Asparagus plants grow from a fleshy crown, sending up many thick spears that, if not harvested, grow into tall, ferny stems. The short, needle-like “leaves” that give that ferny appearance are actually modified stems; the real leaves are pointed, scalelike and clasp the stem. Small yellow male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. Females bear many small, round berries that turn bright red-orange at maturity and can produce a forest of seedlings. Asparagus is one of few perennial vegetables and should be given its own garden space where it won’t be disturbed.
Common name: Asparagus
Botanical name: Asparagus officinalis
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
- Sun: Full sun or partial shade
- Soil: Grows in most soil types, best with ample organic matter
- Moisture: Evenly moist but well drained
- Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch such as salt marsh hay, straw or shredded leaves
- Pruning: Cut back old stems in late fall
- Fertilizer: Apply compost, composted manure, or soluble fertilizer annually
- Asparagus beetles (common and spotted), aphids, slugs
- Fusarium wilt, rust
- Jersey Giant is a vigorous, cold hardy, all male variety.
- Jersey Knight is a productive all male variety.
- Millennium is an especially cold hardy all male variety.
- Purple Passion produces deep purple spears that turn green when cooked.
- Asparagus can be started from seed, but you’ll get a head start on harvesting by purchasing asparagus crowns (the plant’s central growing point plus fleshy roots), which are already one or two years old.
- Well maintained asparagus beds can survive and thrive for decades, so it’s worth the extra pre-planting effort of loosening soil and amending with organic matter.
- Asparagus plants expend energy establishing their root system the first two years after planting, so wait for the third year to start fully harvesting spears.
- Cultivars that produce all male plants are preferred, since they don’t put energy into fruit production and don’t result in weedy seedlings. Rogue out any female plants that occur.
- Asparagus is a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae), though you may also still find it listed as a member of the lily family (Liliaceae).
- There are over 200 species in the genus Asparagus.
- Familiar houseplant relatives of garden asparagus include ornamental asparagus ferns, spider plants and aspidistra.
Pests and diseases
All in the family