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Transplanting asparagus; giving rooting slips a change of water

Q Last year I asked you why my asparagus seeds came up sparingly, thinking I had sown them too deeply (about 11/2 inches). You advised soaking the seeds in warm water (85-90 degrees F.) for 48 hours beforehand. This spring I followed your directions, spacing the seeds about 3 inches apart in rows and marking them by sowing radishes because of their quicker germination. I am happy to report that I got almost 100 percent germination.

Now my questions are: Can I transplant the young plants to their permanent spot this fall, and how long should I wait before cutting them? Do they need fertilizer?

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Asparagus plants should be transplanted to their permanent spot next spring, in trenches about 6 inches deep and with the crowns about 18 inches apart. Firm about 2 inches of soil around the roots at first. About a month later fill in with good loose soil. You may want to mix rotted compost or rotted manure with it.

You can harvest sparingly the following spring, but cut heavily the year after.

Each fall it helps to add a layer of rotted compost or rotted manure. Give a feeding of fertilizer (5-10-10 analysis) at a rate of about 5 pounds per 100 square feet (or liquid fertilizer according to directions on the can) in the fall or in early spring before any growth starts.

Q When rooting slips of plants, should the water be changed every few days, or is there some way of keeping it from getting stale?

Water is no longer as pure as it once was, and cuttings sometimes rot instead of root.

Make the cuts with a clean knife. Putting a piece of charcoal the size of a large bean in the glass of water will help, since it is a natural purifying agent. (Use only wood charcoal; the chemical brick types are toxic to plants). Inspect the cuttings after one week to see if any have gotten soft on the ends. If so, recut or discard and change the water.

A rooted cutting of coleus or willow will induce the rooting of others. If you still have problems, try perlite or coarse vermiculite, kept moist all during the rooting period. Many plants' cuttings will not root in water.

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If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists, authors of several books on gardening, and greenhouse operators for more than 25 years.

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