Foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus) is an evergreen perennial closely related to the vegetable asparagus that we eat, though is definitely not itself an edible plant. Though not a true fern, foxtail fern, also known as asparagus fern, is a popular houseplant commonly grown indoors.
What is Foxtail Fern(Asparagus Fern)?
There is some confusion over the terms foxtail fern and asparagus fern. Both names are used to refer to Asparagus densiflorus, and are sometimes also used for a related species Asparagus aethiopicus.
Foxtail fern, also known as asparagus fern or plume asparagus is native to southern Africa. But it is commonly cultivated as a houseplant in many other regions of the globe. Numerous cultivars of this species have been developed that are especially well suited to indoor growing.
One well-known and highly regarded cultivar is that called ‘Myersii’. This variety is a compact one ideal for indoor container cultivation. It has been given an Award of Garden Merit by the British Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
Though it often includes the term ‘fern’ in its common name, the foxtail or asparagus fern is not a fern at all. It gets its common name because its foliage somewhat resembles that of true ferns.
If you want to grow this plant, it is important to note that though related to asparagus, this plant can be toxic to both people and pets.
Where to Grow Foxtail Fern
If you would like to grow foxtail fern inside your home, you should find it a relatively straightforward plant to grow. But you do need to provide it with the right conditions, especially when it comes to light, temperatures, and the growing medium.
Foxtail ferns need a location inside a home that has bright but indirect light. A spot that gets some sun during the morning hours but receives some shade on hot afternoons can be ideal.
A spot that gets too little light will not allow the plant to thrive. But equally, a location with too much sun can lead to leaf scorch and burn the plant.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
Looking at Asparagus densiflorus’ native range gives us clues to its environmental likes and requirements when it comes to temperatures and humidity. Remember, these plants come from southern Africa. They like relatively hot and humid conditions.
In zones 9 through 11 (USDA) these plants can be grown outdoors year-round. In cooler temperate climates, they need to be protected or be indoors through the winter months if they are not kept indoors all the time.
(Note that this plant is invasive in some areas, such as Florida, Texas, and Hawaii, for example.)
When growing indoors, you can if you wish place the plant outside in summer. But typically, you will keep it indoors in a relatively humid space throughout the year. Try to avoid placing it in a location where temperatures fluctuate too wildly.
Where humidity is low, regularly misting your foxtail fern is a good idea.
Soil/ Growing Medium
Pot up an asparagus fern or foxtail fern into a moist yet free-draining potting mix, ideally one that is peat-free but slightly acidic. Drainage is very important because waterlogged conditions can lead to root rot.
Sowing and Planting Asparagus Fern
Asparagus fern can of course be purchased as potted plants. It is also possible to propagate an existing plant through the division of a mature specimen in spring, or by seed.
To grow asparagus fern from seed:
- Harvest the red berries from an existing plant.
- Soak these in water for 24 hrs, and collect those that sink as these have the best chance of germinating.
- Remove the fruit from the seeds inside and plant these in small pots.
- Place pots in bright but indirect light and mist regularly to maintain moisture until germination takes place.
- Germination should take place within 3-4 weeks
- Pot up seedlings to a slightly larger pot when the roots fill the existing one.
Caring For Asparagus Fern
To grow asparagus fern indoors you need to think about the basics of watering and feeding, winter care, and when and how to repot your plant.
Foxtail ferns are rather resilient plants. They store water in their tuberous roots and can therefore cope with some neglect when it comes to watering. In fact, they are much better at coping with too little water than too much – so it is best to err on the side of caution when watering this plant.
Let the top few centimeters of the growing medium dry out between waterings, and always make sure that excess water can drain away freely. Do not leave standing water below the pot. Reduce watering as winter approaches.
These plants will appreciate being provided with an organic, balanced, liquid plant feed such as a weak (half-strength) compost tea every couple of weeks throughout the spring and summer months. Stop feeding altogether as the coldest part of the year approaches.
Do not be alarmed when the leaves of your foxtail fern die back for the winter. These plants are meant to enter a dormant phase through the coldest part of the year. Leaf drop is normal.
When the leaves die back naturally, cut these all back, and move your plant to a sunny windowsill in your home. Stop feeding, and water well but infrequently over the winter months.
Do not be tempted to pot up an asparagus fern too soon, and take care not to choose too large a new pot. Only repot your foxtail fern when it is root bound in its current container, and select a pot just a little larger than the current one each time.
If you prefer not to move the plant to a larger pot, remember that mature plants can also be lifted and divided.
The above should help you to grow foxtail fern or asparagus fern indoors without any major problems so that you can enjoy this attractive plant within your home and add it to your houseplant collection.