Extension News

Spring Ahead with Dr. Grow-It-All

Note to media editors: This is the Garden Column for the week of April 21.


By James Romer


Iowa State University Extension


Dear Dr. Grow-It-All;

I’m just wild about asparagus, but it’s not wild about me. My friends can grow it and my neighbors can grow it, but I haven’t had much luck. I have visited the local farmers market, but want to make one last attempt to grow asparagus on my own. Dr. Grow-It-All, please help!

Wanting in Mooar


Dear Wanting;

I scream, you scream, we all scream for asparagus! Okay, maybe not everyone, but asparagus is a popular springtime vegetable for many. Asparagus is a hardy perennial vegetable that produces edible spears in spring. Selecting a good planting site, purchasing recommended varieties, and following good cultural practices should help insure a productive asparagus planting.


Asparagus should be planted in early spring. Asparagus prefers a well-drained soil in a full sun location. Plant asparagus on the north edge of your garden so that it does not interfere with annual tillage and shade other plants later in the season. Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, Jersey Prince, Mary Washington and Viking are suggested asparagus cultivars to plant.


Allow asparagus plants to become well established before any spears are harvested.  Be patient. No spears should be cut the first year. Harvest only for four weeks the second year. The harvest period in the third and following years should not extend beyond the middle of June in Iowa.  


Dear Dr. Grow-It-All;

I once took a trip to the store and got less than I bargained for. I had plants in full bloom, but now there is gloom. For my posies are dead, in my vast garden bed. And I simply just don’t have a clue.

Rhyming in Vining


Dear Rhyming;

Before tucking those warm season annuals and vegetables into the garden, be aware that Jack Frost could still make a visit in late April or early May. Plants such as petunias and tomatoes need protection if frost is predicted for your area.


The weather in Iowa often fluctuates wildly in spring. A frost or freeze can occur in late May. However, it’s generally safe to plant frost sensitive annuals and vegetables after the following dates

  • Northern Iowa -- May 15
  • Central Iowa -- May 8
  • Southern Iowa -- May 1


Dear Dr. Grow-it-All;

With all of the warm weather recently, I decided to make a trip to the local garden center and fill up my vehicle with as many blooming plants as I could. I figured I would beat the rush and get the best the garden center had to offer. Besides there’s bragging rights in my neighborhood! I pride myself on being the first to have blooming plants!

Better Than You in Depew


Dear Better;

I know we like to buy plants that are flowering, but when purchasing plants be sure to evaluate and inspect the entire plant, not just the presence or absence of flowers. Select short, stocky plants and avoid those that are tall and spindly.


First research the plants you are interested in including into your landscape before visiting the garden center. Some plants require moist sites while others need a dry location. Therefore, make sure you are matching the right plant to the right place. In your thorough plant inspection, make sure there are no pests present.


Check the color of the leaves. They should be the same color as your initial research noted. Be careful taking the plant out of the container making sure to clean up any spills that may occur. With regard to trees, shrubs and perennials, check to see if there is a one year guarantee on plants purchased.


If seed is purchased in packages, double check that the seeds have been packed for 2006.Germination percentage declines with age for many flower and vegetable seed.  



Contacts :

James Romer, Horticulture, (515) 294-2336, jromer@iastate.edu

Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033, jmcguire@iastate.edu

There are no photos for this week's column.