Asparagus densiflorus, commonly called as a asparagus fern or foxtail fern is a perennial evergreen plant known for their plumes of feathery, light green foliage which resemble a foxes tail in shape. Native to southern Africa, they are actually considered to be invasive weeds in many areas, however they are widely cultivated as an ornamental plant.
The popular houseplant referred to as the foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersi’) gets its name from its fern-like leaves, however it is not actually related to ferns at all. These plants are instead a close relative to the vegetable asparagus and can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 9 to 11.
Foxtail Fern Quick Care Guide: Foxtail ferns should be grown in organically rich, well-draining soil. Water when the top 2-3″ of soil has dried. They can thrive in partial shade to bright indirect light, but will not tolerate direct sunlight. The ideal temperature for foxtail ferns is between 65°F and 75°F (18°C – 24°C).
Foxtail ferns make for an interesting ground cover plant. They can also be grown indoors in containers or hanging baskets. Their beautiful arching green stems are highly valued by florists for adding green foliage to flower arrangements. Keep reading for more info on foxtail fern care.
Foxtail Fern Overview
Also known as asparagus fern, or emerald fern, the foxtail fern is not actually a fern at all. Its name comes from its plumes of feathery foliage which strongly resemble the fern family. The foxtail fern is, however, closely related to the common asparagus vegetable.
The foxtail fern reproduces using seeds, rather than spores, unlike true ferns. They are capable of producing small clusters of fragrant white flowers in the spring and summer. Once the flowers have finished blooming, they will be replaced with small red berries.
Botanically speaking, the leaves of the foxtail fern are not actually leaves. Instead they are a type of cladode, which is a flattened stem acting as a leaf-like structure for conducting photosynthesis. For simplicity sake, we will refer to the cladodes of the foxtail fern as leaves in this article.
Growing up to 2ft tall and 4ft wide, foxtail ferns make for a perfect ornamental plant in gardens, planters, and hanging baskets both indoors and outdoors. Their long, arched leaves grow out in a twisting fashion with plush and soft looking evergreen foliage, giving them high ornamental value.
Remember that the foxtail fern is a plant which is capable of vigorous growth, especially in tropical climates. Its bulb-like roots are able to spread quickly, unless controlled by a container. When growing the foxtail fern outdoors, it can quickly become invasive and take over a space.
In Australia and some areas of the United States including Florida, Texas, southern California and Hawaii, the foxtail fern is actually considered to be an invasive species. In addition to the spreading of their roots, birds often eat the berries which aid in seed dispersal. Always check local regulations before deciding to add this plant to your outdoor garden.
Asparagus Densiflorus Plant Profile
Botanical name: Asparagus densiflorus 'Myersi'
Common name(s): Foxtail Fern, Asparagus Fern, Asparagus foxtail fern, Emerald fern
Plant type: Evergreen perennial plant.
Mature Size: 2ft tall and 4th wide at maturity.
Sun Exposure: Partial shade to bright, indirect light. Will not tolerate much direct sunlight.
Soil Type: Organically nutrient rich, well draining soil.
Soil pH: Slightly acidic; 6.5 to 6.8
Bloom Time: Small clusters of flowers in summer, replaced by red berries once blooming is finished.
Flower Color: White
Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11
Native Area: Southern Africa
Foxtail Fern Care Guide
Foxtail fern plants are a relatively easy plant to grow once its few basic care requirements are met. A great choice for beginner to advanced plant owners alike, their feathery emerald green foliage will add a touch of pleasant elegance wherever they are
Perfect for growing indoors or outdoors, let’s dive deeper into the details of foxtail fern care.
1. The Right Potting Soil
Foxtail fern plants require organically rich, slightly acidic, well draining soil for ideal growth. While they will survive in many soil types, the most important factor is that the roots are not trapped in soggy, oversaturated soil.
Soil which is rich in organic matter will provide the nutrients required for your foxtail fern to thrive, while also aiding in drainage.
When growing a foxtail fern indoors in containers, use a loose well-draining potting mix.
The soil in most indoor potting mixes with a combination of peat moss and perlite will be good for your foxtail fern, especially if supplemented with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Peat moss is slightly acidic and will retain a little moisture, while perlite facilitates drainage and ensures that plenty of oxygen is able to circulate through the potting mix.
When growing outdoors, make sure to plant your foxtail fern in a location with rich, healthy soil. If the soil in your location is less than ideal, the easiest way to create organically rich soil is to incorporate some finished compost into the surrounding area.
2. Foxtail Fern Light Requirements
Foxtail fern plants do best in a location with partial shade, to bright indirect sunlight. As a ground cover in their natural habitat, they require protection from direct sunlight.
When grown indoors, it is best to place your foxtail fern in a bright spot like an east or west facing window where they will not receive too much sunlight throughout the day. If necessary, protect your foxtail fern from direct sunlight by using a sheer curtain to filter the suns harsh rays.
When grown outdoors, the best location to plant your foxtail fern is an area where it would receive the gentle morning sun, but is shaded for the rest of the day. Too much direct sunlight will cause the delicate leaf-like structures to burn and begin to yellow.
