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Asparagus Growing Problem Troubleshooting

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that will keep on producing 20 years or longer given the right location and care.
Asparagus problems solved
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that will keep on producing 20 years or longer given the right location and care.

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that will keep on producing 20 years or longer given the right location and care.

A healthy asparagus patch requires a bit of attention. Rule Number One: Keep ahead of asparagus problems, pests and diseases.

Here is a troubleshooting list of possible asparagus problems with control and cure suggestions:

Asparagus Growing Problems and Solutions:

• Yellow to orange to reddish brown or black pustules on stems and leaves. Asparagus rust is a fungus disease. It is most prevalent in humid regions. Spear tops turn yellow and brown and die back. Plant resistant varieties such as Mary Washington and Martha Washington. Cut down diseased fern at the crown and destroy them.

• Plants and leaves are yellow. Overwateing and poor drainage. Allow soil to dry to a depth of 4 inches before watering again. Check soil pH; add lime if the pH is below 6.5.

• Plants are weak and spindly; few spears. Harvest was too early or too heavy. Plants must be allowed to store food for the next season before they go dormant. Asparagus should be picked the first year it is planted; the second year harvest for two weeks and the next year for 4 weeks. Stop harvesting when spears are thinner than a pencil.

• Spears are crooked, curved or malformed. Wind can distort spear growth; protect asparagus from prevailing winds. Too close cultivation will cause spears to malform: plant at the recommended distance and be careful when weeding.

• Spears are brown or discolored and soft. Frost injury occurs when the crop comes up too early in spring. Discard early spears. Protect crop with floating row covers.

• Spears weaken, wilt, yellow, turn brown, and die. Roots have reddish streaks. This can be caused by (1) Fusarium wilt, a soilborne fungus. Destroy infected plants. Solarize the soil. Rotate plantings; or (2) root rot fungi: rotate crops; plant resistant varieties such as Mary Washington; plant in well-drained area.

• Soft spots on tips and shoots; spear bend and turn white or light green. Phytopthora crown and spear rot is common in wet seasons. Dig out and destroy infested plants.

• Leaves are chewed and slimed. Snails and slugs eat leaves. Collect these pests at night. Set beer traps at soil level to attract and drown snails and slugs.

• Shoot tips are gnawed or channeled. Black stains on shoots. Asparagus beetle is a blue-black beetle; the larva is a dark green-gray grub to about ⅛-inch (9mm) long. Remove infected shoots. Wash away eggs, beetles and larvae with water. Keep the garden free of debris. Use rotenone.

• Shoots are white or yellow stippled. Spider mites suck plant juices causing stippling. Spray with water or use insecticidal soap or rotenone.

• Shoots are eaten near the soil surface. Cutworms are gray grubs in the soil beneath plants. Use cardboard collars around the stem of plants, pushed 1 inch into soil. Uncover and handpick grubs.

Asparagus Growing Success Tips:

Here are essentials to asparagus growing success:

Site and Soil. Plant asparagus in well-drained soil with a neutral pH. Choose a site in full sun and sheltered from the wind. Be rid of all weeds then loosen the soil to 12 inches deep. Add 1-inch of aged compost across the bed and 1 pound of bonemeal per 20 square feet.

Planting. Plant healthy, disease-resistant crowns, but before you do soak the crowns in compost tea for 20 minutes. This soaking will ensure that the crowns make good contact with their new home from the get go. Choose a variety that is resistant to asparagus rust and Fusarium wilt. Male plants will yield better than berry producing female plants. Plant in spring in 6-inch deep furrows setting crown 18 t0 24 inches apart. As the crowns grow fill in the furrow. You’ll be growing stronger plants.

Harvest. Don’t rush your first harvest. Don’t cut spears the year you plant them. The next year, harvest for 2 weeks when spears are pencil thick. The next year harvest for 4 weeks. The next year harvest for 8 weeks. Don’t cut spears thinner than a pencil. For a longer than normal harvest: cut spears for just two weeks in spring then allow 2 or 3 spears from a few of the crowns to mature and produce ferns. These plants will slow in their production for a few weeks while the stalks energize the plant through photosynthesis, then the plants will be ready for 10 more weeks of harvest.

