What’s the first thought DIY gardeners have when they hear “growing a fern”? They may feel ferns are average plants found under trees or on roadsides, and there is nothing exceptional about them. But what if we told you about an exotic variety of fern grown and collected worldwide by gardening enthusiasts and collectors for gardening or home decoration purposes?
If you’re an aspiring gardener or a plant lover, we have an exotic plant species for you to learn about – the foxtail fern plant.
The Asparagus densiflorus, also known as the asparagus fern or foxtail fern, is a delicate, feathery plant that resembles the shape of a fox’s tail. It is a perennial plant with light green foliage, and due to its easy-to-care nature, it becomes a fine addition to the backyard of plant collectors and gardeners.
Native to southern Africa, they are coined as invasive weeds in many places. However, they are now grown and planted for home decoration or ornamental purposes.
Characteristics of Foxtail Plants
The bright emerald-green-colored foxtail ferns are evergreen, vibrant plants and can attain a height of 2-3 feet and a width of 3-4 feet. There is the presence of needle-like leaves on arching stems, and new growth emerges as cylindrical spears. Not to forget, though the plant is fern-like, it originally hails from the lily family.
When grown in fully shaded places, the foliage turns pale green. In case of partial exposure to sunlight, the fronds or leaf stalks turn dark green.
A key aspect of foxtail ferns is their capability of vigorous growth, both above and below the soil. Moreover, its bulb-like roots can spread quickly and are invasive in nature.
This plant produces fragrant and small flowers, which bloom late in spring and early summer. After that, the flowers transform into small, attractive, and bright red berries that ripen with the onset of autumn.
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How to Grow Foxtail Ferns?
Growing a foxtail fern is simpler than you’d expect. After the propagation of the plant (discussed later in the article), plant the dissected root or stem of the fern in a high-quality potting mix. Additionally, keeping the temperature range between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit helps in the sustainable growth of the fern.
Being a fast-growing plant, a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer must be used once a month during the growing season. Ensure to avoid over-fertilizing and over-watering during winter since the growth remains dormant.
The fern also needs to be pruned regularly to restrict its upward growth and guarantee to maintain its bushy appearance. Make sure to move the plant to a larger pot once a year at the onset of spring.
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How to take Care and Maintain Foxtail Ferns?
Foxtail fern plants are pretty easy to grow compared to other fern species and require few primary conditions for sustained development. These plants are an excellent choice for amateur and experienced gardeners due to their attractive and enticing green foliage and low maintenance features.
Let’s take a look at how to care for foxtail ferns.
Foxtail plants grow best in partly shaded locations with exposure to indirect sunlight. Since most ferns grow at the base of comparatively larger plants, it can be assumed they require protection from direct sunlight.
It’s better to plant a foxtail fern in an area receiving gentle morning sun rays, and that is partly shaded for the rest of the day when grown outdoors. Remember, the plant must be guarded against the hot afternoon sunlight to prevent the burning of leaves.
When grown indoors, try to plant the fern in a bright place like a window sill or an area that receives indirect sunlight throughout the day. If necessary, guard the plant using a semi-transparent curtain on your windows to reduce the intensity of the sunlight it’s exposed to.
However, regularly examine the plant’s leaves to check if they receive sufficient sunlight.
Caution: Constant exposure to sunlight results in the yellowing of leaves and diminishes the plant’s emerald gleam.
Foxtail fern plants grow well in various soils, provided they are well-drained to prevent the roots from being trapped in soggy, oversaturated soil. Ideally, organically rich, slightly acidic, and well-drained soil is preferred for the ideal growth of the plant.
While growing indoors, always plant the foxtail fern in a loose, well-drained, soil-based potting mix. Using a mixture of peat moss, perlite, and a small amount of liquid houseplant fertilizer helps in the healthy growth of the plant.
Note: Peat moss is slightly acidic and helps in water retention, while perlite aids drainage and ensures plenty of oxygen to spread throughout the potting mixture.
Adding compost or mulch in the potted or garden soil helps the plants to thrive during the growth phase. Not to forget, compost provides the plants with organically rich nutrients, while mulch helps to keep the soil moist.
While growing outdoors, plant the foxtail fern in a location having rich and healthy soil. If the soil is not ideal, add some compost to make it suitable for growing fern.
Remember to plant them in at least 3 square feet spaces and maintain some inches of a gap while growing amongst other plants. This is because of the plant’s highly invasive root system, which can slowly kill other plants if not deeply rooted.
Foxtail fern plants possess a tuberous root system, storing excess water like the fleshy stems of a succulent plant like cacti. This makes the plant drought-tolerant, thus requiring lesser watering cycles as compared to other plants.
Overwatering is an absolute no-go for foxtail ferns, as the roots become vulnerable to root rot. Always water the plants only when the top 2-3 inches of soil dries out.
Indoors, the foxtail ferns require water once per week during the growing season, but this reduces during winter. In addition to this, water the plant by checking the dampness of the soil rather than having a fixed watering schedule.
Outdoors, the plant will need watering once a week, or slightly more in the absence of sufficient rainfall. The soil around the plant will never dry out due to the water retention of the fern’s roots. Thus, the soil remains moist.
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Being native to the southern parts of Africa, the foxtail ferns usually thrive in warm tropical climates. They can be grown in USDA zones 9-11 all year-round or indoors as an ornamental plant as the temperature in a house is quite suitable for them to thrive.