Although foxtail ferns can grow in shade, they do need some light to thrive. Yellowing of the leaves can also be a sign of insufficient light as well.
3. How To Water A Foxtail Fern
Foxtail fern plants are a somewhat drought tolerant plant since their taproot (tuber) is able to store extra water, like the fleshy leaves of a succulent. This means that foxtail ferns may not need to be watered as often as your other plants.
It is important to avoid overwatering foxtail ferns, because their roots will become susceptible to root rot. You should only water foxtail ferns whenever the top 2-3″ of soil is dry. It’s considered good practice to water heavily until water begins to drain out of the bottom of the pot.
Indoor foxtail fern plants will likely need water about oncer per week during the growing season, however this will become less often during the winter months. Remember you should always be guided more by the dampness of the soil, rather than a strict watering schedule.
As an outdoor plant, you may need to water your foxtail fern once per week in the summer if it hasn’t been raining often enough. Ideally the soil around the roots of your plant should be moist, but never soggy.
4. Fertilizing Foxtail Fern Plants
In the garden, adding compost and mulching the areas around your plants will help to encourage healthy growth. Compost will provide your plants with organically rich nutrients, while mulch prevents moisture from evaporating in the sun.
When growing foxtail ferns in a container both indoors and outdoors, regular fertilization is necessary to feed your plant. You can use a half-strength liquid houseplant fertilizer about once per month during the growing season.
Another option is to use a slow-release fertilizer in spring, summer, and fall to provide consistent nutrients for your plants. Keep in mind that the best houseplant fertilizers are the more natural and organic ones. Using water-soluble, mineral salt based fertilizers can often cause salt build-up in the soil and burn the roots of your plant.
Some key natural fertilizer ingredients to look for include: seaweed, worm castings, fish emulsion, plant extracts, liquid kelp, or compost tea.
5. Temperature Requirements For Foxtail Ferns
Foxtail ferns are native to the southern parts of Africa, so naturally they thrive in warm tropical climates. They can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 9-11, or indoors as a houseplant since the climate in most homes is perfectly suitable for them to thrive.
The ideal temperature for foxtail ferns is between 65°F and 75°F (18°C – 24°C). They are able to survive with temperatures as low as 24°F (-4°C), however anything below 50°F (10°) will slow growth and risk plant damage.
In tropical climates foxtail ferns can be grown in the garden all year round. However if you live in a colder climate, they can still be grown outside during the summer months. Be sure to bring your plant indoors as soon as the temperature drops to around 50°F (10°C).
6. Foxtail Fern Humidity Requirements
Foxtail ferns prefer medium to high humidity levels in comparison to other plants. Like in their natural habitat, humidity is not usually an issue for foxtail ferns which are grown outdoors in semi-tropical or tropical climates.
However average household humidity levels are generally much too low for a foxtail ferns to thrive, so you will need to supplement with added humidity. You can do this is by misting the leaves daily to provide extra moisture.
If misting daily seems too high maintenance, there are other ways to supplement humidity.
You can place the plant on top of a pebble tray with some water, group your tropical houseplants together to create a humid microclimate through transpiration, or purchase a room humidifier.
7. Repotting Foxtail Fern Plants
Since foxtail ferns can increase a good amount in size each year, they may need repotting every spring. By repotting this fast growing evergreen plant into a bigger container, you’re allowing more room for the roots to expand. This is also a perfect opportunity to divide the taproot for propagating new plants.
You should choose a new pot which is only about 1-2″ larger than its current one. Moving the plant into a pot which is too large will leave some areas of soil untapped by roots. These areas will retain moisture for long periods of time and cause the plant to become more susceptible to disease and pests.
It is beneficial to repot your foxtail fern as a way to refresh the potting soil to avoid hard compaction, which will negatively affect its drainage over time. This is also a good time to observe the roots of the plant and check for signs of disease.
Here Are The Steps For Repotting A Foxtail Fern:
8. How To Prune A Foxtail Fern
Pruning foxtail fern plants is not necessary in terms of controlling their growth habit. Instead, pruning for these plants is mainly a concern of trimming off any dead or dying stems to encourage new growth and maintain plant health.
By removing brown or dying branches you are allowing the plant to concentrate its energy towards new growth, while also improving its overall appearance. These plants are quite tough and hardy, so they can withstand heavy pruning.
Foxtail ferns do have some small spines on the stem and the sap inside the stems may also cause some skin irritation, so wearing gloves to protect your hands is recommended.
Using sharp sterile shears, cut back the old woody stems to the base of the plant and remove any damaged foliage.
9. Propagating New Foxtail Fern Plants
The best way to propagate foxtail fern plants is through root division. Luckily, this process is quite simple and is best done during repotting in the spring.https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/HFJKUwgxcIQ?rel=1&modestbranding=1&controls=1&showinfo=1&fs=0&wmode=transparent
Here Are The Steps For Propagating A Potted Foxtail Fern:
Steps For Propagating Foxtail Ferns In The Garden:
10. Pests And Disease That Can Affect Foxtail Fern Growth
Foxtail ferns are considered to be relatively resistant to most pests and diseases, however there are still a few common issues to be aware of.
