Foxtail Asparagus Ferns – Information On The Care Of Foxtail Fern
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By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Foxtail asparagus ferns are unusual and attractive evergreen flowering plants and have many uses in the landscape and beyond. Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ is related to the asparagus fern ‘Sprengeri’ and is actually a member of the lily family. Let’s find out how to take care of a foxtail fern in the garden.
About Foxtail Ferns
Foxtail ferns are not really ferns, as they’re multiplied from seeds and produce no spores. The common name likely came from the clumping habit of the plant that is similar to that of a fern.
Foxtail asparagus ferns have an unusual, symmetrical look. These fern-like plants have arching plumes of tightly packed, needle-like leaves that look soft and delicate. Foxtail fern plants bloom with white flowers and produce red berries. The plants appear fragile and may cause gardeners to shy away from them, expecting difficult and extensive care of foxtail fern.
Don’t let the appearance deceive you, however. In reality, foxtail ferns are tough and hardy specimens, flourishing with limited care. Foxtail fern plants are drought-resistant once established. Learning how to take care of a foxtail fern is far from difficult.
How to Take Care of a Foxtail Fern
Plant the outdoor foxtail fern in a lightly shaded area, particularly avoiding hot afternoon sun in the hottest zones. The potted specimen outside can take gentle morning sun with light shade for the rest of the day. Indoors, locate the foxtail in bright light and even direct morning sun in winter. Provide humidity to plants growing indoors.
Foxtail fern plants benefit from regular water during drought and seasonal fertilization. These plants demonstrate their need for fertilization when the needle-like leaves turn pale or yellow. Feed this plant in spring with a time-released food or monthly during the growing season with a balanced 10-10-10 plant food at half strength. Keep the soil lightly moist.
Allow the top 3 inches (7.5 cm.) of soil to dry out between waterings. The foxtail, also called ponytail fern or emerald fern, benefits from immersion for thorough watering.
Prune back yellowing stems on the plant as needed for a tidy appearance and to encourage new growth.
The ripe red berries on foxtail ferns after flowering contain seeds to propagate for more of the lovely plants. You can also divide foxtail fern plants in spring, making sure the tuberous root system is entirely covered with well-draining soil. Tubers may grow through the top of the soil on plants that are overcrowded in the pot.
Uses for Foxtail Fern Plants
Take advantage of this attractive plant for many of your gardening needs. Bottlebrush-like plumes of foxtail fern plants are versatile; useful in the perennial border alongside other flowering plants, in outdoor containers, and as houseplants for winter months.
Foxtail ferns have a moderate salt tolerance, so include them in your seaside plantings when a finely textured plant is desired in USDA Zones 9-11. In colder zones, grow the plant as an annual or in a container to bring inside for the winter.
Foxtail plumes are also useful as greenery in cut flower arrangements, lasting for two to three weeks before the foliage yellows.
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A.k.a., Ponytail Fern, Bottle Brush Fern, Emerald Fern
Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii'
Foxtail Ferns, though a member of the Lily family and not a fern at all, tempts the Indoor Gardener with its fascinating architectural shape, graceful draping, and ease of care.
An evergreen shrub with needlelike stems, Foxtail Ferns exhibit more density than the closely related and more common Asparagus Fern - Sprengeri.
Also called the Ponytail, Bottle Brush, and Emerald fern, the foxtail's branches create a cylindrical pattern around its core, growing upward like spires.
Each branch can grow from 1 to 2 feet up the plant as a whole can widen eventually to about 3 feet, with the branches draping over the edges of the pot.
Foxtail Ferns can vacation out of doors in summer, but that makes them more prone to bugs, which are difficult to detect due to the density of the plant's foliage.
This is a great plant for an Indoor Gardener who likes architectural shapes, a bright emerald-green color, and slow-growing container plants.
It needs attention when first brought home or repotted, but once it adjusts, Foxtail Ferns become easy to care for.
If you watch them regularly, they'll let you know if they like how you're treating them in no uncertain terms.
Yellow (cut those off, they won't turn back to green) means "more water", and brown is "help, I'm drowning."
With a little bit of attention, they'll grow a long way.
