Asparagus fern is in the lily family and the Asparagus genus. Despite its name, this evergreen herbaceous perennial does not belong to the fern family. Because it produces seeds rather than spores, this is the reason.
A second contradiction is that the actual leaves, which we generally consider to be leaves, are in fact “cladodes,” or flattened stem sections. The genuine leaves are tiny scale-like projections that you may not even notice.
Furthermore, this hardy evergreen has two personalities: in USDA Hardiness Zone 9 to 11 gardens, it spreads fast and is invasive in Florida, Hawaii, and Texas. However, as a potted plant, it’s a treasure!
In this post, you’ll discover how to grow some remarkable varieties and cultivars of this ornamental South African bloom.
The many kinds of this plant have feathery, cascading leaves that are light and airy, with an ethereal feel. Be on your guard, though! Beneath soft, silky green layers lurk deadly spines to remind you that the pleasant texture is more of a deceptive cover-up.
This plant is poisonous to both people and pets, and it should not be exposed to children under the age of six.
History and Cultivation
The cultivation of asparagus fern in the United States appears to date back to the turn of the previous century.
Cut bunches were noted in the December 1, 1900 edition of The Gardeners’ Chronicle and their average wholesale costs are given.
It came to American gardens and flowerpots via Europe from its native South Africa.
The asparagus fern has delicate branches in the form of a shrub. It grows from ground to sky in layers. Under favorable conditions, tiny white blooms and orange, red, or deep purple berries may appear.
Medicinal A. racemosus and climbing A. africanus are just a few of the wild species that may be found, although these will not generally be offered on the market. The following are the types that you’re most likely to locate for sale:
· Asparagus aethiopicus, syn. A. densiflorus
· Asparagus setaceus
· Asparagus virgatus
Asparagus fern, unlike acanthus fern, is not a true fern. In reality, it has more in common with edible asparagus, A. officinalis. The differences between phlox and verbenas are many, but the two are similar in some ways. They’re both herbaceous perennials that need damp, organically rich soil, but there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye.They are both dioecious, which means they produce both male and female plants; both types flower, but only the females set fruit.
Both plants have scale-like “leaves,” although asparagus fern’s are cladodes, as described above, in the case of Icelandic moss.
Finally, while both species may be grown from seed, it is usually easier and more common to start them from tuberous root cuttings.
It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover berries. I’ve had berries appear on indoor plants before. The berries provide aesthetic beauty while also being edible.
While there’s no way to tell whether you have a female plant when you buy it (unless it is actively producing fruit!), providing the optimal conditions for fruiting by ensuring plenty of filtered sunshine and a damp climate is possible.
Outdoor plants cultivated in warm regions are most likely to produce fruit and their berries may be red or orange. They may darken to a nearly black purple in some circumstances. Expect a three-foot wide mature size with branches three feet long under average circumstances. Under optimal conditions, some species may develop or spread many more feet.
Your plants will thank you with 10 or more years of lush development if you give them excellent care.
You’ll need to sow seeds or divide a current plant to begin your own plant. The ideal time to do both is in the early spring.
Read our blog post on Asparagus Fern Propagation for detailed instructions.
You may either buy or save your own seeds.
This technique of propagation is difficult since there are usually only one to three seeds in each berry, and they do not always germinate.
When you’re ready to plant your seeds, sand them lightly and soak them in water for a night before planting. This assists germination by weakening the seed’s hard outer layer.
If they’re too little to grip, you might as well shake them in a bag with some sand and water. Then soak the seeds for the night by adding all of it to water, sand, and all.
Sow the seeds in flats or pots, press them into the soil but don’t bury them, and keep the soil lightly moist.
When the young plants are well-rooted, transplant them into their permanent containers or location in your garden.
In an egg carton, seed-starter tray, or a grow disk, you may start seeds indoors. If the soil isn’t very moist, you may also direct-sow them outside.
Fill a terra-cotta or plastic pot with potting soil or moisten your planting medium. then, place the seeds on top and press them gently down. Do not cover the seeds with dirt since they require sunlight to germinate.
Place it in a spot with plenty of indirect sunlight. Irrigate the soil just before it is completely dry to keep an even moisture level.
It might take four weeks for them to germinate, so be patient!
To begin a plant by this technique, see our guide on How to Propagate Asparagus Ferns.
A division is produced by cutting a mature plant’s rootstock straight down, separating the cut portion, and planting it elsewhere. The roots are necessary since stems alone will not grow back on their own.
Insert the division into your chosen potting medium or earth, then water well.
Avoid overwatering by watering twice a week. Maintain even moisture, waiting until the soil is completely dry before watering again.
