The beautiful appearance and delicate flavor of asparagus make it a favorite among vegetable lovers. This nutrient-dense vegetable is also a delicious part of many vegetable recipes. In this article, we'll talk about growing asparagus, selecting and serving asparagus, and the health benefits of asparagus.

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tender young stem of the asparagus plant
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The tender young stem of the
asparagus plant is the part that is eaten.
See more pictures of vegetables.

About Asparagus

Asparagus is a long-lived hardy perennial with fleshy roots and fernlike, feathery foliage. The plant grows about 3 feet tall. The part that is eaten is the tender young stem. The popular houseplant asparagus fern is not a fern at all but a diminutive relative of edible asparagus.

Common Name: Asparagus
Scientific Name: Asparagus officinalis
Hardiness: Hardy (may survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow asparagus.

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asparagus? Try:
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Growing Asparagus

Crisp, succulent and delicately flavored, asparagus spears are a lovely addition to the dinner table. It's no wonder that this perennial vegetable is a favorite among home vegetable gardeners.

Asparagus grows well in most areas of the United States, except the Deep South. It thrives in a climate where the winters are cold enough to freeze the top few inches of soil and provide it with the necessary period of dormancy.
Although asparagus can be started from seeds, the best-quality plants come from crowns that can be ordered from a nursery. Plant asparagus four to six weeks before the area's average date of last frost.

Asparagus plants with a trench
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
A trench helps deliver sufficient water to asparagus spears as they grow.

Asparagus needs well-drained soil with a pH above 6. Full sun is best. To plant asparagus crowns, dig a trench or furrow l0 inches wide and l0 to l2 inches deep. Put in 2 to 4 inches of soil mixed with organic matter. Place the crowns on the soil with the roots well spread out. Cover with 2 more inches of soil. As the spears grow, gradually fill in the trench to the top. It's important to give asparagus sufficient water when the spears are forming.

Harvesting
Asparagus

Asparagus should not be harvested until it is three years old; the crowns need time to develop fully. During the third season, cut off the spears at or slightly below soil level. Harvest asparagus when the spears are 8 to l0 inches tall; if the stalks have started to feather out, it's too late to eat them. Stop harvesting when the stalks begin coming up pencil-thin.


Asparagus Growing Tips

These tips will help you grow succulent and delicious asparagus:
  • Mulch asparagus every spring with several inches of compost or decayed livestock manure. Asparagus, a greedy feeder, will use all the nutrients it can get its roots on and grow that much better for it. By mulching in the spring, you can fertilize, help keep the soil moist, and reduce weed seed germination all in one effort. The shoots that arise through the mulch will grow especially plump and succulent.
  • Make fancy white asparagus spears with a simple blanching basket. This European connoisseur's vegetable is easy to grow at home. When the spears first emerge in spring, cover them with a bucket, basket, or mound of soil that will exclude all light. Harvest when the spears reach 8 to 10 inches tall and before the ferny leaves begin to emerge.
Types of Asparagus
You have several types of asparagus to choose from when growing asparagus in your home garden. White asparagus is not listed below, because it is not a different variety of asparagus -- it is green asparagus that is grown without exposure to sunlight.
We've listed the different varieties of asparagus below.
  • Mary Washington is widely available and resistant to asparagus rust.
  • UC l57 was developed for Southern climates. It is resistant to fusarium root.
  • Purple Passion is a novelty with purple spears.
  • Jersey Giant is disease resistant.
Knowing how to select asparagus is the key to enjoying this delicious vegetable. Learn how to select asparagus in the next section.

Want more information about asparagus? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature asparagus.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Selecting Asparagus

Asparagus has earned a reputation for being elitist, probably because it's rather expensive when bought out of season. But if you're like many people, you may swear it's worth its weight in gold.

Spotting the first asparagus in stores is a sign of early spring. Look for a bright green color; stalks that are smooth, firm, straight, and round, not flat; and tips that are compact, closed, pointed, and purplish in color. Thick stalks are fine, but choose stalks of similar size so they'll cook at the same rate. Keep asparagus cold or the stalks will deteriorate, losing flavor and vitamin C. Wrapped loosely in a plastic bag, the stalks will keep for almost a week. To enjoy asparagus year-round, blanch the spears the day you buy them, wrap them tightly in foil, and freeze for up to 12 months.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Asparagus

Bunches of asparagus spears
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Look for bright green color
when selecting asparagus
spears.

Wash them thoroughly, and snap off the whitish stem ends. Add these to soup stock instead of just tossing them out. Boil, steam, or microwave asparagus, but avoid overcooking it. When cooked correctly, the spears should be crisp-tender and bright green. Overcooked spears turn mushy and a drab olive green. Simmer for three to five minutes only. For more even cooking, stand stalks upright in boiling water, with the tips sticking out of the water, for five to ten minutes. This way, the tips steam as the stalks cook. Microwaving takes two to three minutes in a dish with a quarter-cup water. You can serve asparagus hot, warm, or cold. For a change of pace, try adding cut-up asparagus to your next stir-fry or pasta dish.

Keep reading to learn about the many health benefits of asparagus.

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Health Benefits of Asparagus

single asparagus spear
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
A single asparagus spear has
fewer than four calories.

Asparagus can almost be called the ideal vegetable. It's rich in nutrients, very low in calories and very high in flavor. When cooked properly, each asparagus spear retains its crunchy yet tender texture, making it satisfying and filling -- and, at less than four calories per spear, a great choice for those watching their weight.

Health Benefits of Asparagus

Asparagus is ideal for young women; it's a winner when it comes to
folic acid -- a vitamin that helps prevent neural-tube birth defects. Two major antioxidants -- beta-carotene and vitamin C -- are also abundant in asparagus. By neutralizing damaging particles in our bodies like smog and cigarette smoke, antioxidants are major contenders in the fight against heart disease, cancer, and cataracts.

Nutritional Values of Fresh and Cooked Asparagus
Serving Size: 4 spears
Calories 13
Fat 1 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 g
Carbohydrate 3 g
Protein 2 g
Dietary Fiber 1 g
Sodium 8 mg
Vitamin A
604 IU
Vitamin C 5 mg
Folic Acid 89 micrograms
Potassium 134 mg
Carotenoids
380 micrograms

Want more information about asparagus? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature asparagus.
  • Nutrition: Find out how asparagus fits in with your overall nutrition plans.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.