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A Note From Rick | Think Spring - and Asparagus!

How-to
Bridge Gardens
March 10, 2021

By Rick Bogusch

I don’t know about you, but when I think of spring vegetables, I always think of asparagus. Getting them in the ground, and tended until they’re ready for harvest is generally a multi-year process, and we haven’t grown them here at Bridge Gardens before. This year will be different.

I was recently surprised when I got an email that the asparagus I ordered last month had just shipped. Apparently, it’s the right time of year to plant bareroot asparagus crowns on eastern Long Island. Did you know you can grow asparagus from seed? It’s a process, relatively easy, but takes several years to yield a crop.

I chose to buy one year old bunches of asparagus roots called crowns and ordered a vigorous, disease-resistant, high yielding variety called Jersey Supreme. This is one of the introductions from a Rutgers University breeding program. All the Rutgers’ varieties are male and can be harvested for two weeks, two years after planting, and for six weeks, three years after planting, which is relatively quick by asparagus standards.

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Getting ready to plant asparagus

We’ve prepped the soil for their arrival. This means we dug a furrow twelve inches wide and twelve inches deep and will backfill with a mix of compost, soil, and fertilizer so that when planted, crowns are about six inches from the top of the furrow. Roots will be spread and crowns spaced about one foot apart. We’ll cover with two to three inches of soil and as the ferny spears grow, gradually fill in the trench during the season.

Asparagus beds should be mulched heavily with straw or leaves or a mix of both. Keep beds weed free and water regularly, especially the first season after planting. Add compost and fertilizer and new mulch over the years.

In addition to crops of tender spears, I’m looking forward to the beautiful, ferny three-foot hedge asparagus creates when harvest is over and spears are no longer cut. Remember to leave the arching stems until the very end of the season. Native to the eastern Mediterranean, asparagus is a member of the lily family and is now naturalized around the world. It has small star-like white flowers, followed by small red berries and is related to the asparagus fern, a common houseplant.

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Frost cover protects overwintering spinach

What I hope to get done this month:

  • Remove the frost blankets from the spinach rows sowed last September. I’ll pick off dead leaves, apply a side dressing of fertilizer, maybe a liquid feed in a week or so if the weather warms.
  • Sow the first crops: arugula, kale, spinach and radish.
  • Depending on the weather, plant radicchio and lettuce in the cold frames.
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Cold frames for lettuce and radicchio

I have seedlings started for the recently released “Starting Seeds” video, and want to see if planting super early will yield a timely crop. If you missed the video, visit our blog.

When soil has dried out a bit from our winter thaw, I’ll start weeding the vegetable garden and community garden plots, till some beds and add fertilizers and compost. We’re tilling less and less every year. Many gardeners prefer just to dig the garden row by row or plant by plant.

Now is a good time to:

  • mulch any beds with bulbs before the emerging bulbs get too big to maneuver around. Young sprouts can easily break through a couple inches of bark mulch.
  • start your garden clean up. For me, it’s cutting back dead stalks and leaves in the herb garden, trimming the sage and perennial herbs, raking up leaves and adding mulch.
  • begin early weeding of beds.
  • continue planning your new planting beds with an eye towards more native plants to support nature’s diversity, including small trees and shrubs, along with pollinator-friendly perennials. To hear more about creating a garden that supports nature’s diversity, tune in to our conversation on Zoom, coming up this Thursday, March 11!
  • plan and lay out your vegetable garden to harvest fresh food all season. We’ll be sharing a “Getting the Vegetable Garden Started” video on March 15 that will demonstrate the steps to take now to get the most from your vegetable garden plot.
  • refrain from raking the lawn. I know I have a desire to rake to remove twigs and debris, but it’s recommended you resist that desire, at least until soil has dried out a bit and grass has started to grow. Consider picking up the sticks instead or cajoling someone else to do it. If you must rake, go gently and try not to tear the lawn and create space for weed seeds to germinate.
  • check for winter damage to trees and shrubs. Winter winds brought down an abundance of limbs, branches and twigs. The white pine hedgerow near the community gardens had so much damage, we’re calling an arborist not just to clean up what’s on the ground, but also to repair jagged tears and stubs up in the crowns with clean cuts that heal quickly without disease. Take a walk around your yard and assess any damaged trees that could benefit from the care of an arborist to ensure their continued good health.
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Prepping the community garden plots

Are you growing edible berry bushes in your landscape? If so, now is a good time to prune. I’ve just finished pruning the few blackberries we have. Because they’ve proven to be relatively easy to take care of, I’ve ordered a few more for planting this spring. Most blackberries sold for fruit production these days are thorn-less and pleasant to be around, unlike wild blackberries and varieties of the past.

Some require trellising, but some have upright canes and are quite attractive. The variety that I have, Caddo, has large pink flowers, great crops of large, sweet berries, and a red-orange fall color that lasts and lasts.

Every February I remove all the canes that fruited last year and shorten new canes to 3-4 feet. I also cut any lateral branches on these canes to about a foot. I leave 4-6 new canes for each plant. A little fertilizer around each plant every spring keeps plants productive.

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Autumn color on our blackberry bushes

Blackberries need full sun for best berry production, but are also great naturalized along a shady woodland edge. Blackberries can also be trellised against a wall or on a fence. You’ll love picking them. Birds will love ‘em too!

I hope you’ll make plans to visit and see all that is happening at the Gardens right now. And, join us for our upcoming programs, still virtual at this time. Check out our calendar below, and I look forward to seeing you at the Gardens soon!

~~ Rick


New Feature!
Native Plant of the Month

Given the importance of, and renewed interest for, native plants in the landscape, we’re kicking off a new monthly series for you, starting with:

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin

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Spicebush is a large native shrub, growing 6-10’ tall and wide. They bloom in April and feature small, yellow flowers. The female plant produces bright red berries, which have a flavor similar to allspice, and are enjoyed by a variety of birds. The leaves of spicebush are large, golden yellow in fall, and aromatic when crushed and are a preferred food source for spicebush swallowtail butterfly larvae.

We planted 2 small plants last fall, and they appear to have overwintered just fine. This shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade and can tolerate average, well-drained soil. If you’re interested in adding Northern Spicebush to your landscape, check with local garden centers, especially those specializing in plants native to Long Island and the Northeast.

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