Q. I heard that salt is a good thing to use to control weeds in my asparagus. Is this correct?
Jane from Columbiana
A. Asparagus is a wonderful early season crop. It is a perennial, so it will keep producing year after year. In fact, you’ll get at least 15 years of production with proper care. Asparagus requires good drainage because they are prone to root-rotting diseases.
The only big challenge with asparagus is weed control. This is where the rumor of using salt comes into play.
Asparagus can survive the application of salt, and the weeds will not. But salt will do extensive damage over time to your asparagus and the rest of your vegetable garden. Salt inhibits the penetration of water into the soil, thus robbing plants of water during hot, dry spells in the summer growing period. It also spreads beyond the asparagus patch to other areas of the vegetable garden (or flower garden) where it is toxic to many of our plants. The breakdown of salt in the soil causes nutrients to be unavailable to plants and the chloride ions interfere with photosynthesis. It is bad, no matter how you try to spin it.
Weed control in asparagus can be accomplished through a 2-inch layer of mulch around the plants. Pull any surrounding weeds in spring and refresh mulch to control weeds for much of the year. Refresh the mulch to encourage it to dry out during the usually very moist soil conditions in spring. Hoeing the weeds is effective because asparagus roots are deep. A final option would be the use of properly labeled pre-emergence herbicides during dormancy in the second year of production.
When selecting a cultivar of asparagus to plant, be sure to purchase high-quality, healthy crows to plant. Male plants are a better choice and produce more than female plants. You can plant these in your garden right now. Contrary to popular belief, the crows should only be planted 5- to 6-inches deep. Deeper planting can reduce yield and prolong emergence. The soil should be above 50 degrees. Print out a copy of our OSU Extension fact sheet on growing asparagus to get the whole scoop on caring for this great vegetable: http://go.osu.edu/asparagus.
Eric Barrett is OSU Ext. educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office hotline at 330-533-5538 from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays to submit your questions.