Asparagus aethiopicus syn. Asparagus densiflorus is commonly known as the asparagus fern, one of the most popular hanging plants for indoor decoration. It is a plant that’s often chosen to decorate patios in the summer, and then moved inside to add a touch of livelihood to your home in the winter.
Today, we’re going to talk about all things related to asparagus fern care, so let’s discover more about how we can help this beautiful plant thrive at home.
What Is an Asparagus Fern?
Formally known as Asparagus aethiopicus syn. Asparagus densiflorus, the asparagus fern is a plant that has adorned homes for years and will continue to do so as more people start to see the beauty of this plant. Contrary to what the name will have you believe, the asparagus fern has nothing to do with ferns or asparagus. As a member of the Liliaceae family, this is a plant that can sometimes produce flowers, has a fuzzy-like appearance, and even thorny spurs (which is a surprise to most people).
How to Grow an Asparagus Fern
Like plenty of other house plants, the asparagus fern likes bright and indirect sunlight. Needless to say, the small leaves are very sensitive when it comes to heat and the powerful rays of the sun can quickly cause them to dry and break. If you have an east-facing window, that’s where you want to place your asparagus fern for most of the year. The morning sun isn’t usually that harsh, so you can let the plant bask in some sunlight before it enjoys indirect light.
As far as the watering conditions for the asparagus fern are concerned, you want to water it frequently, even if the plant can support a moderate amount of drought. It is not the type of plant that tolerates neglect and in the rare situations where it does, you don’t want to push it. The leaves of the plant are very delicate so, in the event of becoming too dry, they will easily suffer damage.
Note that the delicate leaves are also pretty sensitive when it comes to chlorinated water, so if there is a lot of chlorine in the tap water in the area where you live, you might want to switch to filtered water instead. You also have the option of filling a recipient with tap water and allowing it to sit overnight. This allows the chlorine to evaporate before you water the plant.
In case you notice the leaves of your asparagus fern turning yellow, that’s a sign you need to stop watering the plant.
Asparagus fern is a plant that best thrives in rich soil. If you choose an all-purpose potting soil, you will be making sure the plant is growing in a proper medium (some experts recommend adding peat moss to the soil mixture so that the asparagus fern can have a wider range of nutrients and more soil acidity).
NPK balanced fertilizer for indoor plants should do the trick when it’s time to feed your asparagus fern, but the strong concentrated solution might be too much for your plant, so it’s best if you dilute it to half strength. Keep in mind that the asparagus fern has very delicate foliage, so adding fertilizer that’s too strong can cause the roots and leaves to burn.
Native to South Africa and thriving in warmer regions of the US (such as Florida or Hawaii), the asparagus fern likes warmer temperatures. It grows best when the average temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but it can tolerate temperature drops to a minimum of 55 degrees and only for a short time.
It does enjoy humidity and excessively dry air can be a real problem. If you don’t have the means to raise humidity in the room where the asparagus fern is, you can mist the plants using a spray bottle at least once per week. Alternatively, you can place its pot on top of a watered pebble tray, which is actually a method that a lot of people prefer because of the aesthetic appeal of pebbles.
#5: Pests and diseases
While there are quite a few things that can affect the plant, most of them are pretty common for house plants in general, so we might not exactly give you out-of-the-oven information here. Always remember that the delicate foliage of the asparagus fern might require more care compared to other house plant, so here are the problems one needs to look out for when deciding to grow this plant:
- Plant dehydration will manifest itself through different signs, but leaves changing color are the clearest and simplest way to tell your plant isn’t getting enough water. When the needles or fronds turn yellow, that’s one of the signs that your plant needs more water or has been exposed to too much sunlight. You don’t want to leave the asparagus fern exposed to the sun more than two hours per day and never when the sun is at its afternoon peak. Making sure you’ve solved the problem won’t bring back dead leaves, but it will cause new ones to grow.
- When leaves turn yellow and fall (meaning your plant is dehydrated), there might still be a chance to save some mature plants. For plants with crisp stems and leaves, you can prune them back to about one inch from the tuber’s surface and place the plant and the pot in a transparent bag. Make sure you puncture holes in the bag, as you still want the plant to be able to breathe. Keep the soil moist and make sure the plant is getting plenty of bright indirect light. Within a few weeks, you should be able to see new stems, which is a clear sign that the plant will make it.
- If the needles on your asparagus fern turn brown, this could be a sign of dehydration, but also one of dry air. You want to avoid placing the plants in a dry area inside your home (such as next to a heat source) and make sure that your plant is getting enough moisture (you can either mist it or resort to a pebble tray).
