How to Know When Asparagus Is Ready to Pick

A pair of hands holding several stalks of asparagus
The stalks will give you hints when it's time to harvest.

Dusan Zidar / Shutterstock

Here on the East Coast, asparagus is always the first of the spring produce. It starts to show up in mid to late April. On the West Coast, particularly in parts of California, asparagus pops out of the ground about a month earlier. Wherever you are when the local asparagus starts to grow, you can be assured of one thing: it's a sure sign that spring managed to beat winter back once again.

Asparagus is a low-maintenance vegetable. Once planted, it returns every year, and some asparagus beds can keep producing for up to 20 years. It takes a few years for an asparagus plant to get established. After planting seeds, you should ideally wait three years before harvesting, but once established, it will provide years of abundance.

But how do you know when is the right time to harvest? Here's a guide on how to harvest asparagus and, more importantly, when.

Signs asparagus is ready to pick

harvesting asparagus
Asparagus spears aren't pulled out of the ground, they're cut just above the soil line.

Menzl Guenter / Shutterstock

As with all produce, there's an optimum time to harvest asparagus to get the best quality. The Old Farmers Almanac has advice on when that optimum time is for asparagus.

  • Spears are ready to harvest when they are about 6 to 10 inches tall and at least a half-inch thick. If the tip of the spear has started to open and produce foliage, otherwise known as going to seed, you've waited too long to pick it. It's still technically edible, but it will be woody and tough.
  • To harvest, cut the spear with a sharp knife or scissors right above the soil. Do not pull it out by the roots.
  • The harvest season is done when the spears start to get thinner, and their diameter is about the size of a pencil.

Once harvesting is done, it's good to let asparagus plants continue to grow and wait to cut them down to the ground until after the first frost. This replenishes nutrients for the following year's growth. As for asparagus that are more than 10 inches in height, let them grow for next year as well.

How to store asparagus

Asparagus has a short shelf life so it is optimal to eat it within three days after harvest. Immediately after harvest, consider plunging the spears in cold water so the sugar content is preserved. To store asparagus spears, either put them in a cup of water or wrap the stems in a moist wrap and put them in a bag.

How to use asparagus

bean salad
This salad is a great way to use leftover vegetables prepared for other recipes.

Jaymi Heimbuch

This salad is a great way to use leftover vegetables prepared for other recipes.

Once you've harvested your asparagus, there are many ways to use them. Here are a few.