Note: USDA zones depict the hardiness level or climatic conditions in a specific part of a country. USDA zones 9-11 mean the temperature around these parts is warm or tropical.
The ideal temperature to grow foxtail ferns is 18 to 24 degrees Celsius, but they’re occasionally known to survive temperatures as cold as -4 degrees Celsius too. Nevertheless, any temperature below 10 degrees will cause severe plant damage, so make sure to protect them from any frosts.
In tropical climates, these ferns can be grown in the garden all year round. But for someone living in a colder climate, it is better to grow the plant during the summer months. Don’t forget to bring the plant indoors during chilly weather.
Foxtail ferns, being native to tropical climates, easily thrive in moderate to high humid areas. Generally, there is no issue with these ferns growing outdoors in tropical climates.
On the other hand, when foxtail ferns are grown indoors, the humidity level is relatively low for ferns to thrive. To increase humidity around the plants, you can use either of the 3 ways stated below.
- Misting leaves daily for providing extra moisture
- Using a room humidifier
- Placing the plant on top of a pebble tray with water, and grouping the tropical plants, thus creating a humid microclimate.
Foxtail forms don’t require much fertilizer for growth. However, you may use a half-strength liquid houseplant fertilizer during the growing period to nourish the plant.
Remember, houseplant or natural fertilizers are always the best options for your plants. Using artificial mineral salt-based fertilizers may cause an increase in the salinity of the soil, thus harming the plant.
Some home-based natural fertilizer ingredients include seaweed, plant extracts, liquid kelp, or compost tea.
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Additional Ways to take Care of Foxtail Ferns
There are instances when the foxtail ferns require extra care to look even more alluring and enchanting. Here are some additional ways to take care of the ferns.
Foxtail ferns grow quite fast compared to other tropical plants, so you must shift them to a new pot every year. Choosing a new pot about 1-2 inches larger than the original pot helps the roots expand and support plant growth.
Repotting also helps the plant regain more nourishment from the new soil, as the plant uses up the limited nutrients naturally present in the previous soil. Also, keeping the plant in one pot for a prolonged duration may lead to soil compaction, which causes drainage issues.
Keep in mind, repotting is the perfect phase to check the roots for any signs of diseases. If the symptoms are absent, the taproot is ready for vegetative propagation.
Pruning is not necessary on foxtail fern plants for controlling growth or maintaining shape. It is only required for cutting off dead branches or stems for new development and maintaining plant health. At the same time, cutting off the dead branches can also help rejuvenate the plant.
Use sharp shears or secateurs to cut old woody stems and remove any damaged plant parts. The ferns are tough and hardy, so heavy pruning can also be done without causing any harm to their well-being.
The process of propagation in foxtail ferns is straightforward. It is done by the tube root division of the plant, and the best time for doing it is during the process of repotting.
While propagating a potted foxtail, lift the plant from the pot and shake off the excess soil on the roots. Put it down horizontally and cut the tube root into 2-3 parts using a sharp, sterile scalpel or knife. Further on, plant each root cutting into different pots containing well-drained potting soil and some water.
While propagating a foxtail outdoors, slice down through the middle portion of the plant while it is still embedded in the soil. Cut off the plant section you want to move from the middle, and plant it in a best-suited location for the fern’s growth.
Protection from Pests and Diseases
Foxtail ferns don’t face much threat from pests or diseases, but there may be some complications in the absence of necessary care. Some of the possible dangers faced by foxtail ferns are in the form of:
As stated before, the taproots of the foxtail ferns store extra water for future use, and overwatering might lead to fungal or bacterial infections. These diseases lead to root decay and the death of the plant. Early symptoms of root rot include yellowing or shedding of leaves.
Always remember to water the plant according to the moisture level and not follow a watering schedule. Even better, water the plant only when the top 2-3 inches of soil has dried.
A possible solution to a fungal invasion is immediately repotting the plant into a new pot containing fresh potting soil. Check the plant roots before repotting to see any signs of decay, and eliminate the areas. However, if the fungal infection becomes uncontrollable, it is better to use an organic fungicide instead.
Foxtails don’t face much threat from pests. Nevertheless, it is better to keep watch for tiny pests like mealybugs and scale insects.
Mealybugs are tiny white insects who drink sap from the plant stems. They appear on the branches and underside of leaves and are fuzzy and cotton-like in appearance.
Scale insects are round oval-shaped bugs that might be hard to spot, but they appear like red bumpy protrusions on the surface of the woody stems or underside of leaves.
Both mealybugs and scale insects are controllable by using insecticidal soaps from a local garden center. If you prefer natural means of combating pest attacks, try to make your DIY insecticidal spray by using neem oil and dish soap. Spray this solution repeatedly on the plants until all pests have been eradicated.
Foxtail ferns carry a reputed personality for their well-known and beautiful, lush, evergreen foliage. Their shiny green-colored and feather-textured leaves are well suited for a lovely ornamental display both indoors and outdoors.
We suggest being mindful of their invasive behavior and ability to disturb the ecological balance of your garden. Ensure to maintain gaps between the foxtail plants and your other prized plantation efforts, or keep them in individual pots.
The foxtail fern can be cared for in an almost carefree manner, with less maintenance due to their water storage capacities and resistance to pests and diseases. This is why the plant can become an excellent addition to any gardener’s or collector’s plant collection.
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