asparagus growing in beds

How to prune asparagus

Asparagus is a delicious perennial vegetable that delivers crops for up to twenty-five years if cared for correctly. Here’s everything you need to know about pruning asparagus to ensure many years of healthy crops.

In the meantime, take inspiration from our wide range of high quality asparagus crowns available for doorstep delivery. Try one of our head gardener’s special collections for a good value bundle.

Growing asparagus

Asparagus in wicker basket

Supplied as one year old crowns, asparagus 'Guelph Millennium' produces high yields
Image: Asparagus officinalis 'Guelph Millennium' (spring planting) from T&M

Before you start pruning your asparagus, it’s important to understand how it grows. The edible spears that we love to eat emerge from ‘crowns’ in the ground and, once your plants are established, these spears can be harvested for six to eight weeks each year. 

At the end of the harvest season (in June) you’ll need to stop harvesting the spears to allow the tall ‘ferns’ to develop. This leafy foliage is how the plant gathers energy for next year’s crop. Eventually this fern-like foliage will die and need to be cut back, but not until it has done its job and the crown has become dormant. 

When to prune asparagus ferns

Purple asparagus stems on purple napkin

Asparagus 'Burgundine' produces attractive purple spears
Image: Asparagus 'Burgundine' (spring planting) from T&M

Asparagus season is just two months long, from April to June. After midsummer's day, when you’ve stopped harvesting the spears, they’ll quickly start to grow into tall, leafy ferns. It’s important to let these grow, as they gather and return energy back down into the crown for the following year. The ferns will grow throughout the summer, reaching a bushy height of about 4 feet high. 

At the end of autumn, the ferns will turn yellow or brown which is a good indication that they’re ready to be pruned. This job is best tackled in late winter (November or December) or early spring while the plants are dormant.

How to prune asparagus ferns

White asparagus spears

'Vittorio' is is a high-yielding variety that can produce both white and green spearss
Image: Asparagus 'Vittorio' (spring planting) from T&M

When pruning asparagus ferns, start by cutting them all back to a height of around 4-6 inches. Then remove all of the old, yellowing, brown and damaged foliage at the base of the plant. Next, cut back any spindly shoots that aren’t producing spears. Finally, gently rake the soil to remove all the debris. This helps to prevent disease and stops pests from overwintering in the bed.

Pruning newly planted asparagus

Harvested green asparagus on wooden table

Asparagus 'Mondeo' provides impressive yields and high-quality spears
Image: Asparagus officinalis 'Mondeo' (spring planting) from T&M

Remember that newly planted asparagus crowns need time to get established, so the spears shouldn’t be harvested at all in the first two years. Let all the spears that emerge grow into ferns. Once the ferns turn brown, cut all the foliage down to 10 cm above the soil level and apply a thick layer of mulch. 

When your plants are three years old, you can start harvesting some of the spears to eat. Remember to stop harvesting in mid-June and allow some stems to develop into ferns so the plant can build up energy reserves for the next year’s crop. 

Pruning your asparagus helps to keep pests and diseases at bay, and makes weeding and mulching easier. But it's important to wait until your asparagus ferns have turned brown before you cut them down to the ground. Find everything you need to know about growing asparagus over on our helpful hub page.

Banner image: Shutterstock

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