Foxtail Fern Care & Growing Conditions Explained
Foxtail fern grows the best in temperatures between 65 – 70 °F in rich organic soil. Make sure to water the plant regularly and not let the soil dry out. Also, place the plant in a location where it receives bright indirect sun.
Foxtail fern, or the Asparagus densiflorus, is a prevalent evergreen houseplant famous for its attractive and unusual flowering plants and several uses in the landscape. It has a feathery appearance, red berries, and small white flowers, and its fronds or leaves look like foxtails.
Foxtail ferns multiply from seeds and do not yield any spores. Typically, they have a symmetrical and annual look and tightly-packed arching plumes. These plants look fragile. Hence, gardeners most shy away from planting them, expecting complexities and challenges in the foxtail fern care. But that’s not the case.
Native to South Africa, the foxtail ferns are easy to care for and flourish even with limited upkeep. They are low-maintenance, hardy, groundcover plants known for their robust root system. All they need is moist soil at all times, so do keep the watering schedule in check. Another important thing they want is bright indirect sun and high humidity up to 40%.
The plant reaches three feet in height and width. They are drought-resistant, especially once they establish.
These indoor plants are not ferns but a member of the Lily family. But it gets its name from the plant’s clumping habit, which resembles a fern.
How To Care For Foxtail Fern?
Though foxtail ferns look delicate, they are pretty hardy. It is a laidback plant with minimal care requirements. All it needs is well-draining soil and indirect, bright sunlight. You can achieve an attractive plant with occasional trimming off spent stems and substantial room to grow.
It has tuberous roots that make it drought-resistant. Hence, once the plant establishes, it is forgiving, even if you forget to water it.
But, the plant has a solid root system. Thus, we recommend not growing it near fragile plants as it may choke them. When grown in pots, the foxtail ferns can be beautiful houseplants that you can move indoors to help them survive the colder weather.
A. Foxtail fern light requirements
Fortunately, the foxtail ferns are not fussy about sunlight. So, as a gardening enthusiast, if you find it challenging to find the perfect lighting in your home or garden, this plant will still fit the bill. Thus, for good foxtail fern care, position them in a spot that receives partial shade.
Keeping them near an east-facing window can help cater to the plant’s lighting needs. At all times, ensure that the plant receives bright, indirect light but not direct sun, as that may damage the leaves.
Hence, if you see the leaves turning yellow, you must try moving them away from the sun. Some people even prefer keeping it behind the sheer curtains. Fortunately, the plant can also grow in full shade. But, it will show in the leaf color, which will be on the paler side.
B. How often should you water a foxtail fern?
If there is anything the foxtail fern is picky about, it is the watering. Native to the damp and warm forests, the correct foxtail fern care demands growing it in moist soil at all times. The soil will dry out when you do not water enough. Consequently, the plant will display wilting signs.
Watering the indoor plant once a week with good drenching suffices. But it is not a thirsty plant, so overwatering should never happen. Hence, inspect the soil’s top few inches before rewatering and water only if it feels dry.
In addition, you must check the drainage holes at regular intervals to ensure they are not blocked. You do not want any access water accumulating at the base. It makes the plant susceptible to root rot, a prevalent fungal disease.
Further, water the plant with room temperature water. It ensures that the plant does not go into shock. Rainwater is also good for your plant. If you have planted the foxtail outside, you must water them well. They will need at least eight inches of water. It helps the root ball seep deeper into the soil, making it more drought-tolerant.
C. Foxtail fern soil needs
Caring for a foxtail fern involves planting them in well-draining, organically rich with acidic content. They require potting soil mix with good drainage as it helps prevent root rot and stimulates healthy growth in the foxtail ferns.
In addition, the organically rich soil helps provide the plant with the desired nourishment. Hence, ensure that the potting mix for foxtail ferns growing indoors and outdoors comprises equal amounts of perlite and peat moss.
Peat moss retains moisture and does not let the soil dry out. It also has an acidic composition, precisely what the plant needs. On the other hand, perlite ensures that the roots receive a good oxygen supply and thrive. Hence, pick a spot with healthy and rich soil while planting the foxtail ferns.
Fertilizing the plant is crucial in foxtail fern care and helps trigger healthy growth. So, it helps to routinely add compost and a thick mulch layer around the plant while growing in the garden.
Mulch avoids moisture evaporation, and compost provides the plant with the necessary nutrients. So, regular fertilization is imperative whether you grow your foxtail ferns indoors or outdoors. You can opt for a half-strength, liquid fertilizer and use it once every month during the growing window.
Alternatively, for foxtail fern maintenance, you can use a slow-release fertilizer during fall, summer, and spring to ensure that the plant has access to a consistent flow of nutrients. Avoid mineral salt-based, water-soluble fertilizers as they can result in salt deposition and may even burn the roots.
