Winter versus Asparagus


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Hi All!
I've searched many articles and found conflicting advice about what to do to Prepare & Protect asparagus plants over the winter.

We live in USDA Zone 6a (Detroit, Michigan USA) The plants have just completed Year 3. No fruit, but very bushy and suddenly large plants. For the first two years, they were in pots & we took them indoors, using a grow light on a timer. They lived in the cool basement, which in winter can be as low as 35-F, but is generally about 50-F. The variety is Mary Washington. They are now much too large to transplant & move indoors.

One piece of advice that I read often is to cover them with leaves. (We have many, many maple leaves available.) Other articles say not to do this because it will smother the plants. I can make planer shavings or chips of wood- even sawdust if one of those is more appropriate.

Some articles say just to let the snow cover the plants because covering them with mulch will cause rot. We also get ice storms, so sometimes the existing snow melts and freezes into ice, with more ice on top. That seems heavy for plants. (Although their neighbor, a small Serbian Bellflower, has lived through this brutal treatment for many years.)

Some say to protect the asparagus from wind with a fence. The do have a wide-spaced & short picket around them so my dog buddy doesn't trample them. We get occasional strong wind for a day at a time- Yesterday had 50 mph.
Other sites said that fences trap debris. The reasoning is that the debris will help fungus grow or promote rot.

Which method is preferred for protecting the plants?

About cutting back, just about every place I read said cutting back is important, but almost all said to never cut back until everything turns brown. We've already had freeezing weather this year. It was down to +4-F a couple of weeks ago. Most of the ferns are not brown, but still beautifully bright green. Only 3 or 4 sticks are brown & dry. Last year, in the basement, about half of the sticks turned brown & I cut them off. The rest stayed green all winter.

Should I cut the green back, or leave the green ferns on the plants for winter- cutting only the few brown ones off?
If cutting back, how close to the ground does one cut?

Thanks for teaching me the real way to care for these plants this winter! I do appreciate your knowledge sharing.
Enjoy This Day!
Paul
 
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Let me see if I can allay all of your fears about rot and fungus and freezing and wind with asparagus. Your first mistake was taking the plants inside for the winter. They are perennials and the tops are supposed to die back in the fall to reemerge in the spring, not kept under lights for the winter. You are growing tops, not roots by doing this. Covering the plants after dieback with leaves is a great thing to do and the deeper the better. After dieback is also the time to carefully remove all grass and weeds and other detritus acquired during the growing year. Anyway, leaves are great but so is any other organic matter. A layer of compost a couple of inches deep is also great. Protecting asparagus from wind can be important but not in the winter as the plant is underground, not up in the air. A cold wind on emerging shoots in the spring can damage the young shoots but after the shoots are a about a foot tall a big wind will do little to them in the long term. You don't want your dog trampling your asparagus so a fence is a good idea. Just before spring and new shoots emerging remove any trapped debris from around the fence and put it on the asparagus bed and rake it smooth. At the same time you are doing this fertilize heavily with a good organic (not synthetic or oil based) fertilizer. Don't worry about using too much, it's about impossible. In other words, you don't have to protect the plants except when they are first emerging during the spring. In the fall, after the first frost, the ferns will die. After they have died cut them off at a little below ground level and apply those leaves or compost. Then in the spring when the little shoots begin to appear you can cut SOME of the spears off and eat them. But don't take all of them because you need some of the ferns to keep feeding the root crown and the root crown is what produces more shoots which in turn become the ferns. When I havest asparagus I always cut the spears off at about 1/2" below the soil when they are about 8 " tall.

I don't know what you did to the crown of the plant (if anything) by taking it inside during the winter and keeping a light on it. It may not have hurt anything but it also may have slowed the maturity of the crown. It normally takes 2-3 years for a MINIMAL harvest but by taking the plant indoors I just don't know. In any case don't take any of the spears the first year the plant is in the ground.
 
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I am in zone 5. I simply cut the prolific growth in the Winter. The bed is covered with wood chips. My bed is about 5 by 10 and I get from 11 to 15 pounds of cuttings come Spring. Really no special care. The first food come Spring.
http://durgan.org/2011/?p=7958 6 May 2019 Asparagus (2019 season)
 
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Thank You All for the information you shared.

I understand what you said, Chuck, about taking them indoors was improper. Perhaps this is why we had no fruit this (3rd) year. When I planted them in earth this year (the first time out of pots), each root ball was quite small, as were the plants. The plants are large now!

Having natural materials to cover them with is easy here. I've already taken maple leaves to the curb for pick up 3 times- each time the pile was 4 feet wide, 3 feet high (wetted & packed) and over 40 feet long.
We have many more to pick up, but those will be ground up and mixed in the ground. I stick a bunch in a trash can and shove the string trimmer in, raising & lowering it a bunch of items. We end up with little, tiny pieces for the gardens.

