The indoor/outdoor plant known as Foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus) is a dense herbaceous perennial. Unlike other Asparagus species, the stems have lots of pine needle-like leaves, which give them the iconic foxtail look.
But just like its African siblings, it produces toxic berries that neither men nor most animals can eat.
While some people might want to grow it in the garden, this “fern” needs a warm or mild climate. Otherwise, it will succumb to frost and die.
In the summer, you need to water it frequently. Being part of the asparagus family, it sucks all the water from the soil fast.
But with plenty of water, even beginners can grow it. And here is how to do it.
How To Grow And Care For A Foxtail Fern Step By Step
1. Choosing Where to Put the Pot for Your First Asparagus Densiflorus
The typical Foxtail fern comes in the standard little green pot. Besides that, this plant tends to become root-bound and tries to bust the flowerpot. So, most people like to change the container and put them in a hanging basket.
In any case, once you bring your first fern home, the first step is to decide where to put it.
This plant prefers a bright light setting. For clarity, you can grow it in a South facing window. But it would be better to place it in an East facing window in its early growth stages to provide partial shade. Mainly because it would otherwise get fried by the sun if left unattended for too long. Otherwise, these plants can thrive in warmth and relative humidity.
If you put a Foxtail fern inside your home during the cold season, put it under glass for light dispersion.
Also, it is better to wait for the fern plant to become completely acclimated to the new space before removing the transparent protection.
2. How To Take Care of a Dense Herbaceous Perennial
Taking care of an Asparagus densiflorus is not that hard. After all, this low-maintenance foxtail fern plant is virtually indestructible.
But you need to provide enough water for it to grow, as well as the proper nutrients and a well-draining soil when you repot it.
The foxtail is not a typical fern. So, it does not generate spores. Instead, it produces red berries and seeds.
Also, if you plant it in your garden, you might find it tough to get rid of it in the future. In fact, this plant grows from underground tube roots.
Its rhizomes can give birth to a new Foxtail fern. So, make sure to dispose of them correctly, especially if you keep one as an ornamental and change plants frequently.
3. Periodic Pruning
When growing the Foxtail fern indoors, you have to prune it to keep it healthy and plush.
Usually, the dead stems appear at the base of the plant. You can recognize them because they become brown and dry.
Fortunately, this dense herbaceous perennial responds well to pruning. But if your plant does not, you have to rearrange the soil mix.
Check for dead roots and prune those as well.
Dig out the plant’s root structure carefully. Above all, avoid any major injury to the roots.
Next, add some garden soil to a bigger pot. At least 1/10 of the container’s volume. Do not add fertilizer yet in this case.
Instead, it is better to wait for the roots to adapt to the new medium before repotting it again and using a slow-release fertilizer (NPK 10-10-10 fertilizers usually work best).
Foxtail Fern Outdoor Intermediate Grower’s Guide
1. Using Seeds to Plant the Foxtail Fern
Ripe red berries appear during Fall after the white flowers fade. In them, you can find the seeds you need. But for the best results, you need to wait for the green berries to turn red before collecting them.
The first step is to soak the seeds in water for no more than 24 hours.
When dropping them in the water, you might see some of them floating while others remain at the bottom. Just remove the ones that still float the following day and dispose of them correctly because the berries at the bottom of the container have a higher chance of germinating.
Now you can start peeling off the fruits and plating them. Of course, a little bit of well-draining soil in a small pot would do during winter.
But do not place two seeds too close to each other if you use a single pot. On average, a distance of at least two inches apart or more works best.
2. Understanding The Garden Environment
Foxtail fern seeds take about three to four weeks to germinate. All the while, you need to water them to keep the soil moist. Or you can wrap the pots in plastic and make a couple of small holes for air exchange.
When a new plant sprouts, you can mist it lightly.
Only transplant a baby foxtail to a new container or area when it is at least four inches tall. Then, water it regularly and make sure it only gets indirect light or place it in a pot near a sunny window.
In the garden, the plant will grow up straight and take over all the adjacent space. On the other hand, if you use a pot and it leans towards the left or the right, just rotate the pot.
Outdoors, Foxtail Ferns require shade to thrive. But the most critical factor is temperature. The fronds will turn yellow when they need water.
Even though the fronds look nice and soft, they have a poisonous sap. So always wear gloves when handling them.
Otherwise, the toxic liquid will go on your skin, and the latter will absorb it.
3. Secrets of the Growing Season
In gardening zone 9 and above, you can plant the Asparagus densiflorus in virtually any soil. But in the North, you will have to grow them in outdoor pots.
The foxtail also prefers the morning sun and evening light shade. But no matter what you do, do not place it in an area where it gets evening sun because it cannot handle the warmth that comes with it.
How Much Water Does Your Foxtail Fern Need?
While your foxtail fern will appreciate a thorough watering, it can tolerate a short break in your watering schedule due to its tuberous roots. A good soaking every few days is recommended as long as your soil has proper drainage. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Can the Foxtail Be Propagated?
Absolutely! Propagating a foxtail is best accomplished by cutting a section of the plant with a sharp blade. Be sure to sever the plant at the base, preserving adequate stems and tuberous roots for replanting. This process is most successful when done in the early Spring growing season.