When and How to Cut Back Asparagus Foliage

Growing asparagus in the home garden takes patience.

Depending upon which option you choose at planting time – seeds, crowns, or starts – it can take several growing seasons before the bed you’ve lovingly prepared will play host to those tender, delicious springtime spears.

In the fall, when the garden beds begin to doze under piles of leaves in preparation for first frost, your asparagus may more closely resemble fern-like Christmas trees, sprouting foliage up to seven feet tall.

A vertical close up image of two hands from the left of the frame holding the foliage of a young asparagus plant growing in the garden. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

We link to vendors to help you find relevant products. If you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Even though asparagus is dioecious – with plants that are either male or female gendered – both the males and females produce foliage and flowers. But only female plants produce seed.

To keep your plants healthy and to prepare them for their next growing season, it’s recommended to cut back foliage in the fall after the second or third year following planting.

But what does cutting back do for your plants? Let’s take a closer look.

Asparagus Anatomy

Asparagus is a perennial flowering plant that can produce crops for more than twenty years.

Underground, it grows from clusters of roots commonly known as crowns. The crowns are typically left to overwinter in the ground.

A close up image of two gloved hands planting crowns in a ridge and furrow system in dark, rich earth in the garden.

The young, new shoots that sprout in early spring are the part of the plant that we eat, but after the harvest period has ended, the plants produce foliage.

Harvesting the stalks triggers the production of new growth to replace the harvested shoots, which uses a lot of energy.

From summer through fall, before winter weather strikes, the springtime sprouts that weren’t harvested will continue to grow into a tall, bushy, fern-like plant.

Image of rows of asparagus plants growing in the garden with trees in soft focus in the background.

The green vegetation is dense and can grow up to seven feet tall.

While some consider bolting to be a negative thing, it’s actually a natural part of the growth cycle that allows the plant to photosynthesize and propagate.

The plants will produce tiny blooms that await pollinators to spread pollen from male to female, and by late fall, female plants will produce small, round, red seed pods that hang from the branches like Christmas ornaments.

A close up horizontal image of an A. officinalis plant with bright red berries amongst the vegetation, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

Check our guide to learn more about the differences between male and female plants.

While gardeners who want to collect seed may let the pods ripen, it’s typically recommended not to allow seeds to grow, because the process consumes a lot of energy.

As a part of the life cycle of the plant, foliage begins to die back, turning yellow or brown as crowns go dormant. At this time, you’ll want to cut them back for winter.

Cutting dead foliage back serves a few purposes:

First, allowing plants to complete their seasonal life cycle will produce healthier roots. The foliage will continue to photosynthesize and store energy in the root system throughout the growing season.

Second, roots that form to support the growth of the new foliage are stronger and deeper. Healthy roots produce healthier plants, and a more bountiful crop in the next growing season.

Additionally, nuisance pests called asparagus beetles are known to inhabit the ferns, where they lay eggs in the fall.

A close up horizontal image of a small black, white, and red beetle on the stem of a plant, pictured on a soft focus background.

Cutting back can nip an infestation in the bud ahead of the next growing season.

Cutting Back Foliage

Autumn foliage that has turned yellow or brown is ready to be cut back.

It’s important to refrain from pruning prior to die-off, as the plant will continue to photosynthesize while it is still green.

A close up horizontal image of A. officinalis vegetation growing in the garden on a green soft focus background.

When plants have gone dormant, use pruning shears to cut ferns back to ground level.

If the cuttings are healthy and not diseased or infested, they can be composted or used to mulch the growing bed for the winter.

Always use caution when composting pruned ferns, however, as pests may lay eggs there that can be spread to your compost pile, leading to potential reinfestation when they hatch.

When foliage has been cut back, adding a thick layer of compost or mulch will help to protect crowns through the winter, especially in areas where snow cover can become deep, or temperatures dip well below freezing.

You can learn about mulching to protect cold-tolerant crops in this guide.

