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When buying new asparagus plants, most plant retailers will only offer a small range of one or two year old plants. Although they will always look healthy in the pots, there is always a risk of failure when it comes to transplanting. This can be as much as 10%-15% for one year old stock and as high as 20% for 2 year old stock! When paying full retail prices - particularly with regards to 2 year old stock - this can end up being an expensive lesson.
Growing asparagus from seed - either in pots or directly into the beds – will not only give you the best viability - with a survival rate of around 100% - it is also the cheapest way to obtain new stock. In addition, with direct sowing there is no transplanting or root shock to delay valuable root development. The best time to sow asparagus seeds outside is around mid-April when the ground is warm enough to initiate germination. A good tip is to soak the seeds in water for a couple of hours before planting. You will find that this will help to speed up the germination process considerably.
Once your asparagus bed has been prepared, rake over the top layer of soil into a fine tilth, then sow the seed into thin rows down to a depth of about 2 inches. Depending on how many plants you intend cropping each subsequent row should be between 12 and 18 inches apart. Water them in well if conditions are consistently dry. The new seedlings should emerge in about 3 weeks, and as soon as they are large enough they can be thinned out to about 2 inches apart. Then, once the seedlings reach about 6 inches high, they can be thinned out again to around 18 inches apart.
For the rest of the year you just need to keep the beds weeded and the plants well-watered. If you have bought seed varieties that produce both male and female plants, you will need to remove any female forms as soon as they become identifiable - normally from their berries. This is because female plants divert a large amount of their energy into producing seed and berries instead of the more coveted edible spears!
Growing your own asparagus plants from seed can delay establishment of your bed by an additional year, but it does ensure that you are starting with new crowns that have not lost any of their vigour through being lifted, stored and shipped. However, not only will you have a larger selection of varieties available to you, if you choose your varieties wisely you will still be able to harvest in their second year.
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