Care. Keep asparagus beds well weeded; asparagus suffers from weed competition. Hand weed or use pruners to cut away persistent perennial weeds. Don’t allow weeds to shadow your asparagus. Always keep asparagus evenly watered. Cover the asparagus in winter with straw or compost mulch. Remove the protective mulch in early spring to allow spears to grow.

More tips: How to Grow Asparagus.

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79 Comments

  1. When a squash plant flowers but does not fruit, the problem is a lack of pollination. A squash plant has male and female flowers. The pollen from the male flower must reach the female flower for fertilization and fruit to follow. Male flowers bloom first followed by female flowers about a week later. Perhaps the flowers you see are male flowers; if that is the case, female flowers will follow. (Female flowers have a large swelling beneath the blossom, the ovary; male flowers do not.) Female squash flowers depend upon bees and insects to deliver the pollen. If there is a lack of pollinators at work in your garden or if the weather has been cloudy or wet and pollinators are staying at home, you can either wait or do the job yourself. Use a swab to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower or pick the male flower off the plant, remove the petals, and rub the pollen laden stamen directly on the stigma of the female flower.

    • Asparagus requires high levels of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. Do a soil test and add amendments as necessary. Try mulching with a high-nitrogen compost very early each spring and again in the fall. Leave winter-killed foliage and a layer of straw on the bed to provide winter protection–remove this early in the spring before new growth.

    • The secret to growing asparagus is great soil. Add lots of aged compost to your growing bed; asparagus wants soil is loose, well-drained, and rich in organic matter–to at least 12 inches/ 31 cm deep. Once your soil is ready, see articles on asparagus growing–go to the Topic Index and then click on Asparagus.

  2. I inherited an asparagus patch in 2 raised beds 12 years ago. I consolidated them into 1 bed and added some plants making them about 18″ apart, about 1 ft deep. Foliage has been good, production slim until Last year I had mostly foliage, few stalks to harvest so I didn’t harvest and let the foliage grow. This year I have only 4 plants producing foliage and no sign of any edible stalks. What is wrong?

    • Your asparagus plants may be at the end of their productive lives. You may want to begin introducing young plants into the beds. Using a phosphorus and potassium rich fertilizer may give the older plants a boost, try 5-10-10.

    • There are two likely reasons your asparagus is growing white: (1) there are varieties of white asparagus–so if your plants are new, it may be that you have a white variety; (2) green asparagus can grow white if it does not get much sun–if it has been covered with mulch–a mulch or covering will prevent the plants from photosynthesizing, which in turn prevents them from turning green. If the weather has been consistently below freezing, green asparagus spears can freeze–and in a week or two the dead tissue may turn white.

  3. My asparagus patch–which I started about 8 years ago–has not done well the past two years. I failed to fertilize properly–stupid me–and now I am seeing the results. I hardly had any crop last year–but a lot of greenery at the end of the season which I cut back in December. This year I had only about 10 spears that were edible. I later read that there should be about 4″ of soil on top of the asparagus “roots” which is what I like to call them. I may have pulled some of them out early in the season while weeding. I added about 3-4 inches of dirt with some fertilizer at the end of April. So now my patch is noticeably thinner but the greenery is still growing. My question is with proper fertilization will this asparagus patch survive and get to the point of where it was 5 years ago–a lot of spears for about a month or longer? I originally had just planted two crowns. Thanks!

    • Yes, your asparagus patch should recover if you feed the soil. Add plenty of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix across the top of the bed. As a rule, you can’t add too much aged compost; it contains all major and minor nutrients and should renew the nutrients in the soil. If you suspect you have “weeded” up some of the roots, you can plant new crowns or seed in the garden to re-populate the bed. Healthy asparagus plants will be productive for 20 years or more.

