Fall planting is occasionally practiced, but spring planting is universally regarded better. After the ground has been plowed and thoroughly harrowed, deep furrows must be made preparatory to setting roots or crowns. If the land is steep enough to wash, the furrows should run at right angles to the direction of the slope; if practically level, north and south will insure the most even and perfect distribution of light on all parts of the row. The depth of the furrow should be determined mainly by the natural depth of the soil. In America the crowns are set 6 inches to 1 foot deep, but 8 inches is considered deep enough, although 10 inches may be an advantage. Certainly, the crown should never be set in the subsoil, where the fleshy horizontal roots would fail to find food or proper physical conditions. Deep planting is regarded as important in the production of large shoots, but the chief advantage is to get the crowns beyond the reach of tillage implements. As the new buds form higher on the crown each year, deep planting, therefore, prolong? the time when there will be any interference by tillage tools. The first shoots will not be quite so early in the spring when the crowns are set deep, but many advantages overbalance this possible disadvantage.
After having decided upon the distance between rows, an ordinary moldboard plow is used to make the trenches for planting. A furrow slice is thrown on each side of the furrow. It is often necessary to make two or three rounds before the proper depth has been obtained. Then shovels are sometimes employed to secure greater depth. When trenched and ready to receive the plants, the field has the appearance of having dead-furrows at frequent intervals. Unless companion crops are to be grown between the rows, cross marks should be made so that the cultivators may be used both ways. A pole with a series of chains attached at the required distance is sometimes used in marking, though more accurate methods are preferred.
It is not best to set the plants in the bottom of a hard trench. Instead, spread the roots over a slight mound of fine soil and then cover the crown with 2 or 3 inches of fine moist soil. The ground should be well firmed over the fleshy roots. The planter may accomplish this by the use of his feet as he rises and proceeds to the next plant. Inexperienced growers often make the mistake of covering the crowns too deeply at first, thus smothering the small shoots before these reach the surface. No more soil should be filled in the trench until the shoots appear. Then soil is gradually worked in mainly by cultivation. By midsummer the furrows should be filled.
Some writers advocate starting fields from seed sown where the plants are to remain. While the system possesses certain advantages, it has not met with favor among extensive commercial growers.
Following the planting of the new bed or the field, tillage should begin promptly after the first rain. Light raking in the furrows will be sufficient tillage at first, but after the plants have started, wheel hoes of one-horse cultivators are employed. Care must be exercised in cultivating to prevent breaking, injuring and covering the young plants. One-horse cultivators are doubtless the best implements for most conditions, although other types of implements are employed in various sections.
Cultivation should begin early in the spring and continue as long as it is possible to get between the rows with horse tools in order to keep down the weeds and maintain soil moisture. Some hoeing may be necessary during the cutting season, although the proper use of the weeder will reduce the amount of hand labor. If the weeder is used during the middle of sunny days, when the plants are not so rigid, very few shoots will be broken or injured.
In established fields either the disk or the cutaway harrow should be used to break and pulverize the surface soil in the spring as soon as the ground is dry enough. Manure may also be incorporated with the soil at this time. Following harvest, one of these tools should be employed after the fertilizer or the manure has been applied. In old fields harrowing will necessarily injure some of the buds, but the benefit is so great that the operation is justifiable.
Ridging to a greater or less extent is practiced in nearly all plantations, not excepting fields producing green shoots. Plows, disk ridgers or other special tools are used to perform this work in the spring after the ground has been harrowed. Ridging is not usually practiced until the spring of the third year. The ground is always leveled at the close of the cutting season and one-horse cultivators are employed as long as it is possible to get between the rows. In a few weeks after the last cutting the ground will be completely shaded and the weeds cannot make much progress. No tillage tool which will seriously break or mutilate the roots should ever be used in asparagus fields.