How to Care for Your Asparagus Fern

by | Aug 14, 2019 | 36 comments

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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36 Comments

  1. Ruturaj

    Very good information. Thanks

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Thanks, Rutu!

      Reply
      • Julia McClatchy

        I have a huge one very rootbound, spiraling into a huge knot being about 12w x 20D, it cannot be pried to divide! Should I chop it in half? Is it ok to cut the bottom of the rootball off??

        Reply
        • Lisa Steinkopf

          You can definitely cut the bottom off if needed, especially a this time of year as the plants are taking off and growing like crazy. They can become extremely rootbound, for sure!
          Lisa

          Reply
  2. Debbie Scavio

    I have a ming fern that is doing wonderful however its getting I guess you would say leggy. I’ve got all kinds of sprouts coming off it. This plant is indoors, how should I handle the sprouts to have a full shaped plant?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      That is how they grow, but I think you could cut it back to keep it fuller.

      Reply
  3. Lara

    Have you experienced the asparagus fern getting very very long stems suddenly? As in more than 1.5 meter but not getting any leaves out to the sides?
    What could cause this and why does it do it, would love to know as it looks very funky 🙂

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Yes! They do eventually get leaves. Keep watching it.

      Reply
      • Jeanne

        I have a a very tall plumpest fern which the stems are bare. It is unruly how do I cut it back to get it bushy and full. Thank you

        Reply
        • Lisa Steinkopf

          Could you send me some pictures via email? I’m not sure what you mean my tall plumpest fern….

          Reply
      • Jean

        Great webpage. I have a Sprengeri fern. I sends out those incredibly long shoots seemingly overnight. Not sure why. I love how they look and trail. Is it ok for the plant to have the combination of clipped stems and long shoots or is it best to cut them back?

        Reply
        • Lisa Steinkopf

          Hi Jean,
          I think it is your choice. I’ve seen them as long vines and as plants that are kept trimmed back. I kind of like the “viney” look, but its all up to you.
          Lisa

          Reply
  4. Rebecca Johnson

    Is it normal for Asparagus pyramidalis to vine like that? Mine started doing something similar and I wasn’t sure if it was due to too little light/water or if it needed re-potting!

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Yes! I love mine. All the asparagus ferns become vines. Watch out for the thorns!

      Reply
  5. Belle

    Would this be a good plant for a closed terrarium? I bought it thinking it was a normal ferm and am now worried about the humidity level.
    Also what kind of soil do you use? I usually make my own.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      I’m not sure about an enclosed terrarium. As they begin to vine, it would be hard to keep them contained. I also mix my own soil. I use soils I order wholesale through my husband’s garden center. I mix a potting medium with perlite and vermiculite. I want my soil to be fast-draining soil.

      Reply
  6. Dodie Saxer

    Could you post a picture of how you cut the roots? My ming fern has a lot of “root tubers” (I guess that is what they are but maybe only 4 5 stems at a time. I took it out of the pot to repot – there was still a lot of potting soil in the middle and around the top – about 1″ or more on the sides and maybe 3-4″ in the middle of the bottom. The top had exposed tubers so I thought it was rootbound. I use the stems for cut flower arrangements so the plant does not have to be “beautiful” but I wish I had more stems!

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Dodie,
      I actually pulled the roots apart more so than cutting them. I think I did cut the pot to get the plant out. I didn’t want to cut the large tubers, so if you can, try to pry them apart if you can. Lisa

      Reply
  7. Dawn

    I have a plumosa, 50+yrs.old. It was beautiful. One day, I thought it could use more light as a few fronds turned yellow. So I put it in the sun, protected by another pant. When I brought it back to it’s usual place, the needles turned yellow. They were falling off, so I cut the stems way back. Have I killed this plant?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Dawn,
      I have cut off an asparagus fern at the soil line before and it did come back so I think yours will, too. It probably turned yellow coming back in because it needed to be acclimated and came from the sun (even though it was shaded by another plant, that is still more sun than in the house) back into a dimmer place and reacted by dropping needles. Let me know how it does. Lisa

