Simple steps and tips to clean up asparagus and strawberry beds in the spring so they'll be ready to produce for you during the season. Taking care of these perennial plants each spring will keep them giving you lots of harvests for years to come.
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Late winter and early spring finds many of us gardeners doing the same thing - cleaning up the garden to get it ready for spring planting.
While most of the vegetable garden can benefit from raking and cleaning of the previous year's debris, it's especially important for beds of perennial vegetables and fruits that come back each year, like asparagus and strawberries.
In order to get the most out of your plantings of asparagus and strawberries, the foliage needs to be trimmed, weeds removed, and a top-dressing of compost applied. This is best done in late winter-early spring before the new shoots of asparagus start to show and the strawberry plants start to leaf out.
The nice thing is, there's really just a few steps, which you'll find below along with my tips after years of growing these delicious spring plants. And even nicer? It's the one time all year you'll need to spend that much time on these plants.
Spring clean up: asparagus and strawberry beds
Asparagus Bed Before and After
A few readers mentioned that they appreciated seeing that I'm "real" because I left my Christmas wreath up until March. Well, get ready for more realness - the photo above is my asparagus bed.
Yes, you're technically supposed to cut the tops back when they turn brown in the fall. Which obviously I didn't. Although I actually never do this in the fall for two reasons:
- Because I'm too busy dealing with all the produce that needs to be put up in the fall.
- The ferns/foliage never turn all the way brown in my garden until winter. And cutting down partially green asparagus ferns isn't easy - they're pretty tough.
I do usually get to the asparagus bed when we have our traditional "false spring" here in the mild Willamette Valley - usually late January or early February. But you know - life happens and it didn't get done.
So the poor asparagus was trying to send new shoots up in that tangled mess because it's that time of year when it starts producing.
It took about an hour to clean up and mulch the two beds with compost to help feed those new little shoots.
Sadly, I did loose a few tender shoots in my cleaning, which is one of the reasons to do it earlier, but there's plenty more where they came from, as the asparagus season is just starting.
How to clean up asparagus beds
Here's how to take care of your established asparagus bed in the early spring:
- Cut down all the brown fern tops. In established beds, these can be really thick, so use lopers to cut them at ground level or below. If you already have shoots coming up like I did, then it's okay to break them off with a few inches of stalk showing in order to not damage the shoots. Those will come out pretty easily as the season goes along- just pull a few each time you go out to harvest.
- Weed and clean out debris.
- Top the bed with a 1-2 inch layer of garden compost.
- Optional: layer the compost with a weed suppressing mulch like straw, grass clippings, etc. if your bed is prone to weeds. My bed isn't and the compost suppresses most weeds, so I don't layer anything more.
The best part about growing asparagus? This is pretty much the only chore you'll do all year (if you don't count the need to rein in the 5-foot tops from the pathways at the end of summer).
They just sit in their beds all year, every year, and pump out the shoots. All we need to do is just keep the weeds away, do this one clean up, and then harvest the delicious stalks.
You've got to love that.
Want to learn more about growing and cooking with asparagus?
Check out The Ultimate Asparagus Guide here.
Strawberry Bed Before and After
What's that, you don't see any strawberries in the raised bed pictured above? Ugh, me either.
I've had such problems with this bed, it just always has way more weeds than any of the other beds in the vegetable garden.
And see the multitudes of plants with the tiny white flowers? It's one of the worst annual weeds in our part area, Hairy Bittercress. We simply call them "poppers," though, because if you don't get to them early enough, those flowers turn into a million seeds and when you go to pull them the seed heads "pop" and spray seeds everywhere.
Just lying in wait for next year.
Their only saving grace is that they don't like it hot, so they don't come back over and over again during the growing season (unlike my other nemesis, the perennial violet-ugh).
So, the moral is - get them early enough and you won't have a million more the next spring. And if that's not inspiration to get out there and weed, I don't know what is!
How to clean up strawberry beds
- Clear out any weeds leaving only the strawberry plants.
- Cut back mature plants to 2-3 inches, removing any older large leaves completely.
- Cut off any runners. If some of the runners have rooted baby plants on the ends, trim off the runner from the baby and replant in an empty area in the bed or pot them up. Free plants!
- Add a 1-2 inch layer of compost.
- Optional: After the fruit starts to form, you can also add a layer of straw or grass clippings to help keep the fruit clean.
Note: The above steps can be taken with all types of strawberry plants, though if you have only June bearing varieties, it might be better to do a full cut right after they finish fruiting (around early July). Cutting everything back then will help to strengthen the plants for the next season and reduce the amount of runners. This doesn't work for everbearing varieties, though, since they produce all summer long.
Doing these four steps on my weedy bed above took less than an hour. The weeds were mostly annuals that pulled up easily in the wet soil.
As you can see, the plants in this bed don't look too strong, since I was rehabilitating it after the older strawberries stopped producing as much.
Strawberry plants produce the most on second and third year growth and then start to produce less, which is why replanting the new growth from the runners in a row next to the other plants is a good idea.
What you see above are baby plants that are just starting to take off. After cleaning up and applying the layer of compost (that contained well-rotted barnyard manure) the plants were finally able to grow.
Here's what they looked like by early summer:
They produced nicely that year and then really took off the next year. So it's definitely worth it to clean up your strawberry beds and replace spent plants with the new plants from the runners.
I hope this has taken any mystery out of a spring clean up of asparagus and strawberry beds. If you're not growing either of these, I encourage you to give them a try. It's so nice to have produce that comes back each year with just a bit of maintenance!
This article has been updated - it was originally published in March of 2011.
Make This Year's Garden A Success!