Types Of Asparagus – Learn About Different Varieties Of Asparagus


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Establishing a healthy bed of asparagus requires considerable work but, once established, you’ll enjoy asparagus in early spring for a very long time. Asparagus is a long-lived perennial vegetable – so long lived, in fact, that some types of asparagus survive for 20 to 30 years. Read on to learn more about different asparagus varieties, including a few heirloom asparagus types.

Growing Male Types of Asparagus

Asparagus is either male or female. Most gardeners plant primarily male plants, which produce larger spears in greater numbers. This is because female plants expend tremendous energy producing seeds and small, weedy seedlings that compete with established asparagus plants.

Until the last two decades, types of asparagus consisted of a mix of male and female plants. However, researchers have discovered ways to effectively propagate all-male varieties of asparagus. Look for all-male plants for plenty of big, flavorful spears.

Varieties of Asparagus

‘Jersey’ Series – This all-male series of hybrid asparagus varieties include ‘Jersey Giant,’ a hardy plant that performs well in chilly climates. ‘Jersey Knight’ is one of the more vigorous types of asparagus; highly resistant to asparagus diseases such as crown rot, rust and fusarium wilt. ‘Jersey Supreme’ is a newer, disease-resistant variety that produces spears earlier than ‘Giant’ or ‘Knight.’ ‘Supreme’ is an excellent choice for light, sandy soil.

‘Purple Passion’ – As its name suggests, this widely grown variety produces attractive, ultra-sweet purple spears. If purple asparagus doesn’t sound appetizing, don’t worry; the color fades when the asparagus is cooked. ‘Purple Passion’ consists of both male and female plants.

‘Apollo’ – This asparagus type performs well in both chilly and warm weather conditions. It is highly disease-resistant.

‘UC 157’ – This is a hybrid asparagus that performs well in warmer climates. This pale green, disease-resistant asparagus is both male and female.

‘Atlas’ – Atlas is a vigorous variety that performs well in hot weather. This asparagus type is resistant to most asparagus diseases, including fusarium rust.

‘Viking KBC’ – This is a newer hybrid variety in a mix of male and female plants. ‘Viking’ is known to produce large yields.

Heirloom Asparagus Types

‘Mary Washington’ is a traditional variety that produces long, deep green spears with pale purple tips. Appreciated for its uniform size and delicious flavor, ‘Mary Washington’ has been a favorite of American gardeners for more than a century.

‘Precoce D’Argenteuil’ asparagus is an heirloom variety that is popular in Europe for its sweet stalks, each topped with an attractive, rosy pink tip.

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How to Grow Asparagus | Guide to Growing Asparagus


Binomial Name: Asparagus officinalis
Varieties: Mary Washington, Martha Washington, Waltham Washington

Among the earliest crops in spring, plantings of this hardy perennial can last for decades if well cared for, and the fine foliage makes it a natural for edible landscaping. The tender spears are tastiest when eaten as soon as possible after harvest.

Well Drained, Acid, Droughty

Growing Guide
GROWING NOTES
Prefers loose, deep soils high in organic matter. Prefers pH near 7.0, but tolerates a wide range. Add lime and fertilizer before establishment.

Small, yellowish green. Older varieties such as Mary Washington have male and female flowers on separate plants. Male flowers are larger and longer than female.

Fernlike, finely dissected texture

Tall with fern-like fronds.

Must grow at least 2 years before harvest, 3 is recommmended

Will produce for about twenty years.

MAINTAINING
Carefully consider site before planting this long-lived perennial. Test soil and apply phosphorus, potassium and lime as indictated before planting. Avoid frost pockets as late killing frosts will damage spears.

Plant crowns 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost, 18 to 24 inches apart in trenches 8 inches deep. (5 inches deep for Jersey series cultivars.) Spread roots in bottom of trench and cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil. Gradually cover with more soil as the plants grow.

Do not cut back ferns in fall until they die naturally.

For highest yields, plant all-male hybrids, such as the Jersey series from Rutgers University (Jersey Giant, Jersey King, Jersey Knight). If using older varieties, such as Martha Washington, you can identify the less productive female plants at flowering and replace them with male plants. The flowers on male plants are larger and longer than the female flowers, have six stamens and a small nonfunctional pistil. The female flowers have six small nonfunctional pistils and a well developed, three-lobed stamen.

Water during dry spells during the first year. Do not overwater as plants don’t tolerate water-logged soils.

To blanch asparagus, carefully hill soil over spears or grow under opaque buckets or row covers.

Midsummer mulching with hay, straw, leaves or grass clippings helps control weeds and keep soil from drying out. (Be careful not to bring in weed seeds with your mulch.) Regular applications of compost or well-rotted manure provide a steady source of nutrients.

Weeds can be challenging. Keep plantings well cultivated and mulched to prevent weeds from getting established. Mulch heavily around plantings to keep spreading weeds such as quackgrass from invading. While plants are salt-tolerant, the old practice of using salt to kill weeds is not recommended. With older varieties that are not all-male, weed out volunteer plants from females that set seed.

