By Arleen Wixtrom
After the long winter, we delight in seeing the first spring vegetable — the elegant asparagus. But the unique shape and delicious taste of this vegetable are only part of the joy if you know how to grow asparagus. The edible spears, not picked for eating, but left to grow, will mature into a beautiful lush background for flowering plants. And the fern-like plants can be picked to add a professional look to floral arrangements.
One Sunday when I brought a large bouquet of garden flowers accented with asparagus greens into church, an older avid gardener said, “Well, that bouquet didn’t come from anyone’s garden.”
He and a number of others, were surprised to know the flowers and asparagus greens in the bouquet were grown in my flower garden. And it is surprising to me that more people do not know how to grow asparagus for flower arrangements, since it enhances even the most simple floral bouquets.
Asparagus, a member of the lily family, is easy to learn how to grow. Asparagus produces fleshy perennial roots that bear for years and require little care except for weeding. It will thrive in many types of soil and weather conditions. But if you want fast growth, then plant in loose soil with a lot of organic matter. Plant your asparagus so it will receive full sunshine. Even large mature plants will die if transplanted to areas of extreme shade.
Planting the berries
If you already have an asparagus bed, pick the red, seed-filled berries in the fall, or buy roots to establish a bed. Seed may also be bought, but the plants will not produce new seed for a number of years. Be careful when handling the berries. They may be poisonous if eaten. Plant the berries just under the soil three inches apart. If your goal is to use them for a background for your flowers, plant them in the back one-third of your flower bed.
The year following the planting of the seeds, you’ll have delicate green feather plants, four to eight inches tall. Leave the young plants in clumps of three or four; then carefully separate and transplant them in the late fall or early spring.
By the following year the plants should be twice the size they were the first year. In three or four years your asparagus will be tall, but the spears will only have the diameter of a pencil lead. The small scale-like projections on the top of the asparagus spear will grow into a thick mass of plumes, making a stunning background for all your flowers, from early spring to late fall.
In the middle third of your flower bed, plant taller flowers, such as dahlias, Shasta daisies, calendula, zinnia and foxglove. Use shorter flowers such as pansies, geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, or petunias in the front third of your bed.
A variety of plant sizes can be grown by picking and planting the seed berries each fall. While the young plants make good background plants, the older, larger plants can be harvested in the spring for eating. If the plants get too crowded with other asparagus plants or flowers, they will not grow very large. They will be large enough for decorative purposes, but not for eating. To grow them for food, transplant the roots to an uncrowded garden with loose soil.
Create stunning centerpieces
Once you have mastered how to grow asparagus and have established a bed of asparagus ferns, trimmings can be taken here and there to make up a bouquet with your favorite flowers. With asparagus ferns for accent, you can create a stunning centerpiece. If your gardening thumb isn’t so green, or even as pale as mine, any garden flower will do for a bouquet. One of my favorite bouquets is made up of field flowers mixed with a few garden flowers and surrounded by asparagus ferns. Use the wild daisies, wild asters or forget-me-nots that grow in the fields or along a country roadside in your area. Add a few of the larger home-grown flowers. Surround the flowers with tall asparagus ferns. Add a few smaller pieces of fern to fill in-between the flowers and to hang over the edge of the vase.
Now that you know how to grow asparagus, start your asparagus bed this spring or in the fall. With asparagus ferns, your flower garden will turn into a showpiece and your home will be graced with bouquets that look like they came from the florist.
If you found this article on how to grow asparagus useful, you might consider growing other early vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, snow peas, strawberries or garlic. We get a lot of reader questions about growing cabbage and growing romaine lettuce or other lettuce types. In addition, we’ve had Countryside contributors share their stories about success with growing lettuce in containers.
Published in 2000