- The asparagus fern can also develop root rot if you water it too much and the soil is always excessively moist. If your plant has developed root rot, then you will notice the leaves turning yellow very fast and the brown base will start to rot. At this point, you have to remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots. If you notice they are brown and mushy, you are clearly dealing with root rot. Alternatively, the plant’s roots should have a yellow tinge if they’re safe.
- As far as pests are concerned, the asparagus fern is susceptible to the common pests that affect houseplants in general, particularly mealybugs, scales, and spider mites. Getting rid of such an infestation is a bit more complicated when owning an asparagus fern because the common solution is washing the leaves which happen to be very delicate in this situation. It is recommended to use a diluted solution made with water and neem oil. Spray it on the leaves of the plant once per week to discourage potential infestation.
Pruning the asparagus fern is important and can improve the aesthetic appeal of the plant quite a lot. It also helps encourage new growth in plants, so it’s pretty much something you have to do with just about every other house plant you own. In time, old growth starts to have a woody appearance which isn’t pretty to look at.
When pruning the asparagus fern, you need to be extra careful because it has thorns. Using proper gardening gloves is encouraged when handling this plant. Unlike rose thorns, which are visible and easy to avoid, the thorns on an asparagus fern plant are concealed amongst the leaves, so they’re quite difficult to spot.
To ensure proper pruning, you also want to use sterile cutting tools, be they gardening shears or scissors. Experts recommend cutting back the entire stem instead of just trimming the tip of the branch.
Unlike other plants that develop complex root systems and outgrow their current pots quite fast, the asparagus fern usually needs repotting once every couple of years. It likes to have its roots sitting snugly in the pot. Even so, remember that the roots of the asparagus fern are pretty strong (in fact, there are parts of the world where the asparagus fern is considered an invasive weed because of the strength of its roots).
There have been quite a lot of cases where a growing asparagus fern managed to crack the plastic nursery pot, which makes it important to choose a pot made from a more durable material.
With most house plants, propagation is simply a matter of using the leaves or stems and replanting them to create a new plant. However, things are a bit different with the asparagus fern, which is a plant that has tuberous roots that grow beneath the surface of the soil. That makes it impossible to grow a new plant through cuttings. Instead, you will have to divide and replant the tubers. An alternative for growing new plants would be to collect the seeds harvested from the plant. They are found in the red berries seen on the asparagus fern from summer to winter.
When you want to propagate the plant, take it out of its pot (careful with the concealed thorns we talked about earlier) and slowly take off the soil gathered around the roots. You might notice some fern shoots that have their own root system, and you can definitely use those for propagation.
With care, untangle the roots (you want to make sure you don’t break them too much) and pull apart the parts of the plant you want to use for propagation. By dividing them into separate segments, you can plant each of these in new pots and add soil and water. Propagating asparagus fern is easy because they grow quite a lot, so if you want to have your house filled with these, it shouldn’t take too long.
Is Asparagus Fern Toxic?
Yes, the asparagus fern is considered a toxic plant and can be dangerous to animals and humans in one of three ways. The sap it secretes can sometimes cause skin irritation, so it’s always best to handle the plant using gardening gloves. The thorns that are concealed amidst the delicate and bushy foliage can cause mechanical injuries when touched. Some asparagus fern types will develop berries, which are toxic when consumed.
Asparagus Fern Types
There are plenty of asparagus fern types to choose from. The best part of it all is that the varieties are different from one another, it almost makes it look like an entirely new plant. Some of the varieties you’re most likely to come across include:
- Sprenger’s Asparagus – Described as a perennial with wirey green stems, Sprenger’s Asparagus is often grown and used as a hanging plant. It can produce small flowers that are either fully white or white with a slight tint of pink, which eventually turn to berries (first green, then fully red come winter).
- Foxtail Fern – The Foxtail Fern is easy to recognize because it has arching fronds that grow upwards, similar to a fox’s tail. They have light green needles and grow small white flowers in the summer, which turn to red berries during the fall season. They can grow quite big, having up to two feet in height and a spread that can reach up to four feet.
Caring for the asparagus fern isn’t all that complicated. Some people might be intimidated about the delicacy of the foliage, but it’s not more pretentious compared to your average house plant. When you want to give it a nice shape, you can always prune it and take advantage of a beautiful foliage draping over a windowsill. These plants aren’t as fussy as one might think, making the asparagus fern care process rather simple.