Commit to growing asparagus

    The world seems to be in a crisis-after-crisis mode, making life feel uncertain. Perhaps it makes you hesitate to commit to small or big things, such as hanging a picture if you can't find the perfect spot, or not painting a room because you want to be certain to choose the right color, or not pursuing a second career of which you dream.

    I'm proposing that planting an asparagus bed is a good way to break this mode of thinking. Nothing demonstrates hope for the future like asparagus. That's because it will take two or three years after planting until you can harvest a crop.

    Many of us have not committed to asparagus because we are uncertain of the future. "What if I move?" "Do I have the right spot?" "What if the world implodes?"

    I say, choose a spot, buy some asparagus crowns and just do it! It will give you a great sense of accomplishment — if not downright cockeyed optimism.

    Asparagus needs fertile, well-drained soil around the roots. It does not like to have wet roots in winter, so you may want to consider building a raised bed or a growing box for it. Choose a variety that has the word "Jersey" in its name, as these will be mostly male plants. They out-produce the old standby "Martha Washington" plants, which are largely female, 3 to 1. Female plants sap the energy of the plant by making seeds. When mature, each male plant can produce a half-pound of spears per year.

    February and March are the ideal months to plant asparagus in the Rogue Valley, as soils are beginning to warm up a bit. Dig a trench no deeper than five or six inches and a foot wide. Fill the bottom of the trench with compost or well-rotted manure mixed with some native soil. Apply superphosphate or triple superphosphate (0-20-0 or 0-46-0) in the partly-filled trench. Do not omit this step, as it greatly affects future production.

    Put the crowns in the trench on top of the fertilizer; it will not burn the roots. The crowns should be two inches below the surface when you finish planting them. Space the crowns 12 to 18 inches apart. If you plant more than one row, the rows should be three to five feet apart.

    Now backfill the trench with more of that soil and compost or manure mixture. Fill to the original soil level. Do not pack the soil down. In the past, asparagus trenches were filled in gradually, but new information shows that method tends to place the crowns too deep and reduces production.

    Here comes the hard part. Because asparagus is a perennial, it needs a year or two to grow a strong network of roots. It should not be harvested during that time.

    Just let it grow the first year or two and produce those beautiful, fern-like fronds that asparagus is famous for. Let the roots become well established and your asparagus bed will produce for 15 to 20 years.

    Don't put off starting that asparagus bed. What if you move? You will have started something that others can enjoy. And to me, bringing joy to someone else has its own value. If you don't move, you'll be so happy to see those lovely green shoots each spring and you'll enjoy their fresh flavor for years to come.

    Coming up: Circle Feb. 12 for a grape-pruning workshop; Feb. 19 for fruit-tree pruning; and March 5 for rose pruning. These Saturday workshops are offered by the Oregon State University Extension Service's Master Gardeners. More details as those dates approach.

    Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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