Last chance to transplant Asparagus this spring

So your asparagus patch is over crowded.  You can take that little patch of overcrowded asparagus and convert it into a very large patch of asparagus by digging up and separating that root ball.

Asparagus popping up.
Asparagus is one of the first harvests you will get from your garden.

If your asparagus isn’t above ground yet, it is your last chance to transplant.  Asparagus needs space to get the nutrients necessary to produce the large sprigs we love to eat.  If you plant from seed, or your asparagus is given the chance to produce seeds, it will eventually get over crowded.

Asparagus clump
When packed too tightly, Asparagus can’t get enough nutrients to grow well. They need to be broken up and transplanted.

This clump was dug up last winter after it had gone dormant.  You can see the yellow asparagus and an assortment of green weeds.  Your asparagus should be dormant when you are trying to transplant it.  Dig it up and remove all the debris.  This is a hands on job and it is easier if you get the root ball as clean as possible.

Asparagus root ball
There will be dozens of asparagus crowns in this ball

It is important to get as much of the soil off the roots as you can.  It holds the roots together, so it is best to take a hose to it and get as much of the soil out of the root ball as you can.

Tightly packed asparagus root ball
It is a exercise in patience to separate crowns from a root ball, but it is worth the effort.

When you get it cleaned up, it is going to look something like this.  This particular root ball is a result of planting from seeds placed too closely together.  There are dozens of crowns in this root ball.

The key is to learn to identify each crown so you can isolate it from the others and pull it apart from the ball.  It really is as simple as that, but it can be a challenge.  You can identify the individual crowns by following a root to the place where it ends, and look to see that there are other roots coming from other directions and ending in the same spot.  This point is your crown.  Be careful with that part, it contains the stuff that will turn into next year’s spears.

Root ball close up.
Learning to follow the roots to the individual crowns is the key to separating out the crowns.

After you pull them apart, you will have a group of root clusters, each of which will become it’s own asparagus plant when transplanted.  You will need to dig a trench about 5 or 6 inches deep, and wide enough to place the crowns in with the roots out flat. At the bottom of the trench put the richest soil you can find, you will be feeding these plants for a long time.  Place the roots in the trench, and cover it with about 3 inches of soil.  As the season goes on, you will add more fertile compost or soil until it reaches level ground.

Asparagus crowns
After you separate them out, a clump will give you dozens of crowns to plant into a new patch.

When you will be able to harvest depends upon how old your crowns are, and how much they like where you plant them.  Usually you can count on not getting a harvest the first year unless you are planting really nice crowns.  You can harvest the asparagus spears when they are about the size of a pencil or larger.  If they are smaller than that you should leave them to supply nutrients for next year.

Asparagus ferns
Planted from seed, still too young to harvest.

The first year they will be thin and spindly, in subsequent years they will get more and more stout.  Your biggest job for the first year will be to keep the weeds out of the garden so they don’t compete with the asparagus.  Top dress with good compost to keep the weeds down and the nutrients up.

Asparagus and Cilantro
Cilantro and Asparagus growing together in the garden.

After it is established, you can use the space between the asparagus for some other crops if you leave enough room between asparagus plants.  In this picture I have cilantro that works nicely because later in the spring and summer it benefits from the shade provided by the asparagus.  Also, it is really easy to pull up cilantro and clean our the patch when it is done.  I have heard of people planting strawberries and even tomatoes between the asparagus rows.

Damselfly in Asparagus patch.
The Damselfly will eat a lot of the pests that will settle on your asparagus, but you still have to pick the beetles.

I don’t like to use insecticides or herbicides in my garden if it can be avoided.  That means I have to go through and pick of the asparagus beetles most mornings.  Later in the season, the damselflies and wasps come through and take care of a lot of the bugs that will infect your garden.

I also go through and pull off the springs that start forming seeds, because the seeds of asparagus become small asparagus plants that act like weeds because they compete with the older plants for space.

Once you have them established, take care of your plants, by feeding them and clearing out the debris.  The will then feed you and your family and make your pee smell of asparagus for 30 to 50 years.

Peace!

KT

Day 16

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