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Growing asparagus in home gardens

A quick guide to asparagus

  • An asparagus plant can last 15 years. Choose its spot in the garden carefully.
  • You can start asparagus from seed or from one-year-old roots, called crowns.
  • Crowns grow vertically and horizontally. Planting at the right depth is important.
  • Good soil moisture is important at planting for good root and fern growth.
  • Begin harvest two years after planting crowns, and three years after planting seeds.
  • Harvest spears until June 30, then allow the large feathery ferns to develop.
Asparagus ferns

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is one of the earliest harvested vegetables each spring. Asparagus spears are crisp, tender and flavorful. The asparagus harvest season lasts about 6 to 8 weeks, from early May to late June in Minnesota.

In the peak of asparagus season, spears can grow up to 2 inches per day, producing bountiful harvests for gardeners to enjoy.

How asparagus grows

Asparagus is a unique crop. It is one of the few perennial vegetables grown in Minnesota; others include horseradish and rhubarb.

The edible parts of the plant are called the spears. These are technically the stems of the plants. The spears emerge from underground buds at the base of the root system. These buds and roots are called “crowns.” If spears are left to grow, they develop leaves and are called ferns.

We only harvest asparagus for two months instead of the entire season because the plants need time for the ferns to grow and build up energy for the next year.

The fern creates energy that will be stored in the underground portion of the plant to produce the following year’s spears. It is important to take care of the ferns even after the harvest is over to ensure good future harvests.

Soil pH and fertility for asparagus

Asparagus grows best in well-drained soils with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0; it does not tolerate extremely acidic soils. It can grow in heavy, medium, or sandy soils, as long as the soils must be well-drained and do not exhibit pooling water after rains.

Before planting asparagus, have your soil tested to see if the soil has the right amount of nutrients for asparagus to thrive. Add recommended fertilizer based on the soil test results. It is best to add part of the fertilizer in the fall or spring before planting, but about half of the phosphorus and potassium should be added at the time of planting. Nitrogen should be added after planting, once the crowns begin growing.

If you don't have a soil test report, the typical garden fertilizer rate for asparagus is 1 to 1.5 pounds of 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium fertilizer (10-10-10) per 100 square feet before planting.

Once an asparagus patch is established, it is best to test the soil every three years and follow the test recommendations before adding nutrients. After the asparagus patch is established, fertilizer, compost or composted manure can be added either in early spring before spear emergence, or after harvest in late June or early July. Only add these inputs if they are needed according to the soil test.

Selecting plants

  • There are female plants and male plants. This means the plants are dioecious.
  • All produce edible spears.
    • Only plants with all female flowers produce red, inedible berries in summer.
    • Female plants grow larger spears.
    • Male plants grow a greater number of smaller, uniform spears.
  • Most hybrids, such as Jersey Giant, are plants with only male flowers that produce no seeds.
    • Plants with all male flowers do not use energy to develop seeds and fruits.
    • Male asparagus plants tend to live longer and produce more spears.
  • Female plants can produce undesirable weedy seedling asparagus plants.

Varieties recommended for Minnesota:

  • Millennium: A newer variety from the University of Guelph. It is very vigorous and high-yielding.
  • The “Jersey” series: These varieties were recently discontinued but still grow in many Minnesota gardens. Varieties include Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, and Jersey Supreme. The Jersey varieties are popular and very high-yielding.
    • They can be damaged at -30° F if there is not enough snow cover.
  • Mary Washington: Open-pollinated variety. Yields are lower than the Jersey varieties, but they are very cold-hardy. Because it is open-pollinated, it may produce seeds that sprout new plants. Some gardeners consider that a benefit, while others consider it a nuisance. 
  • Viking KB-3: An open-pollinated variety.
  • Purple Passion: A purple, open-pollinated variety.

Add the fertilizer alongside the row of plants and scratch it in lightly. Do not allow the tool to penetrate the soil more than an inch deep, to avoid harming the underground portions of the plants.

If your soil test shows that the garden is high in phosphorus, use a low-phosphorus fertilizer such as 32-3-10, 27-3-3, or 25-3-12, or use a non-phosphorus fertilizer such as 30-0-10 or 24-0-15 at the rate of a half pound per 100 square feet. Avoid adding unnecessary amounts of phosphorus to the soil beyond what the soil tests recommend. Continuous use of high phosphorus fertilizers such as 10-10-10 or 15-30-15, or high rates of manure or compost can result in phosphorus buildup in the soil that impacts soil and plant health over time.

