How to Grow and Care For Asparagus Fern

Tips for growing feathery ferns indoors

an asparagus fern in a basket

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

The asparagus fern isn’t exactly a common houseplant, but with its feathery, light foliage, it's quite attractive and can be successfully grown indoors. In warmer regions, the fern can be easily adapted to outdoor culture, where it sometimes grows like a creeper and can even become invasive. Indoors, the key to a robust asparagus fern is to keep the plant bushy and dense so its lace-like foliage forms an attractive mound.

Asparagus fern is a fern in name and appearance only. It actually is a relative of lilies, including tulips, daylilies, amaryllis, and hostas. Asparagus fern has a lot of good qualities, but it comes with some important cautions. In warm, humid climates, asparagus ferns can spread rapidly when planted outdoors. It is considered an invasive species in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii. Asparagus fern is also toxic to children and pets.

Common Name Asparagus fern
Botanical Name Asparagus aethiopicus
Family Asparagaceae or Liliaceae
Plant Type Perennial (indoors); annual (outdoors, above zone 9)
Mature Size Up to 2 ft. tall, and 6 ft. spread
Sun Exposure Indirect light (indoors); part sun (outdoors)
Soil Type Well-drained potting soil
Soil pH 6.5-6.8
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White; flowers are insignificant
Hardiness Zones 9-11 (USA)
Native Area South Africa
Toxicity Toxic for dogs, toxic for cats
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Watch Now: How to Care for the Asparagus Fern Plant

Asparagus Fern Care

If you live in hardiness zones 9 or above, you can grow asparagus fern outdoors as a perennial. In all other climates, it can be planted as an annual or kept indoors as a houseplant. It's also popular as an outdoor container plant, where it is often used as a spiller. You can bring the container inside when the weather turns cold.

Asparagus fern's “leaves” are actually tiny branchlets called cladophylls that are flat and look like leaves. Mature plants become woody and can develop sharp spines on the branches, so take caution while trimming older specimens, and wear gardening gloves if you plan to prune an older plant. When asparagus fern is content in its location, it can produce small flowers and berries. You can plant these berries to propagate the fern. 

Asparagus fern is fairly trouble-free, but indoors it may suffer from the same maladies common to most houseplants, especially mites and aphids. Insecticidal soap is usually effective.

closeup of an asparagus fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
closeup of an asparagus fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
closeup of an asparagus fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Light

The asparagus fern thrives in dappled shade, although it can be acclimated to more light. Keep it out of direct, bright sunlight.

Soil

Plant asparagus ferns in pots or containers in loose, well-drained potting soil. Outdoors, plant it in rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. It is generally tolerant of less-than-ideal soil conditions.

Water

Keeping an asparagus fern hydrated takes a little effort, and this plant thrives on humidity. Indoor growing conditions can often be dry, especially due to winter heat. Mist the plant daily, focusing on the arching stems. If the plant appears to be turning brown and droopy, it likely needs more water. While the asparagus fern can dry out to the point of appearing dead, it likely isn't. Warmer, humid air, and daily misting will help revive it. Outdoors, keep asparagus fern well-watered to prevent the soil from completely drying out.

Temperature and Humidity

Try to maintain a warm temperature (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and not dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit for too long. If you have a shady porch outside, or a greenhouse, the indoor plants will likely respond with abundant growth over the summer.

Fertilizer

Feed asparagus fern with liquid or water-soluble all-purpose plant food diluted to half strength. During summer, the plant may need weekly feedings; otherwise, feed monthly.

Types of Asparagus Fern

  • 'Myeri': has dense foliage on upright stems; it's known also as foxtail asparagus
  • 'Sprengeri': boasts long stems and a full, almost fluffy form; it's also referred to as an asparagus emerald fern
  • ‘Sprengeri Compacta’: has the same features as its namesake, but is a dwarf variety
  • 'Nana': features bright green foliage, and is another compact variety

Pruning

Asparagus fern is a fast grower, and you may want to trim yours to keep it tidy. Conversely, it's okay if you want it to look wild and shaggy. Use clean garden shears or sharp scissors to give your plant shape.

Propagating Asparagus Fern

While this plant can be propagated by planting the seeds found in the berries, the easier and faster way is to dig up and divide the tuberous roots. In spring, dig up the entire plant and divide it into sections, each with a portion of root and growing shoots. Replant the pieces into individual pots or their own garden locations. It is best to keep the plant shaded until new growth begins.

How to Grow Asparagus Fern From Seed

Asparagus fern seeds come from their berries. Before planting, soak seeds overnight. Then, create starters by planting them 1/4 inch deep in pots or trays, indoors. Soil temperature should be at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination should take four to eight weeks.

Potting and Repotting Asparagus Fern

Plant asparagus ferns in pots or containers in loose, well-drained potting soil. Outdoors, plant it in rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. It is generally tolerant of less-than-ideal soil conditions.

Asparagus ferns don't mind being slightly pot-bound, and can go up to two years before repotting. For the most successful repotting, divide the plant into big clumps, and be sure to take multiple underground roots when dividing. Place the divided plants into similar-sized pots to retain the tight growth habit. Asparagus ferns do not need large pots, as they are slow indoor spreaders.

Overwintering

If your outdoor temps dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, bring your asparagus ferns inside (if they're not already there). Keep them in bright light, away from drafts and radiators. Do not overwater, this can cause root problems.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs like to hang out in this plant's leaves, get rid of them with insecticidal soap. Overly wet conditions can cause root rot.

Common Problems With Asparagus Fern

While relatively easy to grow, asparagus fern does have a couple of issues that are easily remedied if you know what you're looking for.

Yellow leaves

Asparagus fern's leaves will turn yellow if the plant has pests—like spider mites or mealybugs—or if your plant isn't getting enough humidity. Remove the pests, mist your plant, and this should resolve.

This plant's leaves may also turn yellow if it's overfertilized (the solution is to fertilize less often), or if it has too much or too little light.

Brown Leaves

If your asparagus fern is turning brown and looks like it's drying out, it could be that you have underwatered it. Cut off the brown, dried sections, and try watering more often.

FAQ
  • Is asparagus fern easy to care for?

    Extremely easy, but be careful: it's invasive in some areas.

  • How fast does asparagus fern grow?

    It's a fast-growing plant, so fast! It can grow to be 2 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

  • What's the difference between asparagus fern, and the asparagus we eat as a vegetable?

    Asparagus fern is a herbaceous perennial with whimsical, feathery foliage; asparagus is a delicious, slow-growing vegetable.

Asparagus setaceus
Asparagus setaceus seven75 / Getty Images
Asparagus foxtail
Asparagus foxtail ThuTruong / Getty Images 
Asparagus sprengeri
Asparagus sprengeri Sicha69 / Getty Images  
Article Sources
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  1. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants?page=2

  2. Asparagus fern, Asparagus Densiflorus. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  3. Asparagus Densiflorus. Arizona State University