Asparagus is a nutritious vegetable that many people grow in their garden beds for its various health benefits. Unfortunately, one of the common problems you’re likely to run into while self-growing asparagus is the plant suddenly falling over.
To keep your asparagus plants from falling over, give them some structural support and clear out any root-eating pests and diseases. Give the foliage a proper cutting in the fall, and address any sources of environmental stress, as healthier plants are less likely to fall over.
In this article, I’ll help you identify what may be causing your asparagus plants to fall over and share with you some ways to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Let’s get started.
1. Provide Structural Support to Your Asparagus Plants
The first thing to do to keep your asparagus plants from falling over is to provide them with structural support.
It’s important to note that if you live in a particularly windy region, your asparagus plants will be more likely to fall over. Asparagus plants develop ferny foliage that can easily reach over three feet (1m) in height.
As the plant matures and starts to bear fruit, the foliage becomes rather top-heavy and is likely to fall over when influenced by external forces. Providing support to your asparagus plants is a must if your area is often windy.
Below are some methods you can use to ensure your plants stay upright.
Use Tomato Cages
Supporting your asparagus plants is fairly easy with the help of some tomato cages. Tomato cages are cylindrical and go all the way around your plant.
You’ll need one tomato cage per plant, so this may not be a feasible option for you if you have many plants.
As an alternative, you can employ staking. If you have a smaller bed:
- Simply drive four stakes into the corners of the bed.
- Once you’re done, run some wire through the four stakes, tying each asparagus plant to the wire.
You’ll need to plant more stakes if you have a larger bed with multiple rows:
- Plant two stakes per row – one at each end of the row.
- Run some wire or twine through each pair of stakes, tying and securing each asparagus plant in the row.
- Repeat for every row.
This added structural support should help prevent your asparagus plants from developing leans, let alone falling over.
A trellis is usually a metallic, sometimes wooden, structure designed to provide structural support to plants. It’s usually used for climbers, but nothing says you can’t use it for your asparagus plants with some tweaks.
You’ll be able to find ready-made and ready-for-use trellises at gardening stores. After you install them in your garden, tie your asparagus plants to their respective trellis with wire or twine.
Mulch the Base of Your Asparagus Plants
Mulching not only provides your asparagus bed with some much-appreciated organic matter, but it also strengthens the soil around the base of your asparagus plants, improving stability.
The improvement in stability isn’t massive, though. So this isn’t a substitute for the above structural supports but rather a complement.
2. Protect Your Asparagus Plants Against Pests and Diseases
Asparagus plants are hardy perennials that return year after year. Unfortunately, they struggle with a few highly damaging pests and diseases that can eat up their roots. You can check out my article on what’s eating your asparagus roots to learn how to identify potential culprits and take appropriate steps to stop them: How to Know What’s Eating Your Asparagus Roots
A plant’s roots are the only thing that anchor it to the ground and provide the top half with stability. An asparagus plant with damaged roots will likely fall over well before it’s supposed to.
Let’s discuss each of the various asparagus pests and diseases in more detail.
In this case, the pest most worthy of your attention is the cutworm. These caterpillar-like insects are the larvae of moths.
They live on the topsoil and are notorious for feeding on the lower stem of the asparagus plant. Eventually, they eat away enough of the stem that it can no longer support the weight of the plant above it, causing it to give out.
Cutworms are most active in the early spring when fresh asparagus spears emerge from the ground.
Unlike mature spears, which have a tough layer of fiber around them to improve their ability to support the weight of the plant, budding spears are soft and easy to bite into. This attracts the cutworm for an easy meal.
You should give your asparagus bed a thorough inspection routinely, especially during spring, so you can identify this menace early enough.
The best way to deal with cutworms is to have a physical barrier around your asparagus bed to prevent them from gaining access.
Existing infestations usually have to be dealt with using pesticides, but this damages the asparagus plants too, so it’s usually a last-resort option for severe infestations.
Another common pest you’ll want to watch out for is the asparagus miner. These tiny insects look like flies and can cause your asparagus a great deal of harm.
Like the cutworm, they typically feed on the lower extremities of asparagus plants, such as the base of the stem and exposed roots around the soil.
