Prep Your Garden in Fall for Amazing Asparagus in Spring
Why am I writing about asparagus in the fall? This crop arrives in spring, after all, but the best time for new bed preparation occurs in autumn. Asparagus should be planted in April or early May. But remember our Illinois weather the past two springs – cold and wet. With fall bed prep, you will enjoy a head start if the ground remains too wet to work next April.
SEE ALSO: 6 of Our Favorite Asparagus Recipes
Choose a spot in full sun and where a 5-foot-tall hedge won’t be a problem. Don’t opt for your regular vegetable garden because yearly cultivation will disrupt the asparagus, a perennial. Remove any grass, weeds and rocks, then incorporate a lot of compost or other organic matter, which asparagus loves.
Using a mechanical tiller or by hand, till a trench 12 to 18 inches wide and a full 6 inches deep. Now you are all set for next spring.
I prefer to order asparagus crowns from a catalog because you never know how long they’ve been sitting around drying out in discount stores. Order one-year crowns that have compact centers surrounded by dangling roots. Picture an octopus to get an idea of what they look like.
When the ground can be worked in the spring, add a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Place the crowns at the bottom of the trench, spaced 9 to 12 inches apart, splaying out the roots. Cover with about 2 inches of soil. Over the remainder of the summer, gradually fill in the trench as the asparagus grows.
Now comes the hard part – patience. You can’t cut any spears the first year or the following two years. Well, maybe you can cheat a little on year three if the bed establishes nicely. Let the plants grow up into ferny hedges collecting as much energy as possible from the sun. Cut down the hedge after a hard freeze in fall or wait until late winter, if you prefer. Each spring the asparagus grows back more plentiful and with thicker spears.
Harvest by snapping off the spears at ground level or cutting with a knife slightly below the soil surface. Watch out for emerging tips of other spears. Harvest spears pencil width or larger, and switch to fertilizing after harvest instead of early spring.
Weeding can be a challenge. The first asparagus emerges at the same time as the first weeds. Be careful of the unseen tips that have yet to grow. Reaching into the hedge in summer to weed risks death by tickling.
Asparagus beds last for 30 years, so they are well worth the wait.
Ask the Expert
Q: A reddish-brown powder collects on my shoes after walking across the lawn. Should I be concerned?
A: No, it’s only rust. It occurs late summer following cool nights with heavy dews. It will not harm your lawn, so no treatment is necessary.
Q: When should I plant lettuce/spinach for a fall crop?
A: Plant both mid-August into the first weeks of September. They will germinate and grow very quickly in the summer-warmed soil.