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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

How do you know when to harvest asparagus?

Asparagus growing tall in Diane Frenger's West Babylon

Asparagus growing tall in Diane Frenger's West Babylon garden can be harvested, but allowing those taller than 10 inches to remain will strengthen the crop next year. Credit: Diane Frenger

DEAR JESSICA: I planted this asparagus four years ago. Is it ready to be picked now, or should I wait? — Diane Frenger, West Babylon 

DEAR DIANE: Asparagus should be harvested beginning in its third year, when stalks are 6 to 10 inches tall. So, yes, you can do that now, but some of your stalks appear overgrown (and allowing those that have grown taller than 10 inches to remain in the soil will enhance future harvests).

Use a sharp knife to cut each slightly below the soil line, but take care not to damage emerging stalks. You can continue to cut them until July 1, when you should stop so plants can develop a stronger root system and store energy for next year. 

DEAR JESSICA: Last fall I started a brand-new lawn and was pleasantly surprised with how it came in with the one seeding. However, it’s nowhere near as full as I would eventually like it to be so I plan to reseed this spring. The problem I’m having is what type of fertilizer should I use. The lawn is still thin enough for me to have a weed and crabgrass problem, but I know if I use a fertilizer with pre-emergent, I’ll interfere with the germination of the new seed. What should I do? — Steve, via email

DEAR STEVE: You’re right. Using pre-emergent crabgrass control will prevent new grass seed from germinating, so you'll have to work around it, manually removing as much of the weed as possible before seeding. You don't say how large your lawn is, but if that isn't practical, you can apply seed right over the crabgrass now, and then apply a pre-emergent product next spring.

Using a starter fertilizer will, indeed, provide new seedlings with a boost. Starter fertilizers are available from multiple brands; look for packages marked “lawn starter” or “turf starter."

For a lush, thick lawn, apply seeds in two directions, using a broadcast spreader, once a week for about four weeks. Water deeply once after each seeding session, then only lightly every day in between. Don’t miss even one day or seeds may dry out, and you’ll have to start over.

DEAR JESSICA: I have had this plant come up for several years. I have dug it out, but alas it is winning. It's one of the first things to come up in the spring and has choked out other plants and now is part of the lawn. I have noticed it in other yards in my neighborhood. Help! — Stella Silverman, Riverhead

DEAR STELLA: That's Ficaria verna, a ground cover commonly called lesser celandine or fig buttercup. The plant is an ephemeral perennial, which means it pokes out of the ground, grows quickly, blooms and goes dormant all over the course of just six to eight weeks, after which it disappears underground without a trace until next spring. Because of its life cycle, there really isn't a need to eradicate it from the lawn. Using an herbicide would also threaten grass, so I recommend you enjoy the early spring color by waiting it out.

Because you've noted it has choked out plants in your garden, you can try to eliminate it in those beds by treating it with an iron-based broadleaf herbicide, such as Fiesta, that is specifically labeled for use on this plant, among others. This is best done very early in the season, before it flowers, as the plant is most susceptible at that time. You also can dig it out from under your other plants, taking care to lift its long taproot out of the ground without leaving broken bits behind. But neither method is foolproof. Good luck!

DEAR JESSICA: I have tried for many years to figure out why the daffodils I plant only bloom for a year or two at most. I have tried different kinds bought from different companies. They all bloom the first year, but less the following year. I follow directions, plant at the proper depth and have tried planting in full sun and partial shade with the same results. In my last attempt two years ago, I planted 30 double daffodil bulbs and applied the fertilizer that came with them. The first year, I had great flowers. I fertilized in fall and again when they appeared in spring, but only eight came up, and no buds or flowers. What could be the problem? — Dennis Lawlor, Ronkonkoma

DEAR DENNIS: There are several reasons daffodils will become "blind," or fail to bloom. You have tried repeatedly with different bulbs, and based on what you've described, we can safely eliminate transplant shock, insufficient sunlight and lack of fertilizer.

My first thought is that perhaps you have been mowing or otherwise removing the foliage too soon after blooming. Leaves work hard to soak up sunlight, water and nutrients for as long as they are growing, and they use those resources to produce food that will nourish blbs to survive winter and store energy to produce flowers the next spring. Removing living, green foliage and expecting tulips next spring is like draining your car's gas tank and expecting it to run. 

If you haven't removed, mowed or otherwise tampered with foliage before it withered and died on its own, there are three other possible culprits:

  •  Too much nitrogen: If bulbs are planted in or near a fertilized lawn, excess nitrogen could be forcing them to divert their energy into foliage production at the expense of blooms.
  •  Greedy neighbors: If bulbs are planted among vigorous growers, or under evergreens, they may be losing the competition for nutrients and water.
  •  Poor drainage: Soggy soil encourages viral and fungal diseases that can weaken and kill bulbs.

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