Asparagus ferns are one of the most popular groups of houseplants and perhaps one of the most confusing. The asparagus plants grown as houseplants are related to the asparagus plant we grow for food, but they are different species. Asparagus “ferns” are also no relation to the plants we typically think of as ferns, but because some species have fern-like foliage, the common name stuck.
To add another layer to the confusion, some of the asparagus fern species have been reclassified over the years so there are many versions of the botanical names that show up in books or on the internet.
Here’s how to identify the most common asparagus fern types grown as houseplants
(Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’, also known as: A. densiflorus ‘Myers’, A. densiflorus ‘Meyeri’, A. meyeri)
Foxtail fern is a variety of the Asparagus densiflorus species that is native to South Africa. In its natural environment, foxtail fern produces small white flowers in mid-summer. Flowers are followed by small berries that mature from green to red. In climates with freezing winters, foxtail fern can be grown outdoors in the summer and brought indoors for the winter. The unusual, bottle-brush look of the stems make this a favorite for cut floral arrangements.
(Asparagus plumosus, also known as: A. setaceus, A. setaceus Plumosus, Protasparagus setaceus, Common Asparagus Fern, Lace fern, Climbing asparagus)
Plumosa fern is a vining species, native to South Africa, but it can now be found in temperate areas throughout the world. In its native environment the plant produces small greenish-white flowers over a long season from late spring to fall. Flowers are followed by berries that mature from green to black. This asparagus species is dioecious, that means individual plants have either all male flowers or all female flowers. One of each is needed to produce seed. Mature plants should be handled carefully since the stems become woody over time and grow sharp spines. This plant is familiar to many as a filler in cut floral arrangements.
(Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, also known as: Asparagus aethiopicus, Sprenger’s Fern)
Sprengeri fern is a variety of the Asparagus densiflorus species that is native to South Africa. Plants in the wild produce tiny white flowers throughout the summer that are followed by red berries. This variety is popular for growing in a hanging basket indoors near a window. Because of its lush foliage, Sprengeri fern is a favorite for hanging outdoors in the summer or planting with flowering annuals in a container. Mature plants should be handled carefully since the stems become woody over time and grow sharp thorns that can cause skin irritation.
Sicklethorn fern is native to South Africa and Mozambique where it is popular for use as a hedge plant. Sicklethorn fern gets its name from sharp thorns that line the stems. The thorns curve downward and help secure the plant as it climbs up and over anything nearby. In its native habitat, sicklethorn fern produces small, fragrant white flowers in summer that are followed by red berries. Sturdy gloves are recommended when handling this plant to prevent injury from the thorns.
Asparagus Fern Care
Asparagus ferns are easy-care houseplants. If given a bright location, away from direct sun, they’ll tolerate indoor conditions very well. Here are some more tips to keep your asparagus fern happy:
How Much Light do Asparagus Ferns Need?
Place your asparagus fern near a window, but not in a position where it will get hot, direct sun. Too much sun and the leaves will turn yellow, too little sun and the leaves start looking pale and turn light green.
It’s best not to put your asparagus fern near heat or air ducts where it can be affected by temperatures that may be too warm or too cold. The air blowing from vents can also dry out the foliage and cause the plant to drop leaves.
Where do Indoor Asparagus Ferns Grow Best?
Asparagus ferns love humidity making them well-suited to a location in the bathroom or kitchen. In other locations, misting the foliage daily or placing the pot on a tray of pebbles covered with water will help put moisture in the air. Refill the tray as water evaporates to create a humid micro-climate around your plant.
When to Feed Asparagus Ferns
Feed when the plant is actively growing, usually in the spring and summer. Any general-purpose food for houseplants will do. Apply according to the package directions. There is no need to fertilize through fall and winter.
How Often to Water Asparagus Ferns
Try to keep watering of your asparagus fern consistent. During active growth, usually spring and summer, asparagus fern likes to be on the moist side – but not soggy wet. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. You can allow the soil to dry out a bit more during the fall and winter when the plant is not growing as much but you don’t want to allow it to get too dry.
Insects and Pests of Asparagus Ferns
Inspect your plant occasionally with a magnifying glass to make sure no insect pests are present. Spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs are not uncommon on asparagus ferns.
When to Prune Asparagus Ferns
Your plant will occasionally lose leaves as new growth emerges. Cut off old, dead stems at the base. You can also prune and shape your plant to keep it at the size you prefer.
When to Repot Asparagus Ferns
Repot your asparagus fern every 2 years to refresh the soil and inspect the roots to make sure that the plant hasn’t become pot bound. This is the time to divide your asparagus fern as well, if needed. Spring is an ideal time for repotting; before the plant is in an active growth stage. Propagating asparagus ferns is easy and will result in more plants for your home or to share with others.
With their thorny branches, handling any of the asparagus ferns can result in skin irritation. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when potting or pruning your plant.
Are Asparagus Ferns Toxic to Pets?
Asparagus ferns may not be the best choice if you have pets. According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) asparagus ferns are toxic to cats and dogs. If you have pets be sure to grow the plant on a shelf or in a hanging basket that is out of reach.
Hanging baskets are perfect for any of the asparagus ferns. A hanging basket allows the “fluffy” foliage to cascade freely over the side of the pot.
Can Asparagus Ferns Grow Outdoors?
Asparagus ferns love vacationing outdoors in the summertime. Be sure to put your plant in a location where it won’t be in direct sun. A half day of sun or dappled shade is ideal. Plan to return your asparagus fern to the indoors before temperatures drop below 50 degrees F.
Follow our Tips for Bringing Potted Plants Inside to help your plant make a smooth transition back to the indoors.