A long-lived perennial plant, asparagus makes delicious spears every spring with only a little maintenance; but it takes 2-3 years to come into full production. Asparagus is commonly grown from 2 year old crowns (roots), which may reach bearing size somewhat faster than seeds.
Asparagus yields best in full sun (at least six hours of direct sun), but tolerates light shade. An area sheltered from strong winds is preferred. Provide well-drained soil with a neutral pH.
Plant asparagus roots in spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to dig an 8” deep trench without large clods. Preparing a raised area, with or without sides can help this occur earlier in the year. If the crowns look or feel dry, soak them in water for 30 minutes prior to planting.
Create a trench 12” wide and 8” deep. Mix in 1-2” of compost in the trench along with lime and bone meal. Also mix about 1/3 compost with the soil that you dug out of the trench. Place crowns (roots) on top of individual mounds of soil created inside the trench to help all the roots contact the soil directly.
Make sure that the crowns do not touch one another because the roots tend to mold where they touch. Plant crowns 12” apart, or farther if needed to keep them from touching. Try to position the top of the crowns so that they are about 2” below the soil surface.
Cover crowns with the remaining soil, not more than 2” over the top of the crowns. If it looks like they will be deeper than 2”, reserve the extra soil and add it after shoots have appeared and are 6-8” tall. Burying too deep initially can increase the chances of crowns rotting before they sprout. Water at planting time regardless of how wet the soil appears.
During initial growth period, irrigate well, allowing soil to dry out a bit in between waterings. Irrigate deeply about once a week for the first two years. Once bed is well established, asparagus is very drought tolerant.
Weeding is essential for a healthy asparagus patch, don’t let your new plants compete with weeds for nutrients. Once the bed is well established, usually the third year, asparagus does not need fertilizing, but will still benefit from about 1⁄2” of compost on top of the crowns to keep them below the soil surface.
Apply lime every few years to continually sweeten the soil. Cut back yellow foliage every fall. Fall clean up in the asparagus bed is vital for preventing disease since it is difficult to move the plants to a new space should disease problems occur. Cut all yellow stalks to the ground and rake away all the fallen foliage.
Allow plants to grow undisturbed their first year. Harvest lightly the next spring, cutting only any spears which are larger in diameter than a pencil, for no more than 4-6 weeks. Be careful not to cut below the soil level. By the third year you will have a full harvest season of 8-12 weeks.
Starting in year 3, in cooler northern climates (Portland included) you can extend the season using the mother-stalk method. Harvest spears for 2 weeks and then allow two or three spears from each crown to grow and produce foliage. This initially slows production for a few weeks, but it will pick up once the energy produced by the foliage kicks in. You can keep harvesting for 10 weeks.