How to Start Growing
Once you understand how, it’s simple to cultivate. Use gloves to protect yourself from being stung by thorns, and the rest will go off without a hitch.
Choose a container that is sturdy for planting in because this species’ root system is robust enough to break through a flimsy plastic container. It should be big enough to accommodate the mature breadth of your plant, as stated on your seed packet or nursery pot tag.
Alternatively, you may start with a smaller container and add more plants as your plant grows.
It’s crucial to leave adequate drainage holes.
Expect to repot your plant every time its roots run out of room and begin to poke through the drainage holes in the bottom.
Use an organically rich potting medium with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 that is slightly acidic.
To avoid scorching the leaves and drying out the soil, offer indirect sunlight.
The result of these conditions might be that the cladodes fall.
During the growing season, keep the soil evenly wet but not soggy. In winter, growth slows and less water is required.
If you choose to fertilize, do so only once or twice a month with an evenly balanced slow-release houseplant fertilizer.
Some people allow the soil to dry out between waterings, but this can induce stress and cause leaf browning or drop. If cladodes become yellowish, reduce the frequency of watering.
You may choose to keep plants outside during the winter.
Direct sow seeds or seedlings in the spring to a location with filtered sunshine or afternoon shade to develop in the garden.
If your soil is moist, you’ll be able to water easily once a week. Water before the soil dries out completely and give around one inch each week.
You won’t find a more simple plant to cultivate if you keep the following in mind:
- Maintain an even moisture level.
- Indoor, provide indirect illumination and filtered light or afternoon shade outdoors.
- Repot plants every few months to ensure that they do not become rootbound.
If you look after its needs, it will reward you with fast growth.
Pruning and Maintenance
The finest time to assess the requirements of your plants, both indoors and outside, is in the early Spring.
Trim yellow or brown cladodes, or a stem that is throwing everything off balance, at the root of a stem rather than the tip or mid-section.
“Old wood” is periodically trimmed to keep stems young and vibrant.
During the winter, it’s not uncommon for indoor plants to shed cladodes. This is something to keep in mind while selecting a location for them since some cleaning may be required.
Now is the time to assess if you need to repot your asparagus fern. While some people believe that asparagus fern loves being pot-bound, I advise transplanting it when it becomes so rootbound that it begins to break through the drainage holes.
Choose a container that is several inches wider and taller than the rootstock’s diameter to allow for growth. Before repotting your rootbound plant, you may remove it from the pot and divide it. The divisions are also nice presents for friends.
If you decide not to repot, simply refresh the old pot with some fresh potting soil tilled into the existing dirt.
Fertilize once a month as the growing season progresses. As fall approaches, stop applying it.
Take the same precautions with your plants outside. It’s time to prune and apply fertilizer in the spring. Add organically rich compost to your soil and be diligent about keeping consistent moisture all year long.
Bed and border plants will usually become invasive if not controlled, so divide them as needed. Consider planting pots of asparagus fern among specimen plants to contain their spread instead of in the ground.
You may also pinch back the developing tips for smaller growth. If a plant is out of control, you may trim it down to a few inches tall and begin again.
Reduce competition for water and pests and disease in the garden by weeding on a regular basis. If you score blossoms, keep an eye out for berries so you may save the seeds and attempt to grow new plants.
Remove the stems and any remaining seeds when the berries have softened and begun to decay. Wear gloves while picking, and keep the gathered berries and seeds away from children and pets.
Wipe off the berry pulp and allow the seeds to dry fully in a cool, dry area.
Cultivars to Select
The sorts most likely to be found at nurseries and garden centers are:
The species A. densiflorus is commonly cultivated as a houseplant and has two distinct cultivars known as ‘Myeri’ and ‘Sprengeri.’
A. densiflorus ‘Myers,’ A. densiflorus ‘Myersii,’ A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri,’ and even A. sprengeri are just a few of the many common names you’ll encounter while shopping for these strains.
Unfortunately, botanical names have been corrupted, but don’t be fooled by them. In addition, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Master Gardener Program Division of Extension’s horticulturists, “the precise classifying of this species is a little confused, with most references to Asparagus densiflorus , although the names A. aethiopicus , A. sprengeri , and Protasparagus densiflorus are also used.”
A. densiflorus ‘Myeri,’ also known as foxtail fern, has a distinctive conical plume shape. The name “Fox Tail” comes from the stems’ resemblance to a fluffy fox’s tail and their distinct separation from the others, which look like pine needles.
The season is unpredictable, with blooms ranging from bright summer to crimson berries in the Fall.
A. densiflorus ‘Myerii’ Seeds
The top of the plant is finely textured and visually appealing, with a golden tint to it. The overall height of foxtails ranges from two to four feet tall; their spread is three to four feet.
