The ferny foliage of
asparagus is decorative in summer but should not
be cut for flower arranging. The plants need all
their green tissue in order the produce a plentiful
supply of succulent young shoots (‘spears’)
in the following spring. It is these spears which
are cut and then cooked to produce a dish which
is a far cry from the soggy dwarfs sold in tins.
Old wives’ tales abound – the ancients
believed that the spears arose from rams’
horns buried in the soil, and many a modern-day
gardener still believes that wide spacing, an
annual heavy dressing of manure and a regular
sprinkling of salt are all essential for top yields.
One of our oldest crops, but there are new varieties
and new ideas. Grow it if you have free-draining
soil, adequate land which can be tied up for a
decade or more…and patience – you
will need to wait two years for the first good
Use 1-year-old crowns. You can buy 2- or3-year-old
crowns but they can be temperamental. Asparagus
can be raised from seed but it will be 3 years
before regular cropping can begin.
Seed sowing technique: Sow thinly 1in (2.5cm)
deep in drills 1ft (30cm) apart. Thin to 6in (15cm)
when seedlings are 3in (7.5cm) tall. Plant out
largest plants in beds during the following spring.
Productive life: 8-20 years.
Expected yield per mature plant: 20-25 spears.
Approximate time between planting 1-year-old crowns
and cutting: 2 years.
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – requires
thorough soil preparation, space and regular hand
· Good drainage is essential – the
soil type is much less important. Pick a sunny
spot, sheltered from strong winds, and dig thoroughly
in the autumn – incorporate a liberal dressing
of well-rotted manure or compost. Liming will
be necessary if the soil is very acid.
· Remove the roots of all perennial weeds
during soil preparation. Leave the soil rough
after digging – fork over in March and rake
in Growmore fertilizer.
Keep roots covered under sacking until planting
time – never let them dry out. Dig a trench
8in (20cm) deep and 12in (30cm) wide. At the bottom
of the trench make a ridge 3in (7cm) tall and
place the roots on top. Cover crowns with 2in
(5cm) of sifted soil immediately after spreading
out roots. Fill in trench gradually as plant grow
– the bed should be level by autumn.
· Plant crowns in early April if the soil
is in good condition – delay for a couple
of weeks of the weather is cold and wet. Trenches
should be dug about 3ft (90cm) apart.
· Harvesting of the mature crop takes place
over a 6-8 week period. To ensure the maximum
harvest period, plant a mixed bed containing an
early variety such as Connovers Colossal with
a later variety such as Martha Washington.
Sowing time: April; can start mid March.
Planting time: Early April; Can extend from mid
March to the end of April.
Cutting time: The last week in April to the first
week in June; less usually from mid April to mid
Looking after the crop
· Keep the bed clean by hand weeding. Provide
support for the stems if necessary and water during
dry weather. Remove berries before they fall to
· In autumn cut down the ferny stems once
they have turned yellow. The stumps should be
1-2in (3-5cm) above the surface.
· Before the spears appear in spring make
a ridge of soil over each row with a draw hoe.
Apply a surface dressing of Growmore fertilizer.
· Soon after planting the first spears
will appear. On no account should these be cut
– they must be left to develop into bushy
· In the year after planting little or
no cutting should take place. Some experts believe
that the removal of a single spear per plant in
May will do no harm – others believe that
no growth at all should be removed at this stage.
· Cutting can begin in earnest in the second
year after planting. As soon as the spears reach
a height of 4-5in (10-13cm) they should be severed
about 3in (7cm) below the soil surface. Use a
long serrated kitchen knife or a special asparagus
knife. Cut every day if necessary – never
let the spears grow too tall before cutting.
· Stop cutting in early or mid June. All
spears must now be allowed to develop into fern
in order to build up their reserves for next year’s
The variety you are most likely to be offered
is Connovers Colossal. This old favourite produces
large, fine-flavoured spears and is especially
suitable for sandy soil. The other old variety,
Giant Mammoth, is more suitable for heavy land.
In both cases the male plants are more productive
than the female, berry-bearing ones.
Several other varieties have been introduced in
recent years. There is Regal which was bred in
Britain but most of the others have come from
either the U.S. or France. They promise heavier
yields and delicious flavour, but you must remember
that some have not stood the test of time so one
cannot comment on how long they will stay productive.
Connovers Colossal: The No. 1 variety, available
as seed or crowns. It is a thick-stalked type
which crops early and is excellent for freezing.
Giant Mammoth: You will find this variety in the
textbooks but you will have to search for it in
the seed catalogues. Perhaps your choice these
days should be between Connovers Colossal and
one of the others listed here.
Martha Washington: The best known of the U.S.
varieties, this type and Mary Washington are the
‘old favourites’ in America. A heavy
cropper, producing long spears until early June.
One of its blessings is resistance to rust.
Minerve: Trials have shown that this French variety
consistently outyields the English old favourites
in the first few years after planting. The question
remains – will it do so in 15 years’
Sutton’s Perfection: A fine, well-established
variety which is bought as crowns rather than
seed. The plants have a good reputation for sturdiness.
Lorella: Another French variety which has shown
great promise. The stems are claimed to be extra-thick
and the total yields in trials have been very
Violet Root Rot