      • I think “aged” compost is the key. I added compost/bark chips to my 20 year old bed a couple years ago, thinking I should add something, even though I had a great crop. The next year, the crop came up with the stems bent over. Thought it was slugs. Added more compost that year as well. The next year, (last year)added compost, same thing only worse…stems bent over and soft…not maturing at all. The master gardeners here on the central Oregon coast weren’t sure what was wrong either because I don’t think asparagus is a common crop here. This year, I finally figured it out!! It was some kind of fungus….someone at work who used to work at a nursery told me it was too damp. I had my son go to the beach and get two 5 gal buckets of sand for my 8x8ft bed, and it was like a miracle cure. Within days, all new asparagus emerged beautifully straight as an arrow. Just had to comment as I follow your blog.

  4. This is my first year planting asparagus. Brand new 12″ raised beds, 3:2 bedding mix:compost plus aged manure, 3 Jersey varieties, crowns are 6″ down in the beds but covered with 2″ of soil (so 4″ of space available for more soil and mulch). They were planted about 3 weeks ago in zone 6A. The roots were fleshy and round but no growth at the crown, a couple looked poorly but most, at least to my eye, looked viable. They’ve been kept watered but not soggy as the beds drain well. Roots were soaked in compost tea ~30 min prior to planting. So far nothing. Vendor rep said they should be up by now so either they were dead (all 30 roots?) or it’s too hot for them to grow (which doesn’t make sense to me). It’s been in the upper 80s for a week but it was 60s-70s prior to that. Should I wait longer and can anyone see any mistakes I’ve made? Sorry for the length and thanks for your time.

    • Your asparagus planting as described sounds nearly ideal; the soil may be slightly acidic given the mix of compost and manure (you can test this) for asparagus which prefer a soil pH of 6.7 to 7.0. The crowns as described sound viable. The soil temperature may be slightly warm for asparagus; you could place a frame and shadecloth over the bed if temps in the high 80sF persist. Wait, it is unlikely all 30 plants would fail.

  5. Thank you for your reply. I will check the soil pH. We’re due to drop into the upper 70s starting tomorrow but I can easily shade the beds. I did think it odd that the rep said they were all dead but in all the reading I’ve done, I’ve not seen a reliable source indicate how long it takes for the crowns to show top growth. Most places are sold out so I would not replant until next year anyway. My thought was to use the beds for annual vegetables this season but I don’t want to disrupt the asparagus if they are viable so I’ll just let them go and see what happens.

    Thanks again, I’ve found your site very helpful.

    • The crowns would not be viable if they were dry and decimated, but this is not how you described them. Keep the planting bed just moist–not too wet, not dry. It would be unusual that all 30 crowns were not viable.

  6. Update: over the past week or so I’ve seen about 10 of the 30 crowns send up shoots. They’re little guys (well, one is a girl) but at least there’s activity. I’ll let them go and hope the rest are late bloomers.
    I did order another variety from another vendor. Those were two year crowns but they were lush and fat and had lots of little roots off of the main roots. Within a week, all of them were up. The first set were one year crowns but had no little roots at all, which I think is the key difference. Perhaps the first set is putting out roots before there’s any activity at the crown. Almost as though they have to break dormancy whereas the new ones were already growing. I’d read that two year olds can suffer transplant shock but they’re looking good so far.
    In any event, at least I’m seeing something.
    Thank you so much for your time and expertise. You help a lot of folks with your wonderful site.

    • If you harvested asparagus early in spring, ferny growth will follow as the weather warms. This ferny leafy growth helps the plants store nutrients for spear development the next season. The soil should be kept just moist–not too wet, not dry. If the weather is wet often in your region is best to growth asparagus in a raised bed that allows for even drainage of excess rainwater.

  7. I’m in Australia and have had zero spears from my 2 crowns this season, which is it’s 3rd season (maybe 4th, not sure!). It’s been going ok, but then nothing this year, and having read a bit i realise its probably because i didn’t leave any spears go ferny. What can i do to rescue it? Also, I’m not sure if it’s free draining enough – should i just dig it up and include more compost on replanting? I’ve also heard they like salty soil – could that be what helped the woman who put beach sand on her’s? Thanks!