Even though they may not be able to chew through the stem like the cutworm, the damage they cause can lead to the development of a lean and greatly increase the likelihood of the affected plant falling over later down the line.
Asparagus miners come into activity much later in the year — usually around late summer or early fall, when all the spears have already been harvested, and only the ferny foliage remains.
They lay their eggs on the foliage but die off due to the cold. This means that a simple way to ensure the miners don’t make a return the following year is to properly cut back and dispose of the dead foliage that contains the eggs.
Existing infestations that are severe and need urgent care have to be treated with pesticides. However, this is usually a last-resort option since it hurts the asparagus plant too. The benefits have to outweigh the cons for pesticide usage to be worth it.
Common Asparagus Beetle
The asparagus beetle is the most common pest that infests asparagus plants, hence its name.
This beetle is orange-colored with red spots. It usually stays on the upper parts of the asparagus plant and feeds on the foliage. You’ll only occasionally ever find it snacking on the stem.
Even though it doesn’t feed on the roots and stems the way the cutworm and the miner do, it still causes your asparagus to undergo stress.
Plants that suffer from environmental stresses, such as a pest infestation, are often structurally weaker than their pest-free counterparts.
A plant with a weaker structure is also more likely to fall over when an external force, such as wind, acts upon it.
Asparagus beetles are most active in the afternoon, so that’s when you should look out for them. Simply shaking them off the plant could prove to be sufficient for small-scale infestations. The eggs that fall off won’t survive on the hot ground and soil for long. Once the existing population dies off, the infestation will be over.
For more serious infestations, it is once again pesticide that saves the day.
Asparagus rust is a common disease affecting asparagus plants, hence its name. It’s caused by the fungi Puccinia asparagi and causes so much lost crop productivity that farmers have had to breed new varieties of asparagus to be resistant to it.
Rust usually starts by affecting the asparagus’ stem, causing it to develop pustules — which are sort of like blisters or pimples. If left untreated, the disease progresses, spreading onto the roots and crown.
Roots infected by asparagus rust will weaken over time and eventually no longer be able to provide the top half of the plant the support it needs to stay steady.
Asparagus rust is a disease that can overwinter, so the only way to get rid of it is to cut back foliage down to the ground and dispose of it in the fall.
If your asparagus plants seem to be suffering from rust, some steps you could take are:
- Cutting off infected parts of the plant. This will slow down the progression of the disease by limiting the spread of the infection.
- Removing and isolating infected plants. Again, we’re trying to prevent the infection from spreading to the other asparagus plants in the same bed. Rust can spread via fungal spores released through the pustules of infected plants in the later stages of infection.
- Protecting your asparagus plants against environmental stresses. A healthy plant is better able to protect itself from disease. A dehydrated or starving plant likely won’t be able to put up much of a fight.
Fusarium rot is the most common disease plaguing the asparagus plant. Unfortunately, there’s no getting rid of it either since it’s caused by the Fusarium fungi. These fungi can lie dormant in the soil for up to 30 years, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Also, they’re present virtually everywhere, so there’s little we can do about it. However, there are some varieties of asparagus that are more resistant to the disease.
Fusarium rot goes after the asparagus plant’s roots and crown. The infection first manifests as lesions on the lower stem and causes the leaves to turn yellow.
Meanwhile, beneath the soil, the disease establishes itself on the crown and the plant’s roots, causing them to rot away. And, as I mentioned earlier, anything that damages the roots of your asparagus will also cause it to be more likely to fall over.
For reasons that are yet to be understood, dehydrated plants tend to be affected by this disease more often, making it all the more important for you to ensure your asparagus bed is watered adequately and on time.
Bonus Tip: Cut Back Your Asparagus Foliage Once It Dies to the Cold
When the first winter frost hits, your asparagus plants’ ferns will die off quickly. They’ll go through a rapid color change and turn yellow, which is your cue to cut the foliage back down to the ground.
If you leave the foliage standing for now, you’ll have another chance to cut it down in the early spring — but you’ll have to be careful not to cut off any budding spears along with it. You also risk overwintering pests and diseases that would otherwise have been swept away with the dead foliage.
