Volume 14, Issue 15 ~ April 13 - April 19, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Asparagus for Food and Foliage

Food takes patience; foliage gratifies quickly

Asparagus tops make for a great background for flowering plants, and fresh spears of asparagus on toast with Hollandaise sauce make a great meal. Now that all-male asparagus cultivars are available, you need not worry about asparagus plants becoming a weed in your garden. Another notable novelty in addition to the traditional green asparagus is cultivars with purple foliage. The dense feathery foliage affords not only contracting background color but motion as well, as even the slightest breeze ripples asparagus foliage.

Asparagus need a well-drained soil and full sun to reach maximum potential.

To successfully plant asparagus, in early April dig a trench 10 to 12 inches wide and eight to 10 inches deep. Place one to two inches of compost in the bottom of the trench and spade the compost into the soil to a depth of four inches. Place the asparagus crowns over the spaded soils at eight-inch intervals, spreading the roots uniformly flat on the soil. Cover with about two inches of soil amended 1:1 with compost. As the asparagus spears begin to grow, continue adding amended soil to the trench until the trench is full.

Do not harvest any asparagus spears for at least two years. Allow the foliage to grow to its maximum height, and do not cut the stems to the ground in late fall until they have completely turned golden brown. By delaying cutting back the tops, you allow all of the residual nutrients in the stems and leaves to return to the roots. After you have cut the asparagus stems back to the ground in the fall, mulch the bed with a two-inch-thick layer of compost. The compost mulch will not only help to insulate the bed but will also supply all of the nutrient needs for next year.

In the third year, you may start harvesting asparagus spears in the spring. During the first year of harvesting, you should limit your harvests to two. For maximum recovery, cut the asparagus spears just below the surface of the soil using a sharp knife.

Nightshade in Lilac

Q I have a thriving lilac bush that blooms regularly. However, each year I find a type of narrow vine spiraling up several of the shoots. The markings on the vine and the leaves it produces are very similar to those of the lilac. Is this a weed or part of the bush?  Should I continue to fight it or let it grow?

—Tyras Madren, Olney

A I strongly suspect the vine is a nightshade. If 30 to 50 percent of its leaves are mitten-shaped, it could be the deadly nightshade. It will produce small red berries in late summer if you allow the flowers to mature. It has a perennial root system and is difficult to kill by simply pulling it out. It can be killed with Roundup by first separating it from the lilac plant and laying it on the ground before spraying the foliage.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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