A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri,’ commonly known as emerald fern, has a mounding growth pattern and airy foliage that resembles tiny pine needles on gracefully arching stems. Matured plants are almost woody.
Depending on gender, they may produce white blossoms followed by red fruits, a detail that few purchasers are aware of ahead of time.
The flowers are white or pink, and the fruit is green before it turns red in winter. This species has a height of one to two feet tall when fully grown and a spread of three to four feet.
This is a fuzzy, lacy tropical plant that thrives in areas with warm temperatures and lots of sunshine. A. myriocladus, ‘Myriocladus,’ or A. macowanii are all names for the same species; it’s a delicate lilac kind frequently utilized in floral bouquets.
A. retrofractus is also known as pom-pom asparagus fern because slender stems occasionally have needle-like leaves in clusters along them.
The name comes from the curving form of its branches, which are said to look like a zig-zag. The back-and-forth arrangement of its branches is what gives it this name. White blossoms followed by orange berries that turn black may be observed.
The most common height of this species is two feet.
A. setaceus, also known as Protasparagus setacea or A. plumosus, is a twisty climber with a very close resemblance to a typical fern, in my opinion.
Cladodes, like the finest pine needles, adorn stems in a triangle formation.
The upright growth habit of this cultivar makes an eye-catching ground cover.
A. plumosa ‘Nanus’
It reaches a height of one and a half to two feet and has a spread of two to three feet when fully grown.
Keep in mind that, if grown outdoors in high-noise areas or near busy roads, asparagus ferns may become invasive in certain regions. In addition, the majority of us will not thrive in temperatures below 0°F (32°C).
We also never know if we’re getting a male or female plant, and while both may blossom in an unassuming manner under ideal circumstances, only females bear fruit.
Controlling Pests and Disease
With asparagus fern, you should have very few disease or pest problems if you follow the basic rules. You should expect to encounter a minimal amount of problem when growing asparagus fern in your home garden.
Water stress, either excessive or insufficient, may encourage pests like aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies to infest the plants.
If you were planning on doing this anyway, use insecticidal soap or neem oil to get rid of the bugs. Don’t hesitate to fertilize lightly and pinch off dead branches for a new beginning.
In the Summer, you may attract slugs if the environment is too wet, so avoid water and employ baits, barriers, and traps if necessary.
Excessively moist conditions may lead to fungal diseases, including:
- Crown rot
- Leaf spot
- Root rot
When conditions are wet they all may show up, and fungicides may be used to treat them.
This plant may be cultivated as an indoor houseplant in every home. You can add it to your year-round outside living area in Zones 9 to 11, except where it is known to be invasive.
Those living in regions where the Summers are hot should give their houseplants a spring cleaning on a yearly basis. The dramatic blooms of this showy plant are especially lovely in hanging pots both indoors and outside.
Containers enable you to mix and match plants with varying watering needs, which helps to minimize spreading. The ephemeral quality of asparagus ferns, which have an emerald green color and textureally rich cladodes, gives them a sense of visual drama that fits well in gardens where it readily naturalizes.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
Plant Type: Evergreen herbaceous perennial
Flower / Foliage Color: White/emerald green
Native to: Southern Africa
Tolerance: Drought (moderate)
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 9-11
Bloom Time / Season: Summer
Soil Type: Organically-rich
Exposure: Filtered light, indirect light, part shade
Soil pH: 6.5-7.0
Spacing: 3-5 feet
Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Planting Depth: 1/8 inch
Height: 2-8 feet
Uses: Indoor and outdoor containers, naturalizes rapidly in beds and borders
Spread: 2-5 feet
Growth Rate: Fast
Water Needs: Moderate
Species: densiflorus, retrofractus, setaceus
Common Pests: Aphids, mealybugs, scale, slugs, spider mites, whiteflies
Common Disease: Crown rot, leaf spot, root rot
Beauty and the Beast
It’s time to incorporate an asparagus fern or two to your indoor décor, or a temperate outdoor living space. For optimum outcomes, pick areas with indirect, filtered, or partly shaded light.
Prune your plants if they’re hard to maintain so that they maintain their appealing shapes. Despite their fragile appearance, you’ll discover that they are powerhouses that provide years of strong development and textural appeal.
For a cascading look, hang them in hanging pots on a patio or allow them to flow across a shelf or accent table.
The beauty of these low-maintenance, sturdy, and long-lasting ornamental plants is sure to entice you and your guests with their subtle charm.
Do you want to cultivate asparagus fern? Let us know in the comments below, and if you’ve got a photo, share it!