Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Asparagus ‘needs lots of compost’

Greenhouse planting can be a delightful experience, as it offers the gardener a near-total degree of control over the environment conditions that their plants are subject to.

This means that it is possible to grow a much more diverse variety of species out of season, as well as in environments that are not necessarily native to the location in which they are being nurtured.

Indeed, it would appear that the main obstacle facing green-fingered enthusiasts with such a space would be choice!

Asparagus is an excellent flowering perennial that could be the ideal option for those who enjoy growing things that they can later make use of in the kitchen. The spring vegetable is native to much of Europe, as well as northern Africa and western Asia.

Historically, it has been used as a medicine – as well as a vegetable. In the second century AD, the ancient Greek physician Galen considered it to be a beneficial herb. It is still thought to be good for urinary tract infections, kidney stones and to aid with liver problems. Ancient Romans would eat it fresh when it was in season – and they also dried the vegetable for use in winter.

Asparagus – which has the Latin binominal name of Asparagus officinalis – can take three years to produce a crop if it is grown from seed, or two years when grown from a one-year-old crown.

A single plant will produce around 25 spears per year – and they should continue to crop for somewhere between 20 and 25 years, so they really can be seen as a long-term investment!

In terms of cultivation, the process can be relatively simple – there are just a handful of basic rules that ought to be followed.

Mid-April is the ideal time to consider planting crowns. However, it is worth preparing the planting area as early as possible – as this will allow any weeds to be completely removed from the soil. Grit – or plenty of compost – can be added if the area is not draining very well.

When it comes to a specific planting plan, there are no hard and fast rules – the only thing to bear in mind is that the crowns should be kept at least 45 cm apart. A 25 cm deep trench by 30 cm wide should be dug out for each row, with the bottom eight cm or so filled with well-rotted compost.

Indeed, in an article for UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, former presenter of television magazine show Gardeners' World and garden writer Alys Fowler said that plenty of compost is an absolute necessity.

"It needs all the muck and compost you can spare – and to sit in a sunny spot. Reward it with both and you will get lots of spears," she commented, adding: "Asparagus's perennial roots are thick, fleshy and span out from the crown like an octopus.

"They allow the asparagus to survive the onslaught in spring, when the gardener slices off every tender shoot. The roots act as a food store, but there is a limit, which is why the asparagus-picking season is so short. The plant needs the rest of the summer to restock its store, which is why after a month or so of picking, you let those spears turn into tall, fern-like fronds."

Ms Fowler added that asparagus should really not be crowded out with weeds – so measures should be taken to avoid them creeping in. Particular attention should be paid to this possibility during summer – when tall leaves cast a lot of shade.