Pruning Asparagus

A question came in to Ask Gardenerd this week:

Could
you please help me understand how to trim my 4’ tall asparagus patch
that was planted in the fall? Does it need to turn completely brown? How
low do I trim it?

Great question, and the answer can be confusing, because there are two schools of thought on the matter.  Many gardeners, including those at Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply (here’s their video), recommend cutting asparagus back in the late fall and mulching with straw to protect the plants from frost.  This can help prevent the crowns from rotting from fungi that develop on the plant over winter.  Some say to cut back the fronds at soil level, other say to cut them about 1 inch above the soil.

On the flip side of the coin, there are gardeners and farmers who leave their foliage until spring.  Much like bulbs, those fronds are collecting nutrients for next years production.  There are farmers who also claim that the existing foliage will tent snowfall (if you have that) and insulate the plant from frost damage.  My own personal pruning preferences reside on this side of the coin.

asparagusinlatefall
One of our asparagus beds in late fall.  Partially brown, not yet ready to cut back

There’s a reason why I leave the foliage until spring: habitat.

About 3 years ago, when I first planted asparagus, I noticed in late summer and early fall that ladybugs would “move in” to the asparagus patch to mate and lay their young.  The benefits were obvious.  Ladybug larvae eat about 400 aphids in a couple weeks, meaning my garden would be practically aphid-free by the end of their visit.

ladybugonasparagus
Just one of hundreds of lady beetles that makes our asparagus patch home for the winter

ladybugsonasparagus
Behind the dead asparagus fronds is a renegade tomato plant. 

This year our lady beetles have more to munch on.  Our renegade tomato plant volunteer from summer is still producing, but is beginning to be covered with aphids.  The lady beetles are taking swift action, enjoying themselves immensely.

So in the spring, I will cut down my asparagus foliage, and layer about 1 inch of compost in each bed.  That will give them the signal that it’s time to start producing.  Over winter, I still water occasionally, but much less often.  In snowy conditions you wouldn’t do this, of course.

I hope this helps. Thanks for your questions – keep writing in.

Hey gardenerds, what do you do with your asparagus? Share your experiences with us here.

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11 Responses to Pruning Asparagus

  1. Dan R-M says:

    We always leave our foliage up, but mostly because there are almost always more pressing tasks to be done. I’d never thought that there might be advantages to doing it intentionally…
    In other news, I’m passing a Liebster Blog award to you. You do a fantastic job of covering a great amount of territory, and I think your blogging is wonderful!

  2. Christy Wilhelmi says:

    Thanks so much for the honor, Dan.  I will write about it this week and pay it forward. 

  3. Frances Ford says:

    Thank you for the information. I left mine up but didn’t know when to cut it back. You say “spring;” how late, then, do you cut back the foliage? I too have noticed the lady beetles.

    • Christy says:

      Glad you’ve got lady bugs too. I wish I could more specifically answer your question, but it really depends on your hardiness zone and frost dates. If you live in warm-winter climates like Los Angeles, you can probably cut the foliage back in February. I’d wait until later if your ground freezes over.

  4. Mary says:

    I planted my asparagus patch last spring. It is now tall and spindly and looks like it is going to seed. When and how much should I cut off? Will I be able to harvest some next Spring, as the pkg. said 3 years. Will that be considered the third year? Thank you.

    • Christy says:

      Yes, it will look tall and spindly for the first year. When it first comes out of the ground it will look like the asparagus we know, but then the tip opens up and we see fronds appear. You’re on the right track to let that happen for the first 2 years. Next year, watch for spears poking through the soil and pick them young. It’s worth the wait!

  5. Joe potter says:

    We are in June in Ohio with asparagus that grew past the eating stage into feathery foliage. It is three years old should we cut it to Encourage more shoots or let it go and wait for more or till next year?

    • Christy says:

      With my own asparagus, I leave the overgrowth and new spears still show up. In some schools of thought, people cut down the foliage in fall before winter, but I leave mine through winter to provide habitat for lady bugs and some say it insulates against snow (we don’t have snow). Those fronds are feeding the plant for next year, so I’m inclined to say leave them. That said, if you wanted to cut a few down as an experiment to see if the cut area produces more than the un-cut area (both this year and next year), then have at it and report back your findings.

  6. Anna Hill says:

    I wish I could send a picture of how my asparagus beds look they now have tiny red seed like balls on them very pretty. Can I save them to replant?
    Thanks

  7. MR. JOHNNY says:

    IT MAKES SINCE TO LEAVE STANDING BECAUSE OF THE LADY BUGS.ASK ANYBODY WHO GROW ROSES HOW IMPORTANT LADY BUGS ARE.THEY ARE A AWESOME INSEC,DO NOT DESTROY THERE SHELTER FOR WINTER.

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