    • If your asparagus roots are viable they should send up shoots. If you have had not shoots this year, it could be that the roots (also called crowns) have died. It is important to allow asparagus spears to small for harvest to grow on to produce ferny tops; this is how the roots store energy for next year’s crop. If you are unsure if the roots now in the garden are still viable, you can hedge your bet by planting new roots alongside the older roots. The soil should be well drained and nutrient rich; the best way to achieve both is to use plenty of aged compost or organic planting mix in the garden. Regarding salty soil: salt can be used in the garden to kill weeds but adding salt to the soil is not the best practice for healthy soil.

  8. Hello

    I started my asparagus from seed march first. They are now 9 inches tall but they all fall over. Should I try to stake them ?

    They are under a growing light (T5) and are lightly ventilated with a fan.

    Also, most of them begin to have a second spears growing. Are they from the same plant ?

    Thanks

    • Yes you can support your young asparagus plants. If they are in the original seed starting container, you may want to pot up the seedlings to the next largest container; give the plant plenty of root growth space. When outdoor temperatures are greater than 50F, move the plants outdoors; introduce them to outdoor temperatures for a few hours each day for several days before setting them outside for good. If you started the plants from seed, there will be one spear or seedling per seed. If you see two seedlings, it is likely two seeds have sprouted. If you started from a year old crown (root) then multiple spears will grow from the root.

    • I am experience the exact same situation with my asparagus. Planted from seeds and they are now about 7-8 inches tall and they are falling over. I have them under T8 bulbs on a timer and with an occasional light fan.
      Mine almost all sprouted second spears, and some are now sprouting a third spear. They only started sending out more spears after I transplanted them to larger cups. I only planted one seed per cell. Should I cut back the second and third spears to allow more energy to my plant, or let them grow?
      Thanks

      • If the plants are not going in the garden soon, transplant them into the next largest pot. This will give the roots plenty of room for growth. Make sure your fertilizer is phosphorus, not nitrogen, rich. Leggy growth can be the result of not enough light or too much nitrogen. Since your light and air circulation is good–which should produce strong growth–the likely cause of the leggy and falling over is too much nitrogen. Try a 5-10-10 fertilizer (or less). Once asparagus is well-rooted and established you can use a 5-5-5- or 10-10-10 fertilizer.

        • Thanks for your comments about up sizing the pots. Would you bury the plant an inch or two deeper so that the stem is shortened? Or keep it at the same depth but allow the roots to expand into the larger space? Or both? Thanks, I’m growing from seeds (about 2-3 weeks old) and they look long and weak.

          • Don’t bury the stems. Get the plants into brighter light indoors or set them outdoors where they get sunlight throughout the day.

  9. I planted asparagus tubers about a month ago and thought something would be sprouting up by now. How long does it take for first year plants to come up through the soil?

    • A viable asparagus crown set 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface and kept just moist (not wet, and not allowed to dry out) should send up spears in 4 to 6 weeks perhaps longer if the soil temperature is less than 50F. The first work the plant will do is underground where roots will plump up with soil moisture and then begin to grow. As the roots gain strength, the plant will then put energy into spear production.

    • Asparagus planting beds need regular feeding. You can spread an all-purpose organic fertilizer across the bed and water it in. A good practice is to feed asparagus aged compost or commercial organic planting mix twice a year; add one to two inches of organic matter across the bed. Feeding the soil is essential to feeding asparagus roots.

  10. This is the second year in a row that my asparagus ferns turned brown about a month after harvest. What is going on and can I correct the probkem?

    • If your asparagus plants are producing new spears each spring but later ferns turn brown, it may simply be a matter of soil moisture. Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the season. To ensure plants are well fed, add aged compost and manure across the beds every fall. In the spring, you can add aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix around the base of each plant or water with compost tea or dilute fish emulsion solution.