But even the most adamant refusal to try again was thwarted when I saw this fuzzy, tail-like, fern-like plant sitting so enticingly in my neighborhood home-goods store. And for $2 - what would it hurt to try? It had what turned out to be an erroneous identification tab that said 'FERN,' and I believed it.
However, upon further research I learned it was, indeed, a variety of the personally dreaded Asparagus Fern, called 'Meyersii' or Foxtail Fern. And with all the tubers popping out the bottom of the 3-inch plastic container, I knew it wanted potting up. You can see the picture from that adventure below.
He wasn't happy. I'd potted him as if he was a fern and watered him the same way. Here in Florida it seems my plants retain moisture much longer than they did in Nashville, and the soil didn't drain. Mr. Foxy started turning yellow.
With a little more research, I decided to repot him a week later and I must say he was immediately responsive. This time I used a clay container - I guess Foxtail Ferns prefer natural materials. He's recovering nicely in a soil mixture with a bit more sand and a pile of stones at the bottom to encourage draining, as well as a prime location for his convalescence.
Quick Care GuideFoxtail fern is an incredibly beautiful ornamental plant. Source: Starr
|Common Name(s):||Foxtail fern, asparagus fern, Myers fern|
|Scientific Name||Asparagus densiflorus|
|Family:||Asparagaceae (formerly Liliaceae)|
|Height & Spread:||2-3′ tall and wide|
|Light||Partial sun or full shade|
|Water:||Water deeply when the soil begins to dry out|
|Pests & Diseases:||Scale insects, mealybugs, root rot|
Houseplants forum→Foxtail Fern Maintenance
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I've had a 'Foxtail Fern' for almost a year now and it lives outside year-round. That being said, this winter, some of the fronds have yellowed and some of the fronds' ends have died. I know I can cut the yellow fronds back without issue, but what I'd like is to give it a fresh start. The ends that died back, I've already cut them (just the ends) and needless to say it looks funny.
My question is, can I cut all of the fronds back to the base of the plant and it produce new fronds or will I potentially kill it? Or, should I just cut back most of the fronds and leave a few?
Also, should I repot it at the same time of cutting it back (it needs a bigger pot) or should I take one step at a time?
I'm glad to know it's a pretty tough plant. Reading what you did with yours, I think I'll just cut back most (but not all) the fronds and pot it in a larger pot once it warms up here. Yours made quite the recovery if you cut back all but about six fronds!
My MIL has one of the more common 'Asparagus Ferns' in her yard, but it's in a pretty shady area, so I think that keeps it from taking over the yard. Surprisingly, it's survived frost and snow! The ones she had in containers did not, however (I'm sure to keep mine away from winter rain and bring it indoors if it ices, snows, or the temperatures are too low).
I'm sorry to hear you lost half of yours, but at least you have some left over to separate if you want to do that again.
Thanks again for the advice, I'll be sure to post an updated picture once it bounces back.
I have both a hammer and butterknife on hand (no chisel), so I'll be sure to grab both when I repot. It's currently in a ceramic pot, so hopefully it comes out without me having to break the pot (it was apparently a bad idea putting it in one of my favorite pots!).
'Sprengeri' is the one my MIL has planted in the ground, the name escaped me yesterday. I've had a few of those myself, but she ends up taking them off my hands because they outgrow me too fast. At least this 'Foxtail Fern' seems a little slower growing. I'm not sure why, but 'Myers' seems slower growing with respects to vegetation and root mass for me, but I won't complain. Reading your story makes me happy that mine seems a little slower growing, haha.
Oh yes, the spines. I'm also glad 'Myers' doesn't have spines. I remember reading a blog of sorts, and the guy was talking about 'Sprengeri.' He says something along the lines of, it looks at you all nice and fluffy, but once you start to mess with it, you feel the spines in your hands, "what a dick" (the last part he did say lol).
This is true, until they froze one year (it snowed and then iced back to back and she failed to cover them), my MIL's 'Sprengeri' ferns would be in containers sitting around her backyard, only receving attention with the rain. My Mother did manage to kill one though, but I've become convinced she can't own a plant. She tends to forget that they're there. Well, she does have one cactus that is still going.
I'm excited to repot this 'Foxtail Fern' and trim it back, but the weather hasn't quite stayed warm here yet, so it'll be a few more weeks.
