foxtail fern

How To Grow And Care For Foxtail Ferns

Foxtail ferns, or foxtail asparagus ferns, are luscious plants but are also extremely durable. So, it is one of the best choices for decoration without requiring too much attention. The foxtail fern, also called “ground asparagus”, or “basket asparagus” and “emerald fern” in South Africa, is not actually a fern. They actually belong to the Lily family! Foxtail ferns are one of the best choices for gardeners who are starting out.

Similar to the Lily, the foxtail ferns also produce white flowers, along with red berries. It is just as suitable for an indoor potted plant as it is for an outdoor one. All it truly needs is a little warmth because the plant is known for its self-sufficiency.  

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Growing Foxtail Fern

Foxtail ferns are a go-to choice for anyone looking to spruce up their household greenery, without the need for detailed know-how. Here are some quick facts about the lush and hardy plant:

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  • Latin name: Asparagus densiflorus
  • Other names: Ground asparagus, asparagus ferns, ponytail fern. In South Africa: emerald fern, basket asparagus.
  • Native to: South Africa
  • Invasiveness: Category 1 Invasive Exotic
  • Tenderness: Perennial
  • Sun: Partial Sun or full shade
  • Water: Immerse soil in water after the top 2” to 5” inches of soil dry out.
  • Soil: Well-draining, organically rich, and consistently moist.
  • Hardiness zone: Zones 9 through 11
  • When to plant: Can be planted year-round in warmer areas. In colder areas that experience frost, do not keep the plant outdoors.
  • Spacing: 3+ feet.
  • Plant height: 1.5 to 2 feet.
  • Bloom period: Spring
  • Time to maturity: 2 to 3 growing seasons
  • Container friendly: Can be grown in pots, indoors and outdoors.
  • Fertilizer: 10-10-10
  • Toxicity: Every part is poisonous to humans and pets.
  • Deer resistant: Usually does not eat.
  • Pest resistant: Fairly resistant.

In the recommended hardiness zones, outdoors foxtail ferns require a bit of sun. However, make sure the area is lightly shaded since it will be harmed by the hot sun in the afternoon. They are also drought-resistant and do well when regularly watered. However, allow the soil to dry out a bit.

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It can survive outdoors quite well. It is known for its hardy nature and its preference for a mild climate. However, foxtail ferns can endure a season or two of frost or drought at times. Nevertheless, do bring the plants indoors during winters if you live in a colder area. If it is being planted outdoors, then leave space of at least 3 feet between the plants. Expect the plants to grow at least 1.5 feet.

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These lush plants bloom with white flowers and red berries during spring. The greenery and lusciousness remain throughout the year.

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Water

Foxtail ferns are generally hardy plants that are similar to succulents. It has tuberous roots that store water. As such, they thrive the most when they are immersed in water after the top 3” of the soil has dried out.

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Sunlight

The foxtail ferns do not require the full sun. As such, it does well in lightly shaded areas. If it can be protected from the afternoon sun then all the better. It prefers the gentle sun in the morning.

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Soil

The foxtail ferns need well-drained soil that is organically rich. The most important factor here is not letting the tuberous roots stand in overly-damp, soggy soil. However, once established, these plants are quite resistant to droughts.

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Fertilizing

Foxtail ferns will indicate when it needs fertilizing when the needle-like leaves become yellow or pale. In the spring, feed it time-released food. During the growing season, feed it half strength 10-10-10 balanced food every month.

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Invasiveness

The foxtail ferns are a type of exotic plant that can become quite invasive because of their ease of propagation. In South Africa, where it is native, it is a fairly common natural growth. However, in Florida and Hawaii, this species is classified as a weed.

Growing Foxtail Ferns in containers

Foxtail ferns are absolutely fine being grown in containers. In the case of indoor containers, place them under the direct sun during winters, and bright light in general. Also, make sure that the indoor conditions are fairly humid to encourage the plant’s growth.

While watering, check to see if there are any cracks on the soil visible from the container’s sides. That may mean that the plant has not been watered for too long.

Care & tips

Prune stems that are yellowing to promote new growth and give it a tidy appearance. Foxtail ferns really do not need much detailed care. However, you can follow the fertilization tips to help it along.

You may also wish to re-pot foxtail ferns every spring. This will let you check for diseases as well as refresh the mix in the pots. Avoid transferring them to a pot that is much larger than the existing one. It can cause diseased roots and excess moisture in the soil.

Common problems

For foxtail ferns, overwatering is possibly the most common problem. As such, try to water it according to the schedule mentioned above and ensure the soil is well-drained.

Another common problem is infestation by fern mites, nematodes, and mealy bugs. Gently apply neem oil to get rid of the pests.

Propagating Foxtail Ferns

Foxtail ferns are naturally extremely propagative. For potted specimens, carefully remove the plant from the soil and clean the tubers. Then cut the tubers into segments. Finally, place them in fresh containers or areas in your landscape in well-drained soil. Water them thoroughly.

For landscaped specimens, slice into the plant’s central section using a spade and cut off a part of the greenery along with its tubers attached. Then, replace that section in a freshly prepared new container/area.

Uses for Foxtail Ferns

Foxtail ferns are versatile and have several uses in gardening. They can act as the perennial border for other flowering plants. Foxtail ferns can also survive being planted at the seaside fairly well. They are also useful in cut flower arrangements as the foliage takes 2 to 3 weeks to yellow.

However, be careful that every part of this plant is toxic, especially for pets. They can also cause abdominal irritation if we ingest them accidentally. None of the parts of the foxtail ferns are safe for ingestion.

Foxtails ferns are hardy, lush, and versatile plants that can be a good choice for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Its plume is easy to maintain, and remains constant throughout the year (with an added bonus in spring)!  

Mayukh Saha
Freelance Writer
Mayukh is a Content Marketer and Social Media Manager with over 5 years of experience in the industry. Mayukh believes in the power of content; how it can positively impact lives, scale businesses and touch people. In his spare time Mayukh likes to read about latest tech trends and loves to travel in the nature. You can reach him at [email protected]
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