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Put Your Asparagus and Other Perennials to Bed for the Winter

My asparagus bed that needs to be put to bed for the winter. Photo: N.R. Mallery

N. R. Mallery, Publisher of G.E.T.

Perennial vegetables like asparagus, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes and rhubarb need protection over the winter to survive freezing temperatures.

Asparagus is hardy down to zone 4 and needs a little care in the fall. Here is what you do: when the ferns start to turn yellow to brown, or after the first frost, cut them back to about two-inch stubs. This will help prevent disease setting in over the winter. Apply about two to three inches of compost around the remaining plants and cover with mulch such as straw and leaves to a depth of about four to six inches.

This is also the time to dig your horseradish. Try to get all of it, which I find nearly impossible since my no-till garden produces deep roots. I never planned to have it in my garden, but followed a recommendation to grow horseradish in pots and place in the garden to repel pest such as the white moths. I now struggle with this invasive perennial in the garden because the containers had drainage holes which allowed the roots to happily find their way directly into my garden. So, let this be a warning! Regardless, dig your roots before the ground freezes, wash off the soil and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to process them. Jars of horseradish are great to share at Thanksgiving gatherings. It’s easy to make, yet a bit dangerous to process. Warning: do NOT open the food processor and look into the container — it will burn your eyes and sinus cavity. Smell that wonderful aroma with caution. To make it, simply scrape off some of the skin and cut the roots into one-to two- inch chunks. Put them into your food processor and just barely cover them with organic white or rice vinegar. Cider vinegar can be used if you prefer, but it does not give you a nice white result. Process it until smooth. Use caution when lifting the lid and as you scoop it into your jars. Screw the lid on the jars and store in the refrigerator for months. Baby food jars make great storage containers in the perfect size for sharing. It’s always fun to watch when the recipient opens the jar to smell or taste it. Their sinuses will be cleared! It is sure to give some laughs at the reactions.

Horseradish that is ready to be dug before winter sets in.

Jerusalem artichokes are another invasive perennial. You can dig them as you need them until the ground freezes, but do try to dig enough so that they do not get out of control as they spread in the spring. If you are trying to establish a patch, cut back the stalks to 2-4 inches, cover with leaves and even straw if you have it. The artichokes store nicely in your refrigerator drawer for months and are known to help to regulate blood sugar. I would consult your doctor about using it for this purpose if you have diabetes.

Rhubarb is another perennial that I have never done any more than throw some compost around. It loves rotted manure and leaves. If you are trying to establish it, be sure to cut it back to two to four inches, add a couple shovelfuls of rotted manure, compost and leaves. It does not hurt to put a layer of straw over it, as well. Fall is a great time to break up the root to share or manage.

In the spring, when I cut some to make sauce or pie or to freeze, I generally leave the large leaf on the ground to keep weeds down and add compost to the soil surrounding the plants.

You can also break off the seed pods to try to keep it from completely going to seed and be able to use it. New plants will sprout easily. Seed pods take longer to get established plants than if you break up the roots in the fall.

Did you ever notice that the rhubarb is ready to use before the strawberries are ripe? How did strawberry-rhubarb pie and sauce ever start? Freezing fresh rhubarb in chunks will assure you have some when strawberries are in season and can be used throughout the year. The sauce can be preserved by canning it, and it freezes with great success.

Something that I am not the authority on, but both my neighbor and I lost some blueberry plants that were too close to the rhubarb. I don’t think they like to grow near each other. Rhubarb likes rich soil. Blueberries like acid conditions. I advise planting them in different areas.

There you have it. While it is kind of sad to put your garden to bed before winter arrives, there is comfort knowing it will be safe, warm and healthier after you tuck them in. Now you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor from all that you have harvested this year. Enjoy the break from gardening chores. With full bellies from the year’s harvest, I wish you a happy fall and winter. We will see you in the spring!

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