Asparagus is a delicacy and the spears produced in early summer are a much-prized treasure of home-growers. In addition to the commonly grown green asparagus, white and purple varieties are also available. Find out more about the different types of asparagus and their characteristics.
Grown for culinary purposes for thousands of years, asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) or garden asparagus as it is often called, is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean and was highly valued in ancient Egypt and Rome. Grown globally today, the perennial vegetable asparagus can thrive here in the UK and is available in many varieties. Grown from crowns planted below the soil, asparagus can crop for more than 20 years, but only if allowed to establish for a couple of years before being harvested from.
What are the different types of asparagus?
Here in the UK, home-grown asparagus tends to be split into green, purple and white varieties, with green asparagus being by far the most popular. Grown in different ways, green and purple asparagus are grown with their spears above the soil, whereas white varieties are cultivated under the ground. Check out our other article for more information on the health benefits of asparagus types.
White asparagus is commonly grown in other parts of Europe, especially Germany and France where it has earned the nickname ‘white gold’. With the spears grown underground in rows of soil to prevent photosynthesis, white asparagus is said to have a more mild and delicate flavour than our green or purple varieties. While white asparagus can be purchased ready to eat from specialist retailers, it is only just beginning to be available to grow here.
Part of the Asparagaceae family, the cultivated vegetable asparagus must not be confused with the ornamental asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus and densiflorus), which even though closely related should not be eaten, as it is toxic.
Tip: growing asparagus can seem a little daunting. However, with the proper asparagus plant care and patience not to pick for the first 2 to 3 years, you could be harvesting asparagus for many years to come.
The best asparagus varieties for growing at home
With early, mid and late season asparagus varieties available, if a combination is grown you could be harvesting asparagus from April right through until June. Here is a selection of green, purple and white asparagus varieties available to grow at home:
Green asparagus varieties
Grown above the ground, green varieties are well suited to our UK climate, are high in vitamins and nutrients and have a grassy and almost bitter taste.
- ‘Ariane’: German bred, slender green spears with tight purple tips, early to mid-season, impressive yields, superb flavour, favoured by commercial growers.
- ‘Connover’s Colossal’: reliable heritage variety, early to mid-season harvest, thick green spears, excellent flavour, high yields, RHS Award of Garden Merit.
- ‘Gijnlim F1’: Dutch hybrid, early to mid-season harvest, medium to thick green spears, high quality, RHS Award of Garden Merit.
- ‘Guelph Eclipse’: Canadian bred, early to mid-season male dominant hybrid, thick green spears with purple tips, impressive yields.
- ‘Guelph Millennium’: Canadian bred, all male hybrid, late season, good for cooler conditions, green spears with purple tips, heavy cropping, RHS Award of Garden Merit.
- ‘Mary Washington’: heritage American female variety, early season, thick green spears with purple tips, good resistance to rust (Puccinia asparagi), superb flavour.
- ‘Mondeo’: early season, all male hybrid, high quality yields, green spears, excellent flavour, good disease resistance.
As a heavy feeder, asparagus requires high levels of nitrogen to encourage healthy spear production. An annual mulch of well-rotted manure in winter is recommended as well as feeding during the growing season. For feeding asparagus, it is best to use an all-purpose fertiliser such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, which is rich in nitrogen and slow release, feeding the plants for up to 3 months.
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Tip: growing asparagus is an investment for the future, as it can be harvested for many years to come. There are certain asparagus diseases that plants can be susceptible to, which you will want to protect your plants from.
Purple asparagus varieties
Purple asparagus is available from almost red to deep purple, with its vibrant colour due to the presence of the plant pigment anthocyanin. Purple asparagus has a sweeter flavour due to its higher sugar content and is less fibrous than green varieties.
- ‘Burgundine’: new male dominant hybrid variety, early season, bright purple tender spears, excellent taste, can be eaten raw due to low levels of lignin.
- ‘Pacific Purple’: harvest April to June, thick purple spears, tender with a sweet and nutty flavour, can lose its colour on cooking.
- ‘Stewart’s Purple’: harvest May to June, dark purple medium size spears, newly bred variety, very sweet flavour.
White asparagus varieties
White asparagus is nowhere near as popular here as it is in Europe, and it is not easy to get hold of white varieties to grow. However, these two varieties below can be grown either as green asparagus grown above the soil or as white asparagus below the soil:
- ‘Gijnlim F1’: variety suitable for cultivation of both green and white asparagus. Early season, male only hybrid, medium to thick stems, heavy yields, hardy.
- ‘Vittorio F1’: bred for white asparagus, early season male dominant F1 hybrid, medium size spears, heavy cropping, good disease resistance.
Although grown commercially around the world, asparagus can thrive when grown at home, providing delicious spears fresh from the garden. For tips on growing asparagus at home you can read our separate article.