As mentioned earlier, foxtail ferns are similar to succulents in their ability to store extra water for times of drought. As a result, they are similarly susceptible to fungal or bacterial diseases which are a consequence of overwatering.
These diseases will eventually lead to root decay and the death of the plant. Common early signs of root rot are wilting or yellowing of the leaves.
Preventing root rot from harming your foxtail fern is simply a matter of following the correct watering procedure.
Remember to water your foxtail fern guided more by the moisture level of the soil, rather than a rigid watering schedule. To maintain a healthy foxtail fern, you should only water once the top 2-3″ of soil has dried.
If you suspect that your foxtail fern is showing signs of root rot, you should immediately start by repotting the plant into a new container with a fresh batch of potting soil.
Inspect the roots for mushy spots during repotting and remove any areas with signs of decay. Hold off on watering the plant until it has started to recover and the soil has mostly dried.
Fortunately foxtail ferns are not prone to very many pests. However, mealybugs and scale insects are still a few common pests to watch out for.
Mealybugs are tiny, white, wingless insects who drink the sap from plant stems. They will appear as fuzzy cotton-like masses on the stems or undersides of the leaves.
Scale insects can be hard to spot, but they will appear like bumpy extra growth on the surface of the woody stems.
At first the damage from mealybugs and scale insects will not be significant, however if the populations are allowed to increase to higher numbers, they will cause leaf yellowing and curling as the plant weakens.
Both Mealybugs and scale insects can be controlled using an insecticidal soap from your local garden center. Or, you can make your own version at home using neem oil and dish soap.
To make a neem oil insecticidal spray, fill a spray bottle with water. Add a mixture of 1-2 tsp of organic neem oil and 1 tsp of mild dish soap.
Spray this solution liberally over the foliage of your foxtail and allow it to dry. Repeat this process once per week until you have eradicated the pests.
Foxtail Fern FAQ
Are Foxtail Fern Plants Toxic?
Foxtail fern plants do contain some toxins which can be mildly poisonous to dogs and cats. Repeated exposure to the foliage of foxtail fern plants can cause skin irritation or dermatitis in pets due to toxins in the sap.
Ingestion of the berries is another concern for pets with foxtail ferns. Dogs or cats who ingest the berries might experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Is It Safe To Grow Foxtail Ferns Even Though They Are Considered Invasive?
Foxtail ferns are only a concern for being invasive if grown outdoors. You can safely grow a foxtail plant indoors pretty much anywhere.
These tropical, salt tolerant plants can be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zone 9 through 11. However these plants are native only to southern Africa, so they are considered invasive in many other sub-tropical or tropical areas because they can spread and take over quite easily.
Always check local regulations before deciding to plant a foxtail fern in your garden. Some places where these plants are considered invasive include: certain areas in Australia, Florida, Texas, southern California and Hawaii.
Why Are My Foxtail Fern Leaves Turning Yellow?
Yellowing leaves is the most common sign of distress for a foxtail fern. There are three main reasons why this could be happening: too much direct sunlight, too little sunlight, or overwatering which leads to root rot.
Begin your problem solving by assessing the location of your foxtail fern. Too much direct sunlight causes excess heat on the delicate leaf-like structures. This will cause them to scorch and burn. Make sure the sunlight your plant is receiving is filtered by something like a shear curtain, or that the plant is partially shaded during the hottest parts of the day.
Unlike true ferns, foxtail ferns cannot survive in a location with no sunlight. They require bright, indirect light to thrive. So if your plant is in a fully shaded location, you should move it to a brighter room or brighter location in your yard if outside.
Overwatering is the most common reason for the leaves of a foxtail fern to turn yellow. Excessive moisture in the soil will prevent oxygen from reaching the roots and make it harder for them to absorb enough nutrients. This will also encourage the growth of bacterial or fungal diseases, which will lead to root decay.
If you suspect that overwatering might be the cause of your plants yellowing leaves, you should immediately repot your foxtail fern, following the steps listed earlier in this article.
Why Are My Foxtail Fern Leaves Turning Brown?
When a branch of a foxtail fern grows too old, it is normal for it to turn brown and die off. This is a natural part of the growth habit of a foxtail fern, and it is nothing to be concerned about.
You should follow the steps mentioned earlier in this article to prune off these dying branches in order to allow fresh, healthy new stems to grow in their place.
However, if many of branches on your foxtail fern begin to turn brown at the same time, this can be a signal that the conditions are too hot for the plant. Ideal temperatures for a foxtail fern are between 65°F and 75°F (18°C – 24°C).
It’s unlikely that the temperature inside of a home will ever reach over 90°F (32°C), however this can happen outdoors quite often. When temperatures approach 90°F (32°C), it can cause leaf burn. Make sure to provide shade for your plant and plenty of water in these conditions.
Foxtail ferns are prized for their beautiful, lush, evergreen foliage. Their tufts of feathery leaves make for a lovely ornamental display both indoors and outdoors, provided you live in an area where they are safe to grow outside.
Easy to care for with similar watering requirements to succulents, these fast-growing plants are also resistant to most pests and diseases. This is why they make for an excellent addition to anyones plant collection.
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.