Growing Asparagus Ferns and care of foxtail fern
The foxtail fern is from the South African region and it thrives in the Mediterranean climate zones, but it can also be grown indoors in pots and be brought outdoors when the weather is favorable. Foxtail ferns can be grown both indoor and outdoor.
Asparagus Fern plant is easy to take care of and can survive in your garden for many years. A mature foxtail fern will grow from 6 to 8 feet across while new plants will grow from 3 to 4 feet across for about 12 years.
If planted outdoor, plant the foxtail fern in a lightly shaded area to avoid the hot afternoon sun. If planted indoors, keep the plant in an area receiving bright light and direct morning sun in winter.
The foxtail fern prefers soft light because too much strong and direct light can burn the leaves of the plant. In some areas, they can grow in full sun.
Foxtail ferns grow best in slightly acidic soil. They can do well in many varieties of soil, as long as the soil mixture is well-draining. A well-draining soil mixture prevents the plant from problems with root rot.
The Asparagus plant is also known as emerald fern and ponytail fern because it benefits from immersion for thorough watering . In between watering, let the top 3 inches of the soil dry out.
The plant prefers moist soil but not soggy soil. So, when you water the plant make sure that you water it thoroughly and allow the excess water to drain out.
Asparagus Fern is somewhat drought-tolerant because of its tuberous roots. So, it can be a good plant choice to grow in regions that experience short dry spells.
Temperature and Humidity
Asparagus plant does not receive enough sunlight, then it may turn yellow. The best temperature range for foxtail fern is 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also tolerate lower temperatures unless it remains above freezing.
The plant should be brought inside in winters because it can be damaged when kept at a temperature below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperature can kill the plant entirely.
Humidity is important for foxtail fern, and it requires a 40% to 50% humidity level for the plant to grow well. Always water the plant with room temperature water or tepid water, and never with hot or cold water. Otherwise, it can cause root shock.
To avoid the yellowing of the leaves, yearly fertilizer is very important. You should start feeding the plant in the spring season and continue this monthly throughout the growing season.
Feed the plant with a balanced 10-10-10 plant fertilizer and keep the soil slightly moist. When the needle-like leaves start to turn yellow or pale, it indicated that it needs fertilizer. Compost is also a very good option for the plant to feed upon.
Though a well-balanced fertilizer works great, it can also take slow-release or liquid fertilizers given at half-strength.
Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’) – House Plants
Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’) is an evergreen perennial, ornamental houseplant. It has a fine texture with a stiff, upright habit and can grow up to 2 feet tall by about 4 feet wide. It has light green needle-like leaves that clothe upright plum-like stems likened to spears. The stems of the foxtail fern emerge directly from the ground and are stiffly erect and have very short branches. These stems are a bit woody and are often armed with sharp spines. Tiny white or pale pink blooms appear tight inside the leaves in mid-summer followed by green berries that ripen decoratively to red by fall. Foxtail Asparagus is perfect for pots, containers and hanging baskets.
Scientific Name: Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’
Common Names: Foxtail Fern, Foxtail Asparagus, Cat’s Tail Asparagus, ‘Myers’ Asparagus Fern.
How to grow and maintain Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’):
It requires bright indirect light or filtered sun. Avoid direct hot afternoon sun which may cause the leaves to yellow. Tolerates full shade, but foliage may turn a lighter green.
Foxtail Fern grows well in organically rich, evenly moist, well-drained soils.
It thrives well in ideal temperature between 68°F – 72°F during daytime and temperature 50°F – 55°F for night time.
Water regularly during the growing season (from spring to autumn), Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Allow the top one inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Water sparingly in winter, but do not allow the soil to dry out completely.
Fertilize monthly spring through fall with a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted by half.
It can be easily propagated by seed or division. The best time to propagate a foxtail fern is in the spring before it starts producing new growth.
Prune back stem tips as expected to maintain plant form and promote dense foliage growth. If the plant loses its attractive shape, stems may be cut back close to the soil level to regenerate.
Re-pot in the standard potting soil when roots push through the top of the soil and the drainage hole. Always use a pot one size larger or you can just prune the roots.
Pests and Diseases:
It is susceptible to Mealy Bugs, spider mites, Aphids, scale, and thrips. Leaf spot and rots may occur. Foxtail fern does not like pesticides so use a mild solution of insecticidal soap to get rid of plant pests.