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Linda L. Smith
Christian County Master Gardener
It’s November, and you’ve probably noticed your asparagus ferns are turning a beautiful golden yellow color. After a frost or two, and dropping temperatures in the fall, this is normal, and they will continue to change to their fall palette throughout the remainder of November and into December as they begin to enter dormancy.
Many people assume that because the ferns are dying, which they are, it’s a sign that it’s time to cut off the ferns before winter. On the contrary, as the ferns go into dormancy, they will continue to send carbohydrates from the ferns down into the roots. Those carbohydrates are then stored as energy for next year’s harvest, and the process is not complete until the entire plant: ferns, stems and roots are dormant. Letting the plants store as many nutrients as they can this fall and into the winter can make a huge difference in next spring’s yield and spear quality.
Therefore, the best thing to do now that it is fall, is to forget about your patch and wait until early spring before cutting or mowing off the ferns. If you have a small patch, use your regular lawn mower set as low as it will go, and run it right down the rows. I actually set my mower low enough that dirt is blowing out the chute. This makes my ‘go-to’ blade sharpener husband, wince with a certain amount of consternation each and every time. But the benefit of adding this step to your preparation process for next year’s crop is that it allows the sharp ends, or chards of the stems or stalks to be less damaging to your fingers and hands as you pick next spring. Once mowed off then, you can leave the ferns lay in the rows, creating a nice carpet that can also aid in weed control.
And before you forget about your asparagus patch completely this fall, be sure and find out what the exact current pH level is. If you’re not sure, and can only say it’s somewhere in the mid to high 6 range, it’s time to get an accurate soil test done which will give you a true pH reading. Most farm fertilizer companies will allow you to bring in soil samples to get this job done, and help you decipher the results. For example, Christian County FS (now Central Commodity FS) will do local soil samples for a fee of $25.00. The easiest way to take a sample is to go to your patch, dig down about 5” and gather up a cup of soil. Put the sample in a small paper bag and label it with your name and location. You may want several samples depending on the size of your patch. In a week or two, you will receive a report that can be interpreted by a local agronomist giving you recommendations on soil amenities, etc. A pH of 7.2 or higher is best, and the difference between a pH of 6.5 and 7.2 can make a dramatic difference in terms of yield and spear quality. If needed, the addition of lime can enhance pH levels easily and relatively inexpensively.