In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2007
Regional Report

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My asparagus fern hasn't begun to brown, even with our cold nights, because I keep it well watered.

Planting Bare-Root Asparagus and Artichokes

Roses aren't the only bare-root delights to plant this month. Edible roots to plant for years and years of springtime dining pleasure include asparagus and artichokes. Here are some guidelines for growing asparagus:

1. Choose one-year-old crowns. Younger ones will struggle to survive (unless you've started them yourself). Older ones are too big to settle in energetically.

2. Plant roots about 18 inches apart to encourage strong growth that won't compete with neighboring plants.

3. Plant so the center of the crown is 6 inches deep. With our mild winters, this depth will allow the crown to remain cool longer so it won't overproduce and exhaust the plant. This depth also prevents damage to the crown as you harvest spears. As you add manure and mulch, the crowns will be deeper underground.

4. Restrain yourself from harvesting any spears next year. You want all that developing energy to go back into the roots for a well-established plant. The following year, allow yourself only two or three shoots from each plant. The third year and following years in your garden, harvest spears that are larger than your little finger.

5. Leave ferns on plants throughout the season, trimming them only when they've turned crispy brown in winter. You want all that energy to be reabsorbed by the roots.

6. Feed yearly with a couple shovelfuls of manure per plant.

Follow these guidelines for growing artichokes:

1. Allow plenty of space; mature plants reach 6 feet in diameter and 4 feet tall.

2. Plant root sections 6 to 8 inches deep.

3. Locate where you can give lots of water to the roots, especially in early summer. Warm weather increases the toughness and decreases the flavor of the buds.

4. Keep plants well watered until the tops start to dry up, shortly after they've produced their last buds. Let the plants go dormant during the height of our hot summers.

5. Start watering plants again in late fall when new shoots appear.

6. Mature plants with multiple shoots seem to produce more spears than plants that have been divided and replanted.


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