I also use my saw & planer to make wood dust & shavings to use on the steps and sidewalks for ice anti-slip traction. It is way more earth and animal friendly than salt or chemicals. Spread it on the ice & walk on it. It will stay until melt, no matter the wind. In spring, that which got shoveld onto the lawn is gone. Perhaps I'll make extra for the asparagus covering. (It's all spruce, pine or fir. No cedar or redwood.)

Locally, the city gives away mulch, but the one time I used it, all things it touched died. A neighbor had the same thing happen. My theory is there are lawn clippings with weed killers & pesticides in the stuff they pick up to compost. It seems almost every lawn around here has those little signs about weed killer applications. And we wonder where the bees have gone & why there are so many dead birds & squirrels laying about. I'd imagine that stuff contributes to cancer in our pets, too. (Walk on grass, lick paws...)

One follow-up question is:
We've had many frost days and some snow falls, including some in single digit Fahrenheit days. All but a few ferns are still green. Should I cut them if they don't turn brown & die?
Thanks Again!
Paul
 
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Thank You All for the information you shared.

I understand what you said, Chuck, about taking them indoors was improper. Perhaps this is why we had no fruit this (3rd) year. When I planted them in earth this year (the first time out of pots), each root ball was quite small, as were the plants. The plants are large now!

Having natural materials to cover them with is easy here. I've already taken maple leaves to the curb for pick up 3 times- each time the pile was 4 feet wide, 3 feet high (wetted & packed) and over 40 feet long.
We have many more to pick up, but those will be ground up and mixed in the ground. I stick a bunch in a trash can and shove the string trimmer in, raising & lowering it a bunch of items. We end up with little, tiny pieces for the gardens.

I also use my saw & planer to make wood dust & shavings to use on the steps and sidewalks for ice anti-slip traction. It is way more earth and animal friendly than salt or chemicals. Spread it on the ice & walk on it. It will stay until melt, no matter the wind. In spring, that which got shoveld onto the lawn is gone. Perhaps I'll make extra for the asparagus covering. (It's all spruce, pine or fir. No cedar or redwood.)

Locally, the city gives away mulch, but the one time I used it, all things it touched died. A neighbor had the same thing happen. My theory is there are lawn clippings with weed killers & pesticides in the stuff they pick up to compost. It seems almost every lawn around here has those little signs about weed killer applications. And we wonder where the bees have gone & why there are so many dead birds & squirrels laying about. I'd imagine that stuff contributes to cancer in our pets, too. (Walk on grass, lick paws...)

One follow-up question is:
We've had many frost days and some snow falls, including some in single digit Fahrenheit days. All but a few ferns are still green. Should I cut them if they don't turn brown & die?
Thanks Again!
Paul
You can cut them if you like but they will soon die anyway. The main thing is to apply the leaves/mulch. I have been lazy in the past and didn't cut or remove the dead ferns until the spring. Most of them had fallen over during the winter but removing them is better.
 
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Thank You Chuck!
I suppose I'll stall around until before the next freeze is predicted, the cut them off- green or brown. Thanks, too, for the reminder to cover them. I have a few (zillion) leaves left over that I can layer over the plants.
 
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Thanks Again Chuck & Durgan for your help and advice!

I cut the brown & green ferns down to a bit above the crown and removed the cuttings to the curb for city leaf pickup. (The city scoops up leaves at the curb to sell to composting companies.)

Just for fun, here's a photo. There are about 16" of damp leaves loosely laid on top.
Sorry the photo is lousy & dark. (Ansel Adams is looking down & shaking his head at this photo!)

Enjoy This Day!
Paul
 

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random ? regarding this. I always do the leave deal, but I also throw down tarps overtop of the leaves. would this hurt asparagus?
 
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random ? regarding this. I always do the leave deal, but I also throw down tarps overtop of the leaves. would this hurt asparagus?
It might affect the decomposition of the leaves and I can't think of anything positive by using a tarp. I can't see it affecting the asparagus itself in any way.
 
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It might affect the decomposition of the leaves and I can't think of anything positive by using a tarp. I can't see it affecting the asparagus itself in any way.
the tarps help keep leaves in place and breaks down the leaves a bit quicker. it also seems that the beds I tarp, have a ton more worms in spring. I have never put tarps on aspargus
 
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I'm going to try your tarp idea, Skinyea on a pile of leaves over an empty dirt patch. I sure could use as many worms as I can get in this clay soil.
 
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I'm going to try your tarp idea, Skinyea on a pile of leaves over an empty dirt patch. I sure could use as many worms as I can get in this clay soil.
I learned it from someone on here. It definitely help bring a lot of worms.
 

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