  11. My asparagus is in raised beds and is doing great. The problem is the plants get real tall and fall over the sides of the bed. They get five feet tall or taller and just lay over on the smaller plants. Can I cut them back in early summer and allow more to grow for sunshine? Should I just leave them alone? It is really hard to weed with them laying everywhere. Is there another solution?

    • The tall ferny growth of the asparagus is storing energy for the production of new spears next spring. Cutting the top growth could result in smaller-thinner spears next year. There are a couple of things you can do: (1) put tall stakes at the corners of the asparagus patch and run garden twine or wire between the stakes to keep the asparagus fronds upright; (2) cut some of the fronds–every other one–so they do not topple as a mass; if the asparagus is planted in rows, cut down every other row and then alternate the rows you trim year by year; that way half of the plants are fully renewed each year.

  12. Hi,
    I have four asparagus plants I planted about five years ago, and they do produce a few shoots, but I have never had enough to harvest. I planted them in a low spot in my garden that has turned out to have very poor drainage, and I think that could be the problem. Should I move them to another spot in the garden? Or could I add soil to the top of them to prevent the water from pooling in that spot?

    • In the fall, long after harvest and after the ferny stems have helped the roots store energy through the summer, you an lift the roots and replant them in a raised or mounded bed that is well-drained. A well-drained of fresh soil will be more productive. Add more crowns to the new bed so that you have a greater yield.

  13. Hello,
    We have asparagus growing, this is the second year we harvested it this year and now letting it grow for next years harvest. The plants are growing 5-6 feet tall ! They are starting to fall over and break from the winds and weather. What should we do ? Cut them back or let them continue to grow. Again it’s just the second year growth.

    Thanks,
    Christopher

    • The best course of action is to allow the beans to stand (or fall) until they begin to yellow and turn brown. The tall fronds are helping the roots store energy for next season. You can place stakes at the corner of the planting bed and tie garden twine around the bed to keep the stems from falling over–mostly.

  14. I am in my third season of my asparagus bed. They started as crowns. Last year in late summer I was infested with asparagus beetles. I caught it late and lost a lot of ferns. Some of my plants are now either not coming up (hopefully it is still early and will produce) or some are showing whitish/light yellow spears that are soft. Others are producing fine. I have pictures I can send. I am trying to figure out what to do at this point. I think it may be either fusarium or phytopthora. If either of them I guess I need to remove the crowns and solarize the soil? Is this correct. And once this is done can I replant new asparagus in the same spot? I have 3 raised beds designated to asparagus. My varieties are Jersey Knight Giant and Purple Passion. Any help will be appreciated. Thank you.

    • If you suspect a soil-borne disease, it would be best to take a few of the infected plants to the nearby Cooperative Extension Service. A vegetable expert can take a look and make a diagnosis or they may send it off to a university lab for identification. In the meantime, remove any infected plant from the bed and mark the spot–and then keep an eye on neighboring plants. Perhaps the whole bed will not need to be replaced. If the whole bed is infected and most or all of the plants fail, it would be best to start a new asparagus bed with new plants in a new location. You can then solarize the bed and replant the infected bed in two years with different crops–start with fava beans or legumes.

  15. Hello, I purchased 3 asparagus plants from a local nursery. They already had grown asparagus on them so it wasn’t just the crowns. They were large, about gallon size and the nursery folks told me I should spilt them because they were so large so I did and now I have 6 separate plants. Within the first week, I had 4 or 5 asparagus shoot up and looked and tasted great but now, nothing. They get plenty of sun, in a bed with the right PH and the soil is a combo of top soil and organic raised bed soil. I’m wondering if they just need more time or if the few I got were a fluke. Any thoughts?

    • If the plants had already grown shoots, they need rest. Allow the plants to continue to grow the ferny tops. The tops will help the roots store energy for next season. Plant them now in their permanent home.