Heirloom seeds are the gardeners choice for seed-saving from year-to-year. Learning to save seeds is easy and fun with these books. Before you harvest, consider which varieties you might want to save seeds from so that your harvesting practice includes plants chosen for seed saving. Be sure to check out our newest seed packs, available now from Heirloom Organics. The Super Food Garden is the most nutrient dense garden you can build and everything you need is right here in one pack. The Genesis Garden s a very popular Bible Garden collection. The Three Sisters Garden was the first example of companion planting in Native American culture. See all of our brand-new seed pack offerings in our store.


Varieties to try

Asparagus was planted in America sometime before 1672. Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon’s broadside catalog of 1804 lists two varieties: Gravesend and Battersea. The modern thicker-stemmed asparagus was developed in the late 18th century. By the latter part of the 19th century, there were many American varieties, including Barr’s Mammoth, Conover’s Colossal, Columbian Mammoth White, Donald’s Elmira, Eclipse, Hub, Moore’s Cross-Bred, and Palmetto. Two basic colors of asparagus were common: green, which varied from medium to light green, and white. Truly purple asparagus is of modern origination derived from purple tinged heirloom varieties.

Older heirloom asparagus varieties are quite hard to find. Conover’s Colossal is available as seed from a few online sources. It was introduced in 1868 by J.M. Thorburn Company of New York, and developed by S.B. Conover. It has green spears tinged with purple, and produces thick stems more than an inch wide.

Similarly hard to find is a French variety Precoce D’Argentuil, Early Purple Argenteuil or some variation of that name listed by the French seedsman Vilmorin-Andrieux in 1885. It has rose-purple-tipped spears with white stalks, excellent taste, and yields from seed relatively quickly. This type was often blanched to produce white spears.

Mary Washington is one of the standard old-timers that was developed in a breeding program specifically for rust resistance in Concord, Massachusetts, around 1910, along with its sister variety Martha Washington. Mary produces good early yields of long green spears of excellent quality. Its tall non-branching habit produces extra-long spears. Through the years, a variety of strains have been produced with slight differences. Mary is available as seed, and probably the only heirloom variety available as crowns.

Purple Passion is a modern open-pollinated variety with burgundy spears and a light green interior. One of its parents was an heirloom discovered in Switzerland. It is sweet and tender with a nutty flavor, and is good for fresh, uncooked eating. Sweet Purple is a similar hybrid variety released around 1997. It is an attractive burgundy-purple color, yielding large tender spears, with noticeable sweet flavor that also makes excellent raw eating.

Another modern hybrid is Jersey Knight, which has become a standard variety for gardeners, especially in the North. It was developed by Rutgers University in New Jersey as part of the Jersey series, yielding mostly male plants. It has good resistance to rust, fusarium and crown rot, as well as medium green, large spears with good yields and taste. It grows fairly well in heavy soils. Jersey Giant and Jersey Supreme are similar – both are earlier bearing, and Jersey Giant has purple bracts.

While lacking an appealing name, Viking KB3 is an open-pollinated variety that is considered very hardy yet will perform well in hot, dry areas. It has good yields and does produce female plants. Another performer in warm climates with a lackluster name is UC 157, developed at the University of California at Riverside. It has good yields, green spears, and is disease resistant. This variety is not suitable for cold climates, being hardy only to Zone 6.

One strategy for the kitchen garden is to plant a bed of heirloom asparagus and a bed of hybrid. That way you get the best of both worlds and can try your hand at seed-raised plants. And if you raise enough heirloom plants, you can even spread some history to your neighbors.

Lawrence Davis-Hollander is an ethnobotanist, plantsman and gardener, former director and founder of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, and currently a contributor to Dandelion Gardening Arts in Norfolk, Connecticut.


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Can you plant different varieties of Asparagus in the same bed?

I am not sure this is the best place to post this but I was hoping someone could let me know if you are able to plant different varieties in the same raised bed? I am building some raised beds for my garden this weekend and one of them I plan to be an asparagus bed. Its going to be 10'x2'x10" (side note: is this an appropriate size?) and I wanted to plant Mary Washington and Purple passion half on each side. I have tried googling for the answer but haven't found anything. I know that both varieties will spread over time but its what I have available to me (I have 3-1yr crows of each and will buy more if it will work out). Any asparagus growers have input/experience with this? If not I am thinking of scraping the idea and ordering some 3yr crowns from http://www.andysasparagusacres.com/ or https://www.gurneys.com/category/asparagus-plants/a of all one variety.

Gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

Yes, they can be planted in the same bed, just as you can plant different types of tomatoes or squash in the same bed (providing it is of sufficient size). There are not really any issues with cross pollination resulting in hybrids since you are not harvesting or growing new plants from seed.


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High yields, high vigor, and high quality spears are trademarks of this all-male variety.

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