Why this nutritious garden vegetable is a perennial ornamental wonder – Orange County Register


Isn’t it time you grew your own asparagus? This nutritious vegetable is not cheaper, yet it is one of the easiest and most economical to grow. If you plant a patch of asparagus this fall, you may be able to harvest some as early as next summer. However, when the diameter of the spears is less than the size of a pencil, it would be advisable to postpone harvesting until the following year. When you harvest skinny spears, you decrease the vigor of the plant and you will get fewer spears the following year. Once your asparagus plot is well established in about three years, you will harvest for up to ten weeks, starting in the spring.

During the first half of the 20th century there were commercial asparagus farms from Van Nuys to Newhall, proof that our region is well suited to growing this crop. The advantage of growing asparagus, over other crops, is that the plants are perennial and will produce for decades or more.

Asparagus tips grow from underground rhizomes. Plant in well-drained soil but, like all vegetables, preparation is key to success. If you are planting wreaths (the bases of asparagus stems and roots), dig trenches eight to ten inches deep and one foot wide. Place the asparagus crowns at the bottom of the slices eighteen inches apart. It would be advisable to put a little phosphate fertilizer under the crowns to accelerate the growth of the roots. Firm soil around the roots and cover the crowns with soil, but do not fill the trench.

As the plants develop, backfill the trenches with soil enriched with compost, leaving the growing tips exposed. At the end of the season, the plants should grow above ground level and the trenches should be filled to the top. When soil drainage is poor, plant in raised beds.

Ideally, wreaths are planted in the fall. The first spring, unless the spears are at least 1/2 inch thick, avoid harvesting and wait until the growth is completely brown before cutting any growth to the ground. The second spring harvest for four to six weeks, and the third spring harvest for up to ten weeks. After ten weeks, leave the stems that form “ferns” out so that they can provide food for the rhizomes that will nourish next year’s harvest. Harvest the asparagus tips, which should be cut at an angle so as not to injure the adjacent tips, below ground level.

Asparagus is dioecious, similar to date palm, pistachio, and carob, that is, it has separate male and female plants. Female plants are less hardy because they produce seeds which reduce their strength so that over time an asparagus plantation will be made up largely of male plants. However, there are also hybrids made entirely of male plants. Just make sure the varieties you select are heat resistant.

  • Artichokes on Las Posas Road near Malibu. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Chinese dwarf banana Musella lasiocarpa. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Clump of asparagus after harvest. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Alpine strawberry Wild strawberry. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Heliconia lobster claw. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Canna Tropicana foliage in a vase. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

  • Giant bird of paradise Strelitzia nicolai. (Photo by Joshua Tarin)

You can also buy asparagus plants growing in pots at the nursery this time of year or order them online at gurneys.com. Alternatively, you can still plant asparagus seeds, which is a more economical approach. Asparagus plants that grow from seed – although you may have to wait longer for them to develop – can actually be more robust, several years later, than plants grown from crowns.

Asparagus needs its fair share of water and fertilizer to produce large crops. Before planting – and each spring before new growth emerges – you can apply 1-1 / 2 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of growing area. Asparagus soil should be kept moist but not wet. However, it is better to err on the side of things because asparagus plants rot in soggy soil.

If you refrain from harvesting the asparagus tips, they will bloom and produce seeds. Some people recommend growing edible asparagus even if you don’t harvest it due to its ornamental appeal. Unharvested spears grow into 4 to 6 foot extravagances that include fern foliage and attractive blooms. At any time, however, you can choose to start harvesting the stems when they are seven to nine inches long, keeping in mind that a patch of asparagus can continue to be productive for up to 50 years.

Asparagus is more than a vegetable rich in vitamin A. It is a genus of plants with very ornamental foliage. Asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceous) is a climbing plant with the softest, most laced leaves you will ever see. It goes well in botanical arrangements of all kinds. Myers’ asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus’ Myersii ‘) is sometimes called foxtail asparagus because of its shoots that develop into irresistibly fluffy tail-like appendages. Asparagus retrofractus has large foamy sprays of foliage. Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known as the asparagus fern, is a hardy ground cover that spreads out in waves of foliage. It does not need water once established and will eventually produce pea-sized red berries. However, it is very invasive, which makes it a great candidate for planting on a slope where nothing else will grow, but a major headache when planted near other garden ornamentals. Warning: Although the above ornamental asparagus species have soft foliage, they are adorned with thorns, so pruning them with gloves is recommended.