      Reply
  8. Andrew Hornung

    From CL Sprenger’s writings it is clear that one of the many disasters that befell him was that Moellers Deutsche Garten-Zeitung claimed that his Asparagus fern was the same as Asparagus falcatus. It seems that Sprenger won a legal case against Moeller over this.
    This is the picture that emerges from CL Sprenger’s writings but I am unable a) to locate the “defamatory” article in MDG-Z nor b) to locate the documents regarding the related legal case. Can you help?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Andrew, That is so interesting! I did not know that and so can’t help you, but thanks so much for sharing that information. I love the history behind the plants! Lisa

      Reply
  9. Kathy Stimson

    Lisa ,thank you for all the beautiful photos of your ferns, especially the plumosa. I have one that is going crazy right now after spending the summer under our elevated deck. So the long vines will continue to grow? Oh my! He is going to have to move out of my shower, he can’t stay there all winter. The best window for fernsin my small house is occupied by my other large “regular” asparagus fern. I have planted the berries from that plant for a couple of years now . I save the red berries that fall off or pick them and let them dry out. In the spring I plant them. Each seed turns into a rhizome. This past spring I had more seeds than seed pots. I threw a handfull in a spare pot with some leftover soil and they all sprouted!. I mix the baby ferns with impatiens and coleus for flower arrangements .They make nice gifts.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Kathy, The vines will continue to grow. I had one that was many feet long. I think it awesome that you grow them from seed. I need to try that! Thanks, Lisa

      Reply
  10. Jo

    Hi Lisa,
    I’ve just moved my 2 Asparagus ferns to a slightly warmer spot, out of the direct sun, as they have gone yellow/ brown in places, and they are dropping their little leaves . Should I prune these yellow brown stems?
    Also, should I be misting them?
    Kindest regards,
    Jo

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Jo, I find mine do better if they aren’t in full sun. They will drop some of their leaves and I just cut those pieces off and vacuum up the mess. It will do that less if it is never allowed to dry out.
      Lisa

      Reply
  11. Heather

    Does the plumosa variety also get the red berries? I’d like to have one indoors but I have cats.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Heather,
      I would assume it does, but I never have personally seen that one bloom like the others. Sorry I wasn’t more help.
      Lisa

      Reply
  12. Ren Frazier

    Hello, Houseplantguru:

    I need your help. My asparagus fern just sprouted a new stalk and it is already yellowed. My home has water damage, so I can only keep in on my dryer upstairs right now. It has a blue light plant light positioned above it and it has been turning toward it, but now I see that the new shoot is yellow. How can I save my plant? Desperate to save it, as it is 26 years old now. Thank you for your help.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Ren,
      Do you think it is too warm on the dryer? Has it dried out? I think I would try to move it outside in a shaded area if you can or maybe move it when the dryer is going? Or is it rootbound? These are things to consider. I hope it is just losing a stem from the stress of the move and will rebound. I just had an asparagus fern that I completely cut to the ground and it has resprouted with a few leaves already.
      Lisa

      Reply
  13. Wendy Higgins

    my asparagus fern is almost all rhizomes – very little dirt and only about 3 stems. Can I cut the roots and repot or will it kill my fern?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Wendy,
      I’m sorry this is so late. My daughter had twins and I haven’t been on my website in over 11 months. I would repot it in a bigger pot all together or split it if you want more plants.
      Hope your plant is doing well.
      Lisa

      Reply
  14. Viggo Brun

    I have a 2.5 meter tall asparagus retrofractus about 40 years old. It is growing out of its big pot, and there is hardly any soil left. I water it once a week. I would like to remove something like 25% of the roots around the edge, and in the bottom, before putting it back into the same pot. Can I do that? How do I prune the roots of this old plant? Is there other measures I should take? Can I split the plant in two? If I cut off pieces of the root, can I plant them again?

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Viggo,
      You can do any of the things you are mentioning. I may just put it in a larger pot without cutting it, but you can do that, too. It’s up to you. I haven’t ever cut pieces of the roots and tried to propagate them so I’m not sure of that. You can try it. Why not?
      Let me know how it goes.
      Lisa

      Reply
  15. Sheza

    At the botom of my plant there are many dried cutted stems what should i do about that

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Sheza,
      I have the same thing. I use small clippers and try to get in among the stems and cut them out. It may be tricky, but worth it.
      Lisa

      Reply

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