Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
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Asparagus

 

 

 

Asparagus
 

 

Asparagus in early medieval works

Description     Propagation     Cultivation     Harvest

Scientific name

Asparagus officinalis
From Persian asparag, "sprout" or "shoot"
fficinalis - Of the [apothecary's] workshop

Common names, modern

Sparrowgrass, asper grass, grass, spargel

Common names, early

Nafela, Old English, earth-navel

Comments

Asparagus is first mentioned as a culinary plant in about 200 CE, in a cookbook by Apicius. It was grown by the ancient Egyptians, as well as by Greeks and Romans. 

Description

Lifespan

Perennial, very long lived

Cold hardiness

Zones 2-8; requires dormant period, so doesn't do well in Gulf Coast states

Size

3' to 5' H, 1.5' to 2' W

Habit

Edible stalk 8-12" tall which sends up another 2-3' of ferny foliage as stalks become woodier

Asparagus berriesFlower

Small green flowers, followed by bright, orange-red berries; seed is viable.

Asparagus foliageFoliage

 

Comments

Very fine, filamentous foliage

 

 

 

A bed of mature asparagus, allowed to grow tall and leafy, makes a lovely, hazy green background for other plants, or a very pretty hedge

Propagation - Grow from seed or root divisions
By seed

Start 8 weeks before last frost. Soak seed for 2 hours in warm water, then plant 1/2" deep in pots.

Harden off carefully, then plant 3" apart in rows 12" apart in nursery bed for first season.

Transplant in 2nd spring to permanent location in deeply dug bed; set plants 12" apart in rows 18" apart.

Harvest in third year.

From root division Work soil deeply, plant divisions 4-6" deep, 12" apart in rows 18" apart. Planting too deep may stress plant, as well as increase the risk of disease.
Germination temperature

When seedlings appear, grow on at 80 degrees daytime, 70 degrees at night. When seedlings are 1-2" tall, reduce evening temps to 65 degrees.

Germination time 5-10 days if kept at 80-85 degrees until germination occurs
Moisture Keep potting soil slightly moist, but not wet
Light

Needs bright light to grow on before setting out

Cell size Needs a 2-3" deep cell, for root growth

Cultivation

Soil

pH 6-8; needs rich soil, worked deeply; fertilize in early spring before shoots appear; top dress with compost in fall after cleaning up the bed.

Moisture

Needs well drained soil

Light

Does best in full sun; will tolerate light shade

Natural habitat Upper edges of ditches, open fields
Vigor Not invasive; long-lived and hardy when it is happy
Diseases

Fusarium wilt; fusarium stem and crown rot; rust, Cercospora leaf spot

Pests

Aphids, asparagus beetles, cutworms, Japanese beetles

Organic approaches

Asparagus beetles - These overwinter in dead asparagus foliage, so clean bed thoroughly after the first hard frost in the fall.

Fusarium - Purchase healthy, disease resistant plants (often with "Jersey" in variety name), or start your own healthy plants from seed. Prevent fusarium by not overwatering, and by watering early in the day so foliage can dry before nightfall. Remove diseased plants and dispose of properly (not in compost).

Japanese beetles - Pick off by hand, put in a jar with soapy water. Put dead beetles in covered garbage can.

Cutworms - Can be controlled by watering at the base of the plant with Bacillus thuringensis; don't water higher up on plant to avoid killing butterfly larva and other beneficials.

Aphids- Treat with insecticidal soap.

Companion plants

Grow with tomatoes to repel asparagus beetles, and to reduce nematodes that damage tomatoes. Also good with parsley, basil, and carrots.

Harvest

Harvest asparagus when 6-10" tall in early spring; don't cut stems, just bend to break. If you don't harvest all stems, plant growth will actually be hindered.

Stop harvesting stems when emerging stems are less than 1/2" across. Allow these smaller stems to grow to full height through summer to nourish roots.

Seed collection

Collect seed in early summer when red berries begin to shrivel. Dry, remove husk. Viable for about 24 months.

 

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F.D. Drewitt

 

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