The ubiquitous asparagus fern. I put it in many of my outdoor containers as I feel it adds a soft filler that goes well with every plant. Did you know that they make great houseplants? Let’s talk about how to care for your asparagus fern inside.

asparagus fern varieites

All my asparagus ferns

A bit of history

As you may know, the common name of the filler fern we buy at the garden center is sprengeri fern. Botanical name –Asparagus aethiopicus, formerly Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’. (They are always changing names). It was named for the German botanist, Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846-1917). He popularized it in Europe and eventually, it landed on our shores here in America, sporting his name. It is native to South Africa.

The plant

If you didn’t know, this plant isn’t a fern at all. Because of its frothy appearance, it does resemble a fern but is no relation. It is in the lily family and is related to the edible asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). You can see the resemblance in the picture below of a new shoot of a ming asparagus fern. 

Asparagus fern shoot

The new shoot shows you it is related to the asparagus we eat

The roots

You may find with your asparagus fern that the roots will rise out of the potting medium, pushing the plant up out of the pot, too. Time to up-pot.

I brought one home from our garden center last week, as my only regular (as I call it) asparagus ferns are in containers outside. You can see from the pictures below, at this time of year, these plants are ready to burst out of their pots. I had to cut the plant out of the container. It was stuck.

Look at this ming fern at Graye’s Greenhouse in Plymouth. Look at those roots coming out of the container they used. So cool!

The “leaves”

The needle-like leaves are actually modified, flattened stems called cladodes or phylloclades “a flattened branch or stem-joint resembling and functioning as a leaf”. They aren’t leaves or needles and they are photosynthesizing and making food for the plant. Beware, the stems of asparagus fern have thorns that are sharp. Handle with care.

Thorns on an asparagus fern vine

Asparagus ferns have wicked thorns

Flowers

Yes, the asparagus fern does flower. As you know, true ferns do not flower but instead produce spores to reproduce. After the small white flowers are spent, they turn into red berries. They are pretty but toxic, so keep away from kids and pets. I have read they are easy to grow from seed, but I haven’t tried. Have you?

Up-potting the plant

Because the roots of the plant I brought home were so rootbound, I did up-pot it into a pot larger than I normally would. A 2-inch plant usually moves to a 4-inch pot, but knowing how this grows, where I was going to place it, and how rootbound it was, I used a 6-inch pot.

First I teased the roots apart as the root ball was so solidly packed together. Using a well-drained potting medium, I up-potted it to a 6″ container.

root ball loosened

First I loosen the root ball

Up potted asparagus fern

Up-potted and doing good

Care

Place your asparagus fern in a medium to bright light. If given too bright light, the plant will yellow. I see that as the plant I brought home from the garden center is quite light green, almost yellow and it was in full sun. I have an Asparagus setaceus plumosa in my bathroom and it has been there for a couple of years, gets no direct sun, and is a nice dark green. It hasn’t grown a lot but I’m okay with that. The west window is on the wall to the right in the picture below. If it were in the window, it would probably grow more and start to vine. Give it a good well-drained potting medium and make sure it doesn’t dry out. It will drop its needle-like leaves quickly if allowed to dry out. Its rhizomatous roots, which you can see above, do hold water so it can survive even if it loses a few stems. Even if cut to the ground, it usually will sprout back out. I did this when one of my plants got a bad case of mealybugs and it came back.

plumosa fern

This plant has been in my bathroom for a couple of years

Relatives

Though the “regular” asparagus fern is the most popular member of the family, there are others I like much better.

My favorite is the Asparagus setaceus plumosa or plumosa fern. I love how the leaves (phylloclades) are flat and the plant is layered. You see I have one in my bathroom above.

The flattened “leaf” of the plumosa fern

I especially love it in this mixed container at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, OH. Look how it is starting to vine down the side of the container.

plumosa asparagus in a container

Look at this plumosa asparagus fern in a mixed container

I also have one called pyramidalis. I almost killed it by letting it dry out one too many times, but up-potted it and kept it moist and it has taken off. It sent out a vine that was over 10 feet long.

asparagus pyramidalis

Asparagus pyramidalis

 

asparagus fern vine

This is a vine of my Asparagus pyramidalis

asparagus pyramidalis stem

Love this asparagus pyramidalis leaf with the sun shining through

Below you can see that I had cut the resulting dead stems off after I allowed it to become to dry, but not low enough. In the picture on the right, I have cleaned up the dead stems out of my Asparagus pyramidalis. I’m sure you noticed that something weird is growing in my asparagus fern. It is a true fern, a bear’s paw or blue star fern, Phlebodium aureum. A spore must have landed and grew as they were near each other and I did not plant it. I can’t bring myself to rip it out, but probably should split the plant and then cut it out. Update to come if I decide to do that.

I also have the ming fern or Asparagus retrofractus also called pompon fern because of its phylloclades are in clusters.  I love this one, too.

Asparagus retrofractus ming fern

Ming asparagus fern Asparagus retrofractus

Below is the foxtail fern or Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyeri’ (I’ve also seen it as Meyersii, and Meyers). Not sure which one is correct. I love this fern but gave up because it never stays looking like the one on the left in my home. I think it needs more light than I can give it to keep those tight “foxtails” so I enjoy it outside in the summer. Has anyone else had luck with it inside?

 

I hope this helps you take care of your asparagus fern and if you don’t have one, try one. You probably could find the “regular” one on clearance at your local garden center at this time of year. They are easy and beautiful! Do you keep any of them as houseplants or just use them outside in your containers?

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