Before we talk about plants, let’s talk about where to put them. I’ve pulled out my copy of the Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening by Walter Reeves & Felder Rushing and turned to the “Asparagus” page. The first thing the authors say here is, “Planning is essential for these plants because a well-prepared asparagus bed can last many years before needing reworking.” After that, Rushing and Reeves instruct to “Plant asparagus as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.” Asparagus is a cool-climate plant, and we are about to slide into the hot season, so maybe now is not the time to rush out to buy plants, especially if you haven’t already prepared a place to put them.
But maybe you have. Here are the details: The bed should be in full sun, away from trees or shrubs whose roots would complete with the asparagus. It has to be well-drained, because if it’s boggy or soggy the plants will rot and die out. The recommend planting in sandy soil, but any well-drained soil will do.
In this bed, dig a 6-inch deep trench, about 15 inches wide. Asparagus plants are sold as crowns, clusters of roots. Set the crowns in the trench about 1 foot apart, spread the roots out and cover with soil. Water and wait.
Growth in the first year will be spindly, and you shouldn’t harvest any the first year. Keep the soil moist throughout the first year, and pull weeds as they appear. Mulch will help keep weeds under control. Cut the ferns back in the spring before new growth begins. In the second year, harvest a few spears in mid-spring. The third year is the time for a bigger harvest – 4 to 6 weeks, and every year thereafter harvest asparagus for 6 to 8 weeks in the spring.
Now, the plants. Local nurseries that offer vegetable starts are likely to have asparagus crowns for sale. There are several different types, and you may find different varieties at different locations. Or check garden catalogs/Web sites. Several 2011 mail-order companies offer asparagus crowns. The variety called ‘Jersey Knight’ seems to be a popular favorite. Check Seeds of Change, The Cook’s Garden, Burpee Gardening, Territorial Seed Company or any others for asparagus crowns.