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Are you looking to add another textural dimension to your house plant collection? Perhaps it’s time to think about an asparagus fern.
Some people consider this plant an imposter. After all, it’s neither an asparagus nor a true fern, as it reproduces from berries instead of spores. It’s actually related to a lily but, if you can overlook all this confusion, this plant has a lot to offer.
This house plant is undemanding, uniquely shaped and versatile. Very few other plants will offer to trail, bush or grow tall to suit your preferences, and it’s hard not to fall for those frilly, feathery leaves. Read on for everything you need to know about asparagus fern care.
|Scientific name||Asparagus Aethiopicus|
|Similar to||Foxtail fern, plumosa fern, sprengeri fern|
|Native to||South Africa|
|Shape||Bushy or trailing|
|Watering requirements||Light, regular watering|
|Light requirements||Lots of indirect sunlight|
|Preferred humidity||Medium – high|
|Preferred temperature||60 – 75F (15.5 – 24C)|
|Soil||Well-draining potting soil with peat moss|
|Fertilizer||All-purpose fertilizer for green leafy plants at half strength|
|Propagation method||Splitting, planting seeds from berries|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and pets|
|Vulnerable to||Spider mites, mealybugs, scales|
The asparagus fern is most famous for its leaves (technically, as flattened extensions of the stem, these are called cladodes). If you choose to care for one, you’ll need to provide it with lots of bright, indirect light, water it regularly, and keep on top of pruning it so it looks its best. As long as you remember to watch out for the thorns, which can hide between the light foliage, there’s not much else to learn.
Asparagus fern plant caring tips
This plant prefers light, regular watering. While it can tolerate drying out to an extent, it’s best to keep things even. Because the leaves are delicate, they’re easily damaged if they become too dry, and they can also be sensitive to chlorinated tap water.
It’s a good idea to fill your watering can and leave it sitting overnight before you water. If you wait, the water comes to room temperature and the worst of the chemicals evaporate.
If the leaves of the plant start to turn yellow, it means that you should step away from the watering can. Overwatering this plant will damage it and you’ll lose some leaves. It should recover well, but prevention is better than cure.
Unlike true ferns, this plant prefers to spend lots of time in the sun, although the light needs to be indirect. The small, thin leaves are vulnerable to the heat and dryness of direct sun and can bake if they’re too close to a south-facing window.
If possible, it’s good to keep this plant near an east-facing window so that it can enjoy lots of sun in the morning before the light becomes too intense. Alternatively, if your office is well lit, this is a popular plant to place on a desk.
The asparagus fern is native to South Africa and grows wild in the warm states of Hawaii, Texas and Florida. It will be much happier if you can raise the humidity of your room around it. It will tolerate a range of conditions, but spraying it weekly with a misting gun or sitting it on a pebble tray will help to keep the leaves in top condition.
Pebble trays are easy to make and look attractive too. Take a shallow bowl, fill it with the small stones you’d buy for an aquarium, and add water to the bowl. As the water evaporates, it keeps the air around the plant moist.
Plant Food and Soil
When it comes to choosing soil for this plant, you want to go with something rich. An all-purpose potting soil is a good choice and it’s even better to add some peat moss. Doing so will increase the levels of nutrients in the soil and will also raise the acidity, which is something that this plant also enjoys.
As far as plant food goes, use an NPK balanced fertilizer for indoor plants, but consider diluting it to half strength. Once more, the foliage of this plant is delicate and, if the fertilizer is too strong, it can burn the roots and the leaves.
Additional Care Tips
The information above is a great place to start if you’re new to the world of asparagus fern care. However, there are other things you can do for your plant to make sure it has maximum impact in your space. Read on for some further advice about repotting and shaping your plant and learn how to take your indoor gardening to the next level.
Repotting and Transplanting
The asparagus fern prefers to sit snugly in its pot, so you should only need to repot it every 2 or 3 years. However, it’s important to remember how strong the roots of this plant are. There are many parts of the world where it’s considered an invasive weed because the roots are so strong.
It’s not unusual for an asparagus fern to burst a plastic nursery pot as it grows. You should choose a very sturdy pot, or sit a plastic pot inside one made of stone so that you won’t encounter these problems.