Speaking of recommended edibles for fall planting that will carry on for years and years – artichokes, rhubarb, and strawberries come to mind. Artichoke plants have stunning, deeply cut silvery leaves. You can grow them from seed although they are usually propagated – and sold in nurseries – as rooted suckers from established plants. In other words, once you have one or two artichoke plants, you’ll have more of them forever if you want. In the fall or winter, you detach eight-inch-long shoots – with roots attached – that grow from the base of your established artichoke plants. Artichokes enjoy full sun and will produce their edible flower buds from May through September.

Rhubarb, like asparagus, is planted from crowns and grows as a long-lived perennial clump. However, rhubarb needs a cold winter to really thrive, so it’s more suited to the Antelope Valley than to the south, although I’ve seen it in a front yard in Northridge and another in Studio. City. The leaves and roots are poisonous, so be sure to eat only the petioles (leaf stems) after cooking them. The harvest period for rhubarb coincides with that for asparagus, which lasts about eight to ten weeks in spring and early summer.

If you want a big strawberry harvest next spring, now is the time to put the plants in the ground. Fall planting gives strawberries time to develop a robust root system before the warm weather starts next spring. Although strawberry plants will perform well for only two years, you can loosen young plants that grow on runners. Plant those babies and continue your strawberry production in perpetuity. Strawberries will need constant moisture in the root zone throughout the spring and summer to produce maximum yields, so surrounding them with mulch is highly recommended.

For a change of pace, consider planting Alpine Mignonette or wild strawberries (Wild strawberries). Most nurseries carry packets of alpine strawberry seeds, which germinate easily. Alpine strawberries are smaller and more tart than supermarket strawberries. The advantage of growing them is that they produce fruit most of the year, adapt to partial sun exposure, and survive frost.

Tip of the week: Several memorable members of the banana family are on display at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. The giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) grows at a moderate rate, but its curved, hyperbolic trunks increase in length by about two feet per year and eventually reach 30 feet or more in height. For the flowers, it shows husky birds with purplish-black plumage and ivory crests with simple extruded blue feathers but, even out of bloom, the giant bird of paradise has a majestic presence that doesn’t need flowery superlatives. to be appreciated. All you have to do is watch it.

Want to simplify your life? If you let a giant multi-trunked bird of paradise grow in your garden, you wouldn’t need any other plants to create an equatorial atmosphere. Every time you watched your giant bird, you would be transported to a languid tropical retreat. You would get a taste of Tahiti right behind your front door all year round.

If you wanted to plant your architectonic giant bird of paradise with complementary botanical dishes, Canna ‘Tropicana’ would be the logical choice. A month ago I cut the foliage off my Canna ‘Tropicana’ and placed it in a vase with water. The leaves still look fresh, and a bud at the base of one has just unfolded in all its fiery splendor. The leaves are striped with purple, orange, yellow and green. Canna’s flowers resemble irises but bloom virtually non-stop from spring to fall. I had never seen cannas taller than me before, but at Arcadia Arboretum I encountered a large collection of them, with orange blossoms, which were over seven feet tall.

I also encountered a magnificent exhibition of Heliconias. Gary Hammer, the iconic Valley nurseryman and international plant explorer, once told me that heliconias, sometimes called lobster claws, will grow in the Los Angeles area, in bright shade, requiring a little more light than fuchsias. Although native to the warm tropics, some higher elevation heliconia species, such as Heliconia spissa, Heliconia aurantiaca, and Heliconia schiedeana, are hardy enough to withstand the valley’s average winters.

Finally, the Chinese dwarf banana (Musella lasiocarpa) is one of the most cold-resistant of the banana group and has found a happy home in Arcadia. Its dark yellow flowers last all summer. The Chinese dwarf banana grows no more than six feet tall, and although it dies every winter, it reliably regrows from sturdy rhizomes as warm weather recovers.

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