When and How to Harvest Asparagus

These asparagus harvesting tips will ensure you pick the best spears.

You might be eager to start harvesting asparagus as soon as it pops up from the soil in spring. Fresh-picked asparagus usually tastes way better than the stuff you can get at the grocery story, plus this perennial vegetable is among the first edible plants to make an appearance in gardens after winter. But before you start picking, here's what you should know about how and when to harvest asparagus. With the right techniques and timing, your plants will stay healthy and productive from year to year.

When to Start Harvesting After Planting Asparagus 

The best part of growing your own asparagus is that it’s the gift that keeps giving—once it's planted, it will grow and produce spears for about 15 years. However, it takes a couple of years after planting for asparagus to really get going and start producing lots of spears. So how long after planting do you have to wait until you get your first harvest?

Leave your asparagus plants alone the first year after planting so they can get established. The second spring after planting, you can harvest a few spears over the course of a month. Each spring after this, you can cut spears for up to six weeks without weakening the plants.

person harvesting asparagus in garden

Getty Images / dulezidar

Ways to Harvest Asparagus

1. Harvesting by Hand

The fastest and most efficient way to harvest asparagus is by hand. All you need to do is grasp the stalk near the ground and snap it at the point where it is tender. This method reduces the shelf life of your asparagus, but it's less likely to cause damage to nearby spears than using a knife.

2. Harvesting with a Knife

To retain the quality of freshly picked asparagus longer, use a sharp knife to harvest spears. Put a knife near a spear and tilt the blade on a 45-degree angle directed about 2 inches below the soil surface. This allows you to cut at the base of each spear where it is white and woody and less prone to water loss. Be careful not to accidentally cut nearby spears that are still developing because if they’re injured, they will not continue to grow.

When to Harvest Asparagus

1. Wait for asparagus spears to reach the right height.

After you see the tender spears push through the soil surface in early spring, the best time to harvest asparagus is when it grows to about 6 inches tall.

2. Only pick asparagus within its harvesting window.

During harvest season from late May to early June, you can harvest asparagus every two days. The warmer temperatures become, the more spears you’ll see emerging from the soil. Cold temperatures will slow the emergence of spears.

3. Watch your plants to determine how long to harvest.

If you notice that the width of spears is less than the width of a pencil, or the asparagus tips are expanding on spears that are less than 6 inches tall, it’s time to quit harvesting your asparagus. If too many spears are removed, the sugar reserves in the crowns will decrease and cause the plant’s health to decline.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens if you don't harvest asparagus spears soon enough?

    Asparagus grows quickly, becoming too tough and fibrous to eat once it gets much taller than 6 inches. Unharvested asparagus spears will develop into feathery foliage or ferns that can grow up to 6 feet tall.

  • When should I cut down asparagus ferns?

    Asparagus ferns produce energy so that the plant can grow healthy spears the next spring. Wait to remove the ferns until they're brown and the plant has gone dormant in the late fall or early winter.

  • How long will harvested asparagus last?

    No matter if it’s green, purple, or white asparagus, you’ll be amazed at how tender and flavorful this popular vegetable can be when it's enjoyed in your favorite asparagus recipes the same day that it’s harvested from your garden. If you can't use it right away, it can last between 5 days and 2 weeks in the fridge.

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