I grew up in southern Idaho, where asparagus is so abundant it is called ditch weed. Nearly every roadside and canal bank down in the desert seems to grow asparagus. My sister still picks grocery bags of it each spring. My jealousy level is high.
When we first moved in we didn’t plant asparagus right away. I hadn’t heard of anyone having a lot of luck with it, and I wanted to figure out why. After much internet and interviews, I took a guess that the soil type was the deciding factor. Gardeners far to the south with their sandy soil had great luck with asparagus planted in the ground. Friends closer to town (it just gets more and more clay like, I swear) had issues.
We set up an accidental science experiment when our asparagus starts arrived early. Toby potted them into wet compost to keep them from drying out until we could plant them. They were in the pots for a few weeks, and by the time we had a spot for them they were severely damaged by rot. So…asparagus does not like water.
Step 1. We built the finicky asparagus its very own big, deep bed.
Step 2. We filled the bottom 6 inches with sand.
Step 3. We carefully pruned the remaining rootstock and planted it deep in the bed, with about 6 inches of compost below and 4 inches above. We watered once, and then NO WATER for two weeks. It’s hard to resist watering your baby plants, especially when the weather starts getting hot. With the asparagus, it worked like a charm. Soon even the saddest little rootlets were growing a spear or two. We kept up the (non) watering routine throughout their first summer, adding more soil as they got taller.
We planted 4 types of asparagus on April 17th, 2016: Jersey Knight, Purple Passion, Martha Washington, and Asparabest. Flavor and hardiness ratings to come, but the purple ones are really pretty!
If you are growing asparagus from rootstock, you should let it go to seed its first year so the roots can establish themselves. The next year you can harvest a small amount, but be sure to let the ferns grow again to feed the roots. If you are growing from seed you’ll have about 3 years to wait. We let all but one spear grow into big feathery asparagus ferns.
The biggest surprise with growing asparagus was how long it continued to produce shoots. In southern Idaho there is a small window when it is the right temperature. With the 6ish hours of sunlight our bed received, and the cool weather of the mountains, it keep sending new spears up throughout the summer.
Recently a local master gardener who has grown asparagus for years told me she believed they liked an acidic soil. I’d love to test it in the future by amending a portion of the bed…it’s set up perfectly for an experiment!