  16. I have a new asparagus bed with five 2-year crowns. All five sprouted asparagus but my idiot drunk friend stepped on the area where two crowns were, and broke a spear. Now, the other little ones over the area of those two crowns are arching over like they’re sick or something and I don’t see much more growth. Could his weight have crushed the crowns under the dirt? Is there a chance that these are still alive?

    • The spears are damaged and may be beyond saving this year, but the crowns are still viable and will produce new spears next year.

  17. This spring we planted 18 asparagus plants, 16 sent up lovely green shoots. That was a few weeks ago. The last few days about 9 of the new plants have turned brown at the top. A few are still green if you move away a little dirt from the base. Some still look lush and are doing very well. What might be the cause of these plants turning brown? we followed the directions for planting and have a soaker hose that runs 40 minutes every night set in a zig-zag pattern throughout the bed. the bed is one of many in our veggie garden so they all share this water schedule.. It is very dry in Colorado. Too much water, too little, they get full sun 10-12 hours a day. We did have a frost a few weeks ago but it didn’t effect all the plants. I dug up one and the root and crown were solid. ???????

    • It is likely the tips of the new shoots got cold or frost burn. If nights are days are cold when asparagus spears break the ground you can protect them with a layer of straw–until temperatures stay in the 40sF or warmer day and night. Conversely, if the soil went dry that too may have caused the tips to brown.

    • Perhaps the spears were injured by animal or human compression–walking on or near the crown, or the soil may be heavy (clay); on the offseason add lots of aged compost to the planting bed.

  18. Hi!
    I planted my asparagus upside down 2-3 months ago and only just realised. One of them has finally started branching but the other 2 have not. Should I dig them up and turn them over?

    • The best course of action is to dig them up and replant them. They may sprout from the upside-down position, but asparagus is a long-term crop so its best to give them a good start–rather than let them struggle.

  19. I have plants that are now four seasons old, I have not yet harvested any asparagus. But so far I have not ever had a winter die off of foliage, so should I be cutting down the foliage in May or June, I live in Canterbury?

    • Where winters are mild and foliage does not naturally die back, you can cut back the foliage. Commonly gardeners will wait until autumn to cut asparagus foliage, this allows the crowns to use the top green growth to store energy for the production of new spears that following spring.

  20. I planted asparagus in containers on my deck in spring of 2020 and they seem to be doing pretty good. But, a couple of stalks seem a little yellow at the bottom near the dirt. Is this normal? Also, is it okay to harvest them now? If so, where do you cut them?

    Thanks!!

    • Use a knife or snap the spears just below the soil line; harvest spears that are as big around as your index finger–let the others grow on to become ferny tops to store energy for next season’s spears. The yellowing could be either the lack of moisture or too much moisture in the soil. Feed your plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion to keep them green.

    • Purple-skinned or pigmented asparagus is often a reaction to cool or cold temperatures. As temperatures warm, the purple pigment will revert to green.

  21. I have a small bed of asparagus that gets tons of ladybug activity in the summer each year. I have double and triple checked and they are ladybugs, not asparagus beetles. Is it a problem to have this abundance of ladybugs every year? I don’t want to have something harm the plants but if they are beneficial I would leave them be.

  22. My asparagus bed got trampled when I had construction done on the house (couldn’t be avoided). The plants were bent over but not dug up. Will they be ok next year or they dead?

  23. I have a new asparagus bed. I have some plants that grew up. We followed it to the bottom and it’s connected to the roots of the asparagus . It doesn’t look like an asparagus. Is it a weed taking nutrients or is it part of the plant

    • Asparagus spears that are not harvested grow tall and have ferny tops. The ferny tops can grow to 4 feet tall or more. They help the roots store energy for the production of new spears next season.

    • Allow the soil to dry out. If the soil is mulched, move the mulch away from the plants to allow for greater evaporation. If the soil is rich in organic matter, the moisture may move below the roots; if the soil is heavy with clay the roots may rot. Leaves are always the first indicator of distress. Falling leaves does not necessarily mean the roots are damaged beyond survival. Plants want to survive, so time will tell.

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