Quick Tips for Fall Cutbacks

Keep the following in mind when you cut back your plants in autumn:

  • Growth of asparagus foliage is an important part of the plant’s life cycle.
  • Unless you plan to save the seeds, it’s best to remove them to conserve energy.
  • Wait until foliage turns yellow or brown and the plant becomes dormant before pruning.
  • Cut foliage back to ground level.
  • Mulch asparagus beds to protect them during the winter months.

A Little Maintenance Goes a Long Way

It takes a lot of energy for plants to grow, and removing dead leaf matter will help to boost production in the next growing season.

A close up horizontal image of a single asparagus spear surrounded by foliage, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

Preparing perennial plants for winter will save a lot of disappointment, as those that are maintained well will return, vigorous and ready for a new year.

Have you had some experience growing asparagus in your garden? Did you notice a better yield after cutting back foliage?

And for more information about growing asparagus, check out these guides next:

Photo of author


Kelly Spicer became a single parent at a young age, and learned very quickly how scary food insecurity can be. As a result, she began self-teaching to learn how to grow food, which led to a passion for providing for others in need. Currently, Kelly is coordinating a plan to produce a tropical homestead in south Florida that will provide homegrown food to families in need, and teach them to grow their own. She is working her way toward certification as a master gardener, and building a lifelong love of nature with her kids.

Wait! We have more!

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rob Horne, UK
Rob Horne, UK (@guest_10572)
3 years ago

I found this very useful as I was wondering how and when to cut back our asparagus bed. Understanding why it is important makes the knowledge even more useful.
Thank you and good luck with your Florida project.

Carol (@guest_10649)
3 years ago

Great article thanks. We live in England near Bristol so pretty mild winters here, so wondering whether to mulch or not?

Don Stillwaugh
Don Stillwaugh (@guest_13729)
2 years ago

I started some crowns this year. I have several mature plants also. The new crowns grew some small ferns this year 3 to 12 inches high.. Should I cut these first year ferns back this year.

Dale O, Minnesota
Dale O, Minnesota (@guest_14423)
2 years ago

Thanks for sharing the information, Kelly. I have weeds all over the place from my asparagus, and I would like to prune the female plants before they all fall off, even though they haven’t turned brown. I’m not clear if that is okay. Please help.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Dale O, Minnesota
2 years ago

You can clip the seed pods to avoid reseeding, but it’s best to wait to prune the ferns entirely until they’ve at least begun to turn yellow, to provide the crowns with the energy they need for next year. Browning of the ferns is an indication that they’ve begun their transition into winter dormancy.

susie (@guest_14967)
2 years ago

lots of good info here, thanks so much. i love my gardens i wish I had more time in them.

Christopher Towne
Christopher Towne (@guest_14980)
2 years ago

I just want to say thanks for taking time to walk us gardeners thru the process of putting our asparagus to bed for the winter. Can I use my leaves that I rake up to cover the asparagus for the winter? Thanks again for your time.

Kimberly Anne Pruett
Kimberly Anne Pruett (@guest_32955)
6 months ago

Hello. I’m in zone 10a and our asparagus stay green year round. Do we still need to prune them back to the ground?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Kimberly Anne Pruett
6 months ago

Good question Kimberly. How many years have you been growing your plants? Is there a rainy season where you live? And are asparagus beetles active in your area? Asparagus requires a dormant period to be productive and the ferns should be cut during dormancy, typically some time between fall and spring, before new spears emerge. Dormancy may be brought on by drought rather than cold temperatures in warm climates, so keep this in mind – asparagus that has ferned out should not be overwatered and encouraged to stay green through this restful period. Fall pruning is often recommended to reduce… Read more »

Roger (@guest_35855)
4 months ago

hi I live in Phoenix AZ and my asparagus never seems to go brown my plants are 2 years old now and I have never cut them back when should I, is there a time of year, after all it doesn’t really get to cold here.