Do not use any fertilizer containing an herbicide (such as a "Weed and Feed" product), as it may kill your vegetable plants.

Planting asparagus

Choose a good location

An asparagus planting can last 15 years or more, so choose the spot for an asparagus bed carefully.

  • Choose a fertile, sunny, well-drained site with soil that holds moisture well.

  • Late spring frosts can kill emerged spears, so find an area that is not low-lying or exposed to frost.

  • Asparagus plants have deep root systems. Avoid areas with shallow soils, or soils prone to water-saturation.

  • If the asparagus bed is to be part of a larger vegetable garden, the best place is at the north end of the garden, so that the tall ferns do not shade the other crops.

How to plant crowns

Dig a trench. Depth depends on soil type.

Following correct planting methods for asparagus is important for this long-lived perennial crop.

In Minnesota, asparagus is planted between early May and early June. When ordering crowns online, select a delivery date close to when you hope to plant, and refrigerate the crowns until planting.

Prepare the planting area as described above. Then, dig a 6-12 inch deep furrow (trench) for the crowns to be planted in. In heavy clay soils, make the furrows more shallow (6-8 inches) and deeper (10-12 inches) for very sandy soil. As the soil is removed from the trench, set it aside. It will be returned to the trench several weeks later as the ferns grow.

The length of the trench should be as long as the number of crowns being planted. For example, if you have 10 crowns, dig a 10-foot-long trench. If planting multiple rows, space the furrows at least 3 feet apart, because the plants will spread as they age.

To plant the crowns, place them "head-to-toe" (bud-to-root tip) in a line down the furrow so that the buds of the crowns are spaced about 12 inches apart.

Plant crowns head-to-toe so buds are 12 inches apart.

Some old publications and blogs may say to spread out the roots of the crowns like an octopus during planting, but this is an outdated, unnecessary practice.

Adding a fertilizer containing phosphorus and potassium to the furrows when planting will help ensure the plants access adequate nutrients as they grow.

Next, cover the crowns with 2-3 inches of the soil that was removed from the furrow. The remaining soil will be added to the trench a few weeks later, once the ferns have emerged and grown. Do not let the crowns dry out between placing them in the furrows and covering them with soil. Water immediately after planting.

After planting, there should still be plenty of soil along the sides of the furrows, which will be used later in the season to continue back-filling the furrows as the ferns grow.

Small, narrow spears will emerge from the soil within 2 to 3 weeks of planting, depending on precipitation, temperature and amount of soil cover. Once the spears are sturdy and several inches tall, several more inches of soil can be backfilled into the furrow. Use caution with this step, as large clods of dry soil can break the brittle spears.

Growing from seed

Asparagus is typically planted as crowns, rather than seeds. However, gardeners wishing to try starting asparagus from seed may follow these recommendations:

  • Choose an area of the garden as a nursery bed. Young asparagus plants will grow here for their first year. The site for the asparagus nursery should be level and have sandy soil.

  • Plant seed in spring, about one inch deep, spaced two to three inches apart, within rows a foot apart. Seeds can take three weeks to germinate.

  • Keep the nursery bed free from weeds, as the asparagus seedlings cannot compete with strong weed growth.

  • Mulch the nursery bed with four to six inches of straw in late October to keep it warm during winter.

  • In early April, before the plants start to grow, dig up the crowns with as much of the root system as you can, and move them to their permanent location, following the method described below for planting crowns.

How to keep asparagus healthy and productive


Managing pests, diseases, and disorders

Many things can affect asparagus spears, roots and ferns. The environment, plant diseases, insects and wildlife can cause changes in physical appearance and plant health. It is important to make a correct diagnosis before trying a solution. 

You can find help identifying common pest problems by sending a sample to the UMN Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic or using the Ask a Master Gardener form to share pictures and get input.


Authors: Cindy Tong, Extension horticulturist, Marissa Schuh, Extension educator, Jill MacKenzie and Annie Klodd

Reviewed in 2024

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