AsparagusWhy plant

Considered a delicacy and highly prized because of its short growing season and price in the shops.

Has important health giving properties.

Interesting uses

Apart from a suggestion of its usefulness as a shark deterrent (are you likely to have asparagus hidden in your swimming trunks just in case?) and its success if you want to make your wee smell funny, there are no unusual uses.

However, asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle and asparagus may repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants


Asparagus originated in the eastern Mediterranean. Traces of wild varieties have also been found in Africa. It’s also thought to have been  cultivated in ancient Egypt.

Asparagus gets its name from the Persian word ‘asparag’ meaning sprout, stalk or shoot. It was popular with the ancient Greeks who believed it to have both sacred and aphrodisiac powers and it’s known that Hippocrates used it for medicinal purposes such as the treatment of  diarrhoea and urinary problems.

The vegetable was also popular with the Romans, who had written instructions on how to grow  asparagus. So prized were these perennial shoots by the Romans that not only did they enjoy eating them in season but they were also the first to preserve it by freezing as early as the 1st Century AD when fast chariots would take the fresh asparagus from the Tiber River area to the Alps where it kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurus.

The Romans are responsible for having introduced asparagus to England, where it gradually gained favour with the nobles and by the early 16th century it was widely served in many of the Royal courts of Europe.

By the 17th Century, asparagus was being commercially cultivated in England. Asparagus was so popular that it even got a mention by Samuel Pepys, the diarist, who recorded that he bought a bundle of "sparrow grass" in Fenchurch Street for 1s.6p.

Health benefits

Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and dietary fibre, all believed to play an important role in the fight against cancer. It’s also rich in soluble fibre, known to have a protective effect against degenerative heart diseases. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium, which may help to control blood pressure and the high folic acid content

helps to reduce blood homocysteine levels, thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. Asparagus is also low in fat and sodium, making it a good choice for those concerned about a healthy heart.

Asparagus is one of the richest sources of rutin (a natural substance found in plants) which together with vitamin C, can help to energise and protect the body from infections. It is also a source of iron, which boosts the immune system and prevents anaemia. Additionally, asparagus can make you feel good by boosting your sex drive, assisting in weight loss and is also great for nails, skin and hair.

Asparagus is low in calories with less than four kcal per average spear, which as part of a balanced diet can help weight loss, and it’s also very low in cholesterol, has no fat and very little sodium so can help to maintain heart function and blood pressure levels.

Finally, asparagus is a mild diuretic and is believed to help detoxify the body, helping it to get rid of excess water and combat cystitis. Asparagus contains prebiotics, which selectively stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut, soothing the stomach and aiding digestion.


Gijnlim - heavy crops one year after planting

Jersey Giant - dark green spears with a purple head

Jersey Knight Improved - thick, but tender spears

Purple asparagus of Alberga - Italian heritage variety with purple spears

Backlim - thick, green spears


Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, which makes it good for growing on plots where it will not be disturbed. However, it does take a long time to grow to maturity, so make sure you are planning to stay a while to see the fruits of your labour.

For a decent crop, asparagus needs to be given lots of space. It thrives in sun and well-drained soil but needs some protection from the wind. It can be grown in a raised bed but is not suitable for containers and won’t like heavy clay soils or a shady spot. Since it can remain productive for up to 20 years it's worthwhile spending time on preparing the bed to give it a flying start in life. Start in autumn by digging over the chosen ground thoroughly, mixing in plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and removing all perennial weeds.

Asparagus can be grown from seed, but this takes too long and it’s best to buy one year old crowns. In April, or after the risk of hard frosts has passed, make a straight trench 30cm (1 foot) wide by 20cm (8 inches) deep, and then pour soil down the length of the trench to make a 10cm (4 inches) high mound. Carefully take your asparagus crowns and sit them on top of the mound, spreading the roots out either sides. Then cover with about 5cm (2 inches) of soil, which has been sifted through a riddle or sieve.

Cover the plants with more sifted soil as the stems grow, aiming to completely fill the trench by autumn. Subsequent rows should be spaced 30cm (1 foot) apart.


Water newly planted crowns thoroughly and keep damp during dry weather. Succulent spears may appear soon after planting but avoid the temptation to harvest them or you'll weaken the crowns. During their first two years of growth, plants should be left to form lots of ferny foliage. Cut down the stems in autumn leaving 5cm (2 inch) stumps above the ground. To prevent competition, keep beds free of weeds.


Most plants are ready to pick two years after planting, although several modern varieties have been bred for earlier cropping. To harvest spears wait until they're about 12cm (5 inches) long and remove them with a serrated knife, cutting them off just beneath the soil. Stop harvesting in mid-June to allow the plant to build up its energy for next year and give plants an extra boost by feeding with a general fertiliser.


Asparagus and parmesan tarts

Asparagus, sundried tomato and olive loaf

Asparagus with dipping sauces

Griddled asparagus

Asparagus soldiers with a soft boiled egg

Common problems

If a late frost strikes in May it may damage the crop, so if there’s any risk cover with fleece.

Slugs may nibble at the spears and rust can be a problem in wet years. Remove affected shoots if rust strikes.

The asparagus beetle is rarely a problem to home growers. They are small with orange markings on their 7mm (1/4 inch) long bodies and will attack foliage and spears. After harvest pick up garden debris and turn the soil over around plants to disturb overwintering beetles. Begin scouting plants in early May or just after plants emerge. Harvest spears as early as possible. Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewing, will consume the eggs and small larvae. Hand pick the adults and immature stages from plants and drop them in a pail of soapy water. Also, remove the dark brown eggs from the spears. Spot treat adult beetles as a last resort with botanical insecticides.

Finally, the biggest risk is over cropping in the early years causing weakened plants and spindly spears. It is hard, but restraint will pay benefits.

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