To know when and how much you should cut back your asparagus plants, check out my dedicated article for more information: What Happens if You Don’t Cut Your Asparagus Plants?
3. Avoid Overharvesting Asparagus Spears
Harvesting asparagus spears is how we get to enjoy these delectable veggies. However, there is such a thing as overharvesting.
Avoid Harvesting Spears From Young Plants
You should avoid harvesting asparagus spears from plants that are too young. To be more precise, these are plants that are one to two years old.
When you harvest a spear, you’re tearing off a part of the plant containing loads of much-needed sugar, which puts stress on the crown. You should give young crowns enough time to establish themselves before making them have to deal with this stress.
You can harvest some asparagus from a two-year-old plant if you’d like. And you can begin harvesting normally from asparagus plants aged three years and above.
Avoid Harvesting Spears for too Long
You should only harvest asparagus spears for about eight weeks or two months out of the growing season. This means you’ll likely have to stop harvesting sometime around early to mid-summer, depending on when your spears start growing.
Any spears that grow after these two months should be left alone and allowed to grow into ferns. The ferns are responsible for carrying out photosynthesis.
Like all other plants, asparagus plants need photosynthesis to turn nutrients into food. The few weeks between your final harvest and the first winter frost is really the only opportunity they get to carry it out effectively.
The food generated from this photosynthesis is stored by the crown and used the next spring to create new spears.
If you harvest for longer than you should, your asparagus plants won’t be able to carry out photosynthesis, and you’ll end up with weaker plants that are more likely to fall over.
You’d also compromise your next year’s spear growth and end up with tiny and thin asparagus spears.
4. Protect Your Asparagus Against Environmental Stress
A healthy asparagus plant is less likely to fall over. You can keep your asparagus plants from falling over prematurely by caring for their health and ensuring they don’t undergo too much stress.
Below are some stress-inducing practices and factors to avoid:
Overwatering is unexpectedly deadly. It causes root rot, which is when roots submerged in water for too long die because of a lack of oxygen.
Overwatering will not only cause your asparagus plants to undergo massive stress, but it will also directly increase the odds of them falling over due to rotten roots and a weakened foundation in the soil.
A great way to avoid overwatering is to let the soil dry out between waterings every once in a while. Asparagus is fairly drought-tolerant once well-established, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Underwatering is another common stress suffered by asparagus. Getting your watering schedule right can be challenging. Asparagus beds usually require one inch of water a week, although this can be much higher if you live in a hot, dry climate.
I recommend you water your asparagus bed generously and wait until the soil is almost dry before watering again. This way, you eliminate the risk of overwatering while ensuring your asparagus plants get plenty of water.
Asparagus plants are sun-loving plants. They prefer having full exposure to the sun and won’t be hurt by it. If your asparagus bed is located in a spot that doesn’t receive much sunlight, your plants will suffer from malnourishment.
No matter how fertile the soil around it is, a plant cannot convert nutrients gathered from the soil into energy without the presence of sunlight.
Additionally, sun-deprived plants grow long and spindly, foregoing stem width in favor of height to get closer to sunlight. A thinner stem is, as a result, easier to break.
It would be best to move your asparagus plants to a spot that receives more sunlight so they don’t suffer from the negative health effects of sun deprivation.
Lack of Nutrients in the Soil
A lack of nutrients in the soil will stunt the development of your asparagus plants. The plants will be weaker, thinner, and more susceptible to being pushed around by the wind.
You should fertilize your asparagus bed annually in the early spring. This encourages the growth of new spears too. A standard 10-10-10 fertilizer will work perfectly.
Compost is also a great homemade option, particularly for asparagus, which prefers having a high organic content in its growing medium.
Having your asparagus plants fall over can be frustrating. It can feel like a wasted effort. Here’s how to help your asparagus plants stay upright:
- Use support such as a tomato cage or a trellis. You can also employ staking.
- Mulch the base of your asparagus plants to improve soil stability.
- Inspect and eliminate any pests and diseases affecting your asparagus roots. Cutworms are notorious for causing asparagus plants to fall over.
- Avoid overharvesting. You shouldn’t harvest spears from young plants.
- Prevent environmental stress. Some examples are improper watering, inadequate sunlight exposure, and a lack of nutrients.