It’s a lot of fun to choose a decorative pot for this plant as smooth, bold or minimalist designs will contrast with the feathery foliage.
Pruning is an essential task in terms of asparagus fern care. It encourages new growth and allows you to keep your plant to the shape of your choice.
Over the years, the old growth can start to turn woody and, if you want a small house plant, this isn’t the best look. When you prune, be very careful of the thorns which can hide among the leaves. It might even be a good idea to put on your gardening gloves.
Use clean, sharp shears and be tough. It’s far better for the plant to cut an entire stem back to the base than to take the tip from a branch.
This plant is vulnerable to all the usual house plant pests. Spider mites, mealybugs and scales can all be a problem. If you notice the cladodes turning yellow or dropping without explanation, check for signs of an infestation.
The bad news is that it’s also difficult to get rid of pests on this plant. The usual solution is to wash the leaves with soapy water, but the leaves are so small and delicate that this becomes very difficult. A diluted solution of neem oil and water sprayed weekly will discourage insects but, in the long term, you may have to go to a garden center and ask for advice about a chemical pesticide.
As we said, despite its name, this plant is not related to asparagus and should not be consumed under any circumstances. The entire plant is toxic to both humans and pets. This includes the berries and seeds that sometimes set on indoor and outdoor specimens.
A small number of people are also sensitive to the foliage.. Even without touching the sap, contact with the leaves can cause skin irritation.
Varieties of Asparagus Fern
There are 3 main varieties of asparagus fern: the foxtail fern, the plumosa fern and the sprengeri fern.
The foxtail fern is the brightest and most structured, but it’s usually grown outdoors.
Plumosa is darker in color and has very light foliage. This variety prefers lower light conditions, so it’s a good choice for an office or a dimmer corner.
Sprengeri can be considered a compromise between the two. Its cladodes grow in a star-like shape and it’s very bushy. It’s hardy enough to grow outside, especially in the summer, but will also live happily as an indoor plant.
Where can I buy one?
The asparagus fern has been popular for decades and it’s not hard to find one to buy. The unique foliage means that it’s seeing a resurgence in popularity. You might even be lucky enough to find it in an interiors store.
If you don’t have much luck in a physical store, try looking online for a stockist. Just make sure you find a well-reviewed seller who will package your plant properly and send it to you quickly.
Why is it turning yellow?
The most common reasons for this plant turning yellow are pests and overwatering. Because they can be so damaging and so hard to eradicate, check for insects first. In fact, you should probably scan your plant for signs of an infestation every time you water it.
If there are definitely no bugs, take a long, hard look at your watering routine. If the plant is too wet, the roots will start to rot. The first sign of this is usually yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant.
How should I trim it?
Be radical when you’re trimming this plant. Removing an old branch completely will encourage several fresh branches to grow, but snipping the tip from a branch will stop it from growing at all.
When you’re pruning, consider what shape you want your plant to take on. Do you want a central stem, so that it starts to look like a small tree, or would you rather have the long, feathery branches cascading over the sides of a hanging basket? With this plant, there are many possibilities.
Can I grow it outside?
If you live in a warm climate, the asparagus fern will survive outside. But you should be careful. There are many parts of the world where it’s considered an invasive weed because, once it’s planted, it’s hard to get rid of.
Give you plant a spot that’s partially shaded and remember to cut it back and split the root ball in spring to keep it under control. Alternatively, you can keep it confined to a stone pot on your patio.
How can I revive my plant?
Growers love the asparagus fern because it can be revived even if it looks like it’s at death’s door. You may have to give it a radical haircut because the leaves themselves won’t come back to life, but never throw this plant away unless it’s summer and you’re still not seeing any growth.
If it dries out completely, give it a good drink and wait. Once new growth appears, fertilize it and hope for the best.
We love this plant because of its fluffiness. It’s hard to think of another plant that’s so interesting texturally but which is still so easy to keep. For example, true ferns demand a lot more in terms of moisture and aren’t anything like as versatile.
Contrast is often key to providing interest in any space, and the leaves of this plant will bring out the best in your room. They’ll either highlight the leaves of your other plants or provide a counterpoint to a clean wall. Provided you’re keeping this plant out of reach of anything that could be harmed by the thorns, it’s a great addition to any space.