Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ or the foxtail fern, a perennial plant is related to the African Asparagus species and is indigenous to the southern part of Africa but is extensively cultivated everywhere.
This attractive evergreen plant grows like a bush, attaining heights of 2 feet and 2-3 feet wide. Its emerald-green leaves are like needles, about 1 inch long, and grow on 20-inch plumes. It produces white flowers and red berries that attract birds but are inedible to humans. It’s a fast-growing plant and has to be pruned to maintain its shape when cultivated indoors, although most people allow it to spread when grown outdoors.
It can be quite an attractive sight when growing from hanging baskets or large standing pots indoors. It is ideal to be cultivated in rock gardens or as ground cover outdoors. The foliage plumes are prized by flower arrangers.
This plant is an ideal starter plant for beginners to grow as it’s very low-maintenance and can tolerate long periods of neglect yet continue to thrive.
It loves to grow in light shade and is ideal for gardens or windows facing the east. It enjoys morning sunlight but cannot tolerate direct afternoon sunlight as this causes damage to the foliage or makes the leaves turn yellow. This plant can also be cultivated under full shade, although the leaves will become light green.
This plant originates from moist forests and loves moist well-drained conditions and it doesn’t like being over or under-watered. If the soil dries completely, growth will drastically slow down and leaves will wilt and drop. Water it weekly during spring and summer while watering should be limited to once fortnightly in winter.
Always check the pot to see that water drains well and drainage holes are not blocked to avoid over-saturating the soil, as this will cause root rot and kill the plant.
If the plant is grown outdoors, water it thoroughly to wet the soil deeply as this allows the roots to expand further down in the soil, and help it become more drought-tolerant.
While foxtail ferns love conditions of high humidity, the average home humidity levels of 40-50% are quite sufficient. Humidity can be increased by misting the plant or using humidity trays or using a small humidifier to help the plant thrive better.
Prevent indoor conditions from getting too damp as this will attract mold or bacteria that will damage the plant.
This plant prefers warmer temperatures between 65-75°F. Don’t allow temperatures to drop below 50°F during winter. It is frost intolerant and growth will die down in colder temperatures although its roots will remain hardy in temperatures lows between 20-25°F (-6°C to -4°C). This plant also doesn’t like being exposed to hot/cold drafts.
It likes to grow in moist yet well-draining regular potting soil that is rich with organic matter. You can amend the potting mix by adding about 2-3 inches of straw or shredded bark mulch around the plant’s base to keep moisture in and prevent weeds or grass from growing. You can also add vermiculite or perlite to the soil to help with the draining process.
Repot the plant when roots visibly grow above the soil, choosing a bigger pot with lots of drainage holes for your plant. Once you take it out of the old pot, inspect the roots and remove damaged or dead roots. The root ball should be untangled if it is very compacted. Place small pebbles or stones in the pot’s base to prevent soil from blocking drainage holes and add all-purpose potting soil amended with peat, perlite, and organic compost. Water it well and return it to its original shaded area.
Clay/terracotta pots are preferable as they allow evaporation of water from the walls.
Propagate this plant by dividing it into different sections. First prepare the new pots with regular potting soil amended with peat, perlite, and organic compost. Take it out from the pot and cut the plant through the base and the roots into the desired sections. Remove excess soil and trim any damaged or dead roots. Place the sections into the new pots, add extra soil to fill the gaps and add a layer of straw or shredded bark mulch and place the pots in a shaded area.
The plant must be fertilized monthly throughout its growing season from April-October with regular liquid fertilizer. Fertilizer must be added to wet soil – avoid adding fertilizer to dry soil as this will damage the roots. Organic compost is a better option to avoid fertilizer buildup. Reduce feeding the plant during autumn and don’t feed it in winter.
The plant has to be pruned to size when grown indoors. Prevent uneven growth by rotating the pot occasionally to ensure that growth is evenly distributed.
While this plant is fairly resistant to pest infestations, its dense foliage can harbor spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and slugs if the plant is growing in less humid conditions. Spider mites particularly can become a major problem during winter when the humidity drops. They are very hard to spot, but clues to their infestation are indicated by fine webbing in the leaves. Raising humidity levels will help prevent them from plaguing the plant. Almost all these pests can be eliminated by spraying the plant with a solution of insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Under fertilizing or direct sunlight can make the leaves turn yellow. The plant should be fed once a month during its growing season with a water-soluble balanced fertilizer. Water the soil well before adding the fertilizer. The plant should get enough shaded bright light, not direct sunlight.
If the plant appears to be drooping, it might be a sign that root rot has started due to either over-watering or improper water drainage. While this plant loves moist soil, it doesn’t like being water-logged. Inspect the drainage holes of the pot to see if they are blocked and repot the plant after removing damaged roots and washing the roots thoroughly.