Monday, June 17, 2013

Grow Like a Pro no. 3: How to grow succulent asparagus & cultivate your patience

ABOUT this time last year, I took the plunge and included Asparagus officinalis `Sweet Purple’ on the list of edibles I planned to grow from seed. Excited by the prospect of harvesting my own nutty flavoured, deep burgundy spears for the next couple of decades, I have to admit I was daunted by the patience required to see these perennial vegetables through their infant years.

You see planting an asparagus patch is the gardening equivalent of becoming a parent. It’s a real commitment that requires foresight and a watchful eye. As a perennial, this graceful ferny plant needs permanent lodgings for a potential lifespan of several decades, so prepare your soil and choose your spot wisely. If container gardening is your only option, pick a nice deep trough positioned in full sun, adding a rich, well-draining but moisture retentive soil. Mixing through a product such as 5 in 1 will increase organic matter in the soil, helping it to feed your plants as well as hold moisture but still be free draining. Visit us at Four Seasons Nursery for all you manure needs.

As a gardener, the real test of your love of asparagus comes with the appearance of your first succulent shoots in spring. You mustn’t pick any for at least two years! Giving your asparagus crown time to build up its root system - three years is usual - in preparation for its years of productivity ahead, will test your patience, but the thrill of snapping off a spear which requires nothing but a light steaming before hitting your plate, will make you glad of your nurturing efforts.

Be prepared for a touch of seasonal maintenance in the early years, especially if female asparagus plants are revealed, producing bright clusters of tiny red seed berries in the first  year. Some gardeners will remove the girls (which produce pretty but much thinner spears than their fat male counterparts) and fill in the gaps with two year old male crowns. Others use the seed to create more plants.

For a decent supply of fresh spears throughout the growing season plant a dozen crowns per person. This will mean dedicating a good bit of room (see Step 2 below) to accommodate your asparagus patch and the beautiful drift of ferny foliage which will develop.

Follow these steps to Grow Asparagus From Seed. If you can’t muster the patience, plant two year old male crowns and harvest half of its spears the following spring. By the fourth spring you can get picking! But remember, never ever deplete all of the spears in the bed as this will eventually weaken the root system.

1.  Sow seeds in Spring when the soil temperature is around 25C (this can take up to 21 days, so don’t give up!). Fill a seed tray with a suitable seed-raising mix and place your seeds in manageable rows, covering them lightly with 5mm of soil.
2.  Transplant seedlings to 45cm apart in furrows about 20cm deep by 30cm wide, into deep, rich, well drained soil. Any rows should be 1.2m apart. Asparagus likes neutral or alkaline soil (6.5pH), so adding a touch of lime 3 weeks prior to planting can help balance any acidity in the bed.
3.  Fill in the trench as the seedlings grow taller, taking care to create enough support for the mass of ferny foliage which will develop up to 1.5m high.
4.  Remove female berry-producing plants in Autumn after the 1st year to prevent self-sowing and extra plants choking your bed.
5.  Mulch the bed with composted manure in Winter to feed the crowns ready for their spear production the following Spring.
6.  Harvesting should be avoided for the first 2 years, to allow the crowns to build up their strength. In the third year, harvest approximately half of the spears.


Named by the Ancient Greeks for it’s spear-shaped shoots, Asparagus officinalis is native to Central and Western Asia, Europe and North Africa. A known diuretic, long prized for its delicate nutty flavour, it was cultivated by the Ancient Egyptians and the Romans who believed it to be the King of Vegetables. To this day, it is associated with wealth and elegance - especially the white variety (which is the same plant grown underground without sunlight). It is a cool climate herbacious perennial which is not suitable for the tropics, but is ideal for coastal and sandy regions.

Happy Planting


For more information visit us at Four Seasons Nursery, 200 Forest Way Belrose

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