asparagus

Have you thought about starting an asparagus bed? All you need is a dedicated plant bed, sunshine, well-drained soil, soil that will test out 6.5-7.5 pH, and patience. The reward will be fresh asparagus for as many as 10-20 years.

The first step is site selection. Where will you plant your asparagus crowns?  Asparagus plants like sunshine. Find a spot in the sun that is well drained. Remember this will be the only thing you should plant in this plant bed and it will be this way for a number of years. You should have your soil tested before planting. Asparagus plants prefer a pH of 7.0 but a range of 6.5-7.5 will be adequate. After testing you can raise the pH by adding lime and you can lower pH by adding sulfur. Soil samples can be taken to your Oklahoma County Extension office. Information can be obtained by calling 405 713-1125 or going to www.osufacts.okstate.edu.

After selecting where the bed should be, it is time to prepare the site. It would have been good if you had dug the bed in the autumn and incorporated plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost. Even now it is good to blend compost into the soil. In the future you can add a layer of straw or chopped leaves each autumn. This will ensure crowns and plants have the nutrients they need to produce ample spears.

The time to plant is early spring. Asparagus crowns can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Crowns can be covered with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch throughout the year. As soil temperatures reach 50° F you may see small spears extending above the soil. Some recommend not harvesting for 2 or 3 years. Others say that research has shown there is no need to wait before harvesting. Each year the asparagus will grow faster and produce thicker spears.

When you plant asparagus crowns, make a 4 to 6 inch deep furrow. Space the crowns 12-18 inches apart. Rows should be 5 feet apart. Rows spaced too close together will reduce spear size. Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil. As the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrow through the summer.

You should stop harvesting round the middle of July. Then you should let the asparagus fern continue to grow. The plants will continue to develop a strong root system throughout the rest of the summer. Leave asparagus stems on the plants as long as they remain green. When stalks turn brown and brittle cut them off at or just above the ground level. Cutting stalks back too soon means sacrificing photosynthesis and will lessen spear production next year. If you have female asparagus plants you will want to cut them back before they set seeds (red berries). Mulch and take care of the asparagus during the winter months. This will assure a bountiful spring harvest.

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