Asparagus ferns have airy and delicate foliage that looks like the leaves of asparagus but arches gracefully, like a fern – hence their name. They’re not actually ferns, but members of the lily family, and hail from the humid forests of southern Africa. They make excellent house plants.
There are two main types of asparagus fern – Asparagus setaceus and Asparagus densiflorus. Asparagus setaceus (also known as lace fern or Asparagus plumosus) has the most delicate foliage – it’s much loved by florists for flower arranging. Asparagus densiflorus (foxtail fern, emerald fern or plume asparagus) has foliage that look more like a brush or a fox’s tail.
Asparagus ferns look lovely tumbling from a shelf or plant stand, or in a hanging planter. They also look good grouped with other plants, especially those with contrasting leaf shapes.
If an asparagus fern is especially happy, it may produce small white flowers and berries, but it’s really grown for its foliage.
Take care when handling asparagus ferns, as the tiny thorns along the length of the stems on mature plants can scratch. In fact, it’s best to avoid touching the plant too much as it makes the leaves grow brown. All parts of the plant are mildly toxic to humans and pets.
How to grow asparagus ferns
Asparagus ferns are easy to grow, provided they are kept out of direct sunshine, have some humidity and are kept well watered in warm weather.
Asparagus ferns: jump links
- Planting asparagus fern
- Caring for asparagus fern
- Propagating asparagus fern
- Growing asparagus fern: problem-solving
- Buying asparagus fern
Where to grow asparagus ferns
Asparagus ferns do best in bright but indirect light, out of direct sunshine. They need a minimum temperature of 13°C. Keep away from draughts and radiators. Asparagus setaceus in particular thrives in humidity, so a bright bathroom is the ideal place for it. It also grows very well in a terrarium.
How to plant asparagus ferns
Plant asparagus ferns in soil-based compost, in a pot the same size as the rootball. Make sure there’s a drainage hole at the bottom.
Looking for a decorative pot cover for your asparagus fern? Choose from 10 of the best indoor plant pots.
Caring for asparagus ferns
In spring and summer, keep the compost moist but not soggy – allowing any excess to drain away. Reduce watering in autumn, and water more sparingly in winter. Feed once a month with a liquid feed in spring and summer.
Provide some humidity by grouping plants together or misting regularly, especially in summer or if the central heating is on.
Repot every couple of years, in spring. Asparagus ferns are fast growers, so if your plant is getting too large or out of shape, just trim it back with sharp scissors or secateurs.
How to propagate asparagus ferns
If your asparagus fern produces berries, you can plant these to create new plants. However the simplest way to propagate an asparagus fern is to divide it in spring – a good time to do this is when you are repotting it. Simply divide the rootball into two or more sections, each with a piece of root, and pot into individual pots.
Growing asparagus ferns: problem solving
A few yellow fronds at the base is normal – these are old leaves and can be cut off. More widespread yellowing could have a number of causes, so some detective work may be needed. Yellowing can be caused by temperatures that are too high, too much light, or under- or overwatering.
Pale fronds mean that your plant needs more bright light (but keep it out of direct sun) or the plant needs more water.
If whole fronds have turned brown/yellow and feel crisp, the plant hasn’t had enough water, the air may be too hot or dry or the plant may be getting too much sun. Water more regularly and mist daily to revive it.
If the plant is covered in fine webs, it is affected by red spider mite. Keeping the plant misted will help to prevent this.
Brown leaves could be caused by brushing past or touching the leaves – try not to do this.
Advice on buying asparagus ferns
- An asparagus needs a certain level of care, so is not the best plant for beginners
- They can become quite large, so check that you have enough room for it
- Look for an asparagus fern that has bright green leaves with no sign of pests or disease
- You can find asparagus ferns in garden centres, at specialist house plant retailers or online
Where to buy asparagus ferns online
Varieties of asparagus ferns to grow
Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ – emerald green plumes that have an upright habit and look like a fox’s tail.
Height x Spread: 1.2m x 90cm
Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri Group’ – tumbling bright green, airy foliage.
H x S: 1m x 1m
Asparagus falcatus (sickle fern) – distinctive, large, sickle-shaped leaves.
H x S: 1m x 75cm