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ASPARAGUS Lilaceae A. officinalis

HABITAT: Perennial native to Europe. Hardy zones 3-9 except Florida and the Gulf Coast.

USES: Fresh young Asparagus is good raw, sliced thin diagonally for salads, or on a relish tray with sour cream dip. Cooked Asparagus with butter is a tradition.

HABIT: Perennial vegetable with delicate fern-like foliage 3 feet in height. Mature plants produce edible stalks 6-10 inches in height. The all male varieties produce two to four times as many spears as older varieties and are highly resistant to Rust, Fusarium, Crown Rot, and Root Rot.

SEED GERMINATION: Soak seeds first in warm water for 48 hours. Sow outdoors 1/2" deep, 3" apart on or about the last frost date. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for germination. From seed to harvest is 3 years. Transplant crowns the following spring.

CULTURE: Work soil 1 foot or more deep and mix in large amounts of manure, compost, peat, or other organic material plus 4-5 lbs. of 5-10-10 fertilizer per hundred square feet. Plant one year old roots or crowns in early spring in full sun. Dig a trench 8 inches deep, 12 inches wide, and 4-5 feet apart. Spread compost or manure in the bottom and cover with 1 inch of soil. Spread the crowns (roots) 18 inches apart in the row and cover with 2 inches of soil. As new shoots come up, gradually fill in the trench with 2 inches of soil at a time.

Fertilize with 4-5 lbs. of 5-10-10 per hundred square feet before growth starts each spring and again as the shoots are harvested. Keep well watered when top growth is developing. Add a mulch to control weeds and conserve moisture. Asparagus performs best with a pH of 6.0-8.0. Lime may need to be added every 3 to 4 years to maintain this pH level and improve growth.

Asparagus should not be harvested the first summer to allow the plants to develop a strong root system. A light harvest can be made the second year on all male varieties for about a 3 week period. Beginning the next year, the harvest can be extended over a 6-10 week period. Cut or snap the spears when they are 6-8 inches tall. Stop harvesting once the spears are smaller than 1/2 inch in diameter. Allow the remaining shoots to develop into 4 to 6 foot stems that grow throughout the summer. Cut these stems to ground level in the fall as they turn yellow.

INSECTS: Asparagus Beetles: Use an approved insecticide, such as Rotenone or Sevin, to control.

DISEASES: Asparagus Rust: Grow resistant varieties. Cut diseased tops to the ground in fall and burn.

TROUBLES: Tough, pithy stalks: Lack of fertility, over acid soil, too old before harvesting.

PROPAGATION: Division of crowns, seeds.

REMARKS: The wait of two years to harvest enough for the table is certainly worth the effort. This low maintenance crop results in a succulent vegetable versatile in its many ways of preparation. To produce white or bleached Asparagus, pull dirt in a high ridge on top of the row and cut shoots several inches below the surface just as they come through the ground.