Mother Stalk Culture Does Not Improve Plant Survival or Yield of Spring and Summer-forced Asparagus in South Carolina

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  • 1 Coastal Research and Education Center, Department of Horticulture, Clemson University, 2865 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29414-5332

Short productive lifespan is a major problem with asparagus (Asparagus officinalis L.), whether harvested in the spring or forced in late summer in coastal South Carolina. A modification of the Taiwanese system of mother stalk (MS) culture might enhance asparagus longevity and yield. The objective of this research was to determine if modified MS culture improved plant survival and yields in spring or summer-forced harvests compared with conventional spring clear-cut (CC) harvesting or with nonconventional summer-forced CC harvesting. `Jersey Giant' asparagus was harvested for 3 years (1994-96) using the following harvest systems: 1) spring CC (normal emergence in February in this location); 2) spring MS followed by summer MS (mow fern down on 1 Aug. and establish new mothers); 3) spring MS only; 4) summer CC only (mow fern on 1 Aug. and harvest); and 5) summer MS only. All systems were harvested for ≈7 weeks. All MS plots produced 40 mother stalks per 12-m row length each year before harvesting began. All mother stalks were trellised and tied to prevent lodging. Three-year total yields (kg·ha-1) and stand reduction (%) for nonharvested controls, spring CC harvesting, spring MS culture, spring MS combined with summer MS, summer CC, and summer MS were: 0 and 54%, 1621 and 96%, 779 and 99%, 1949 and 86%, 4001 and 58%, 3945 and 58%, respectively. All spring harvesting systems failed because by midsummer, aged fern, harvest pressures, and, apparently, higher rates of crown respiration reduced crown carbohydrate reserves. Yearly repetition of these stresses ultimately killed the spring-harvested plants. The MS culture did not ameliorate stand loss by significantly increasing carbohydrate reserves. Yields of summer-forced asparagus were consistently acceptable because aged ferns were removed at about the time they apparently became inefficient photosynthetically. After termination of the summer harvest season and with recovery in the following spring, ample carbohydrates were produced well before summer forcing began again in August the following year. Therefore, plant longevity was better sustained by summer forcing than by traditional spring harvesting.

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