In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2008
Regional Report

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2719

Without winter frost, asparagus ferns don't die back before putting up new spears.

Asparagus, Food of the Gods

Those slender spears are succulent and delicately tasty, certainly welcome after a winter of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce. But some problems may arise, and here are some things to consider for more successful crops over the coming years, since a well-cared-for bed can last some 15 years!

Problem: Plants that turn tan or brown from their tops downward have been attacked by the asparagus beetle.
Solution: Hose off plants with a strong stream of water to dislodge the beetles. Remove and destroy the beetles and their larvae as soon as they are spotted. Spray heavy infestations with rotenone. Rotenone kills beneficial insects also, so use only for major infestations. Plant tomatoes as repellents.

Problem: Stems and branches with reddish brown spots have been infected by asparagus rust. The entire plant yellows, weakens, and dies. Rust needs dampness to germinate.
Solution: Plant resistant varieties. Avoid damp or low-lying areas. Cut tops close to the soil, and destroy (don't compost) them.

Problem: If spears are thin and weak or do not come up at all, the plants have been weakened by poor cultural care, previous attack by insects or disease, or frost or drought; or they have been harvested too heavily.
Solution: Fertilize and irrigate the plants adequately. Control damage by pests and keep weeds down so they don't compete with the plants. Mulch soil to protect against freezing or drought conditions. Do not harvest until spears are from 1/4 to 3/8 inch wide. Limit harvest to allow plants to recover.

Problem: Spears that are tough are too mature, or perhaps the soil was too acid or not fertile enough.
Solution: Harvest when the spears are 6 to 8 inches long. The plants are heavy feeders, so mulch them with lots of manure during the fall or winter. Rains and irrigation will then wash "manure tea" down to the roots.


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