the first two years, asparagus plants need 1 to 2 inches per week. Supplement water if rain is lacking. After plants are established, water every two or three weeks.

Begin harvesting spears the third year after planting, snapping or snipping spears that are 6 to 8 inches long. Harvest continues through mid-June in Iowa. Harvest for young plants may last only 2 to 3 weeks. Check plants every other day for spears. Skinny, young spears are more tender than thick, older spears which can be woody.

Transplant asparagus crowns in early spring or late fall before the fall frost after foliage is cut back. Dig and lift crowns carefully; divide clump into two or more pieces. Water; don’t harvest heavily the following year.

Asparagus is dioecious — producing separate male and female plants. Male plants live longer and are more productive than female plants. ISU Extension suggests the following cultivars: “Jersey Giant,” “Jersey Knight,” “Jersey King,” Jersey Supreme,” “Mary Washington,” “Martha Washington,” “Purple Passion” and “Sweet Purple.”

Foliage should be trimmed back in fall after the first frost. A good frost will turn the foliage dry and brown, then cut it off at soil level. It’s a good idea to mulch the crowns with compost or well-rotted manure for winter protection.

You can fertilize with a good 10-10-10 garden fertilizer in early spring before spears begin to emerge.

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