Thus, it is best to opt for organic fertilizers. While choosing natural fertilizers, pick ones that contain liquid kelp, fish emulsion, worm castings, compost tea, plant extracts, and seaweed.
Native to Africa, Foxtail ferns thrive best in warmer conditions. So, the growing conditions for foxtail fern include temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But, they are hardy. Hence, they can even endure temperatures lower than 24 degrees.
However, you must try not to place them anywhere where the temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit
You can grow foxtail ferns across the year if you reside in sub-tropical or tropical regions between hardiness zones nine through eleven (like Louisiana, California, Texas, and Florida). But please remember high humidity and temperature might make this ornamental beauty invasive.
You can grow and maintain your foxtail ferns outdoors in the summer, but as the temperature drops, you must bring the plant indoors to avoid frost injury.
Foxtail ferns enjoy a moderate to high humidity environment. Hence, the ideal foxtail fern growing conditions should have approximately forty percent or higher humidity. You can use a humidity monitor to check the water level in the air.
Typically, getting the desired humidity is not a problem for plants growing outdoors. However, if you have an indoor foxtail fern, its humidity requirements are higher.
So, consider positioning the plant near a humidifier. Alternatively, you can place the plant on a pebble tray filled with water or frequently mist the plant to meet the humidity requirements.
Occasional pruning is a mandatory aspect of foxtail fern maintenance. It helps keep the herbage healthy and fresh and also stimulates new growth. You can use anvil pruners or pruning shears to remove wilted, broken, dead, or dry foliage from the fern.
Typically, outdoor foxtail ferns must be pruned once every three years to rejuvenate their appearance.
Tip – After pruning, dip the shears in rubbing alcohol and let the blades air dry before you trim any other plant. It helps prevent the spread of disease.
H. Repotting foxtail fern
Foxtail ferns are fast-growing, and they grow a substantial amount every year. Thus, for proper foxtail fern care, you must repot them annually during spring. When you repot the plant into a bigger container, you give its roots ample space to expand and grow further. It can also help divide the taproot if you wish to propagate new plants.
Ideally, you must pick a pot about one or two inches larger than the current one. If you shift the foxtail fern in a container way larger than its size, it might result in some soil spots untapped by roots. Such areas will retain moisture for a long, resulting in plants’ susceptibility to pests and diseases.
While repotting, ensure that you do it in fresh potting soil. It helps avoid hard compaction that can intervene with drainage over time. In addition, as you repot, you must inspect the plant for any signs of diseases.
How To Propagate Foxtail Fern?
As you have discovered that foxtail fern care is straightforward, you may want to grow more of them yourself. So, the simplest propagation method is via division, and the best time to propagate your foxtail ferns is in the spring.
While dividing the ferns, use a sharp spade or knife to cut the plant from the center. Once dug, ensure that every divided piece has green and healthy roots. Be generous with the first watering as you replant it.
Here is a step-by-step guide on propagation through division:
- Take a garden knife, spade shovel, or sharp garden shears.
- Dig the large fern, ensuring the root ball still shows from the soil.
- Using shears or a garden knife, divide the roots into half, carefully evening out the greenery, and pull the two sides apart.
- Dig holes are relatively wider than they are deep.
- Spring some soil conditioner.
- Water the holes and let them drain well.
- Insert the root ball into the dug hole, ensuring you bury the roots completely.
- Backfill the hole with garden soil and compost.
- Water well.
- Let it sit for two days, and then spread soil conditioner, compost, and garden mulch around the plant’s base to help it get the desired nutrients.
Foxtail Fern Indoors or Outdoors – What’s Better?
Foxtail ferns can grow indoors and outdoors, provided it has access to the right growing conditions. If planted indoors, offer your plant a continuous moisture source as their inside humidity requirement is high.
Hence, regular misting or placing them on a pebble tray can help. If you reside in USDA zones 9A through 11b, you can grow them outdoors across the year.
Foxtail Fern Pests and Problems
When grown outdoors, the foxtail ferns are resistant to most pest corners. But, an indoor foxtail fern might develop unusual growth on the leaves or be infested by sap-sucking insects.
However, you can shield your plant against damage from pests and diseases with insecticidal soap and organic neem oil and by creating the ideal foxtail fern growing conditions.
Here are some common pests, diseases, and problems that stunt its growth.
A. Moisture stress
Moisture stress like overwatering might result in foxtail fern’s leaves and stems turning yellow and might even be responsible for the plant’s death. Hence, courtesy of its taproot system, it is significantly drought-tolerant.
But, when you water it, you must be cautious of the water quality. Tap water has a high chlorine content and can damage the houseplants. The plants might also suffer from inadequate light. But, if the moisture content is accurate and the plant still shows signs of yellowing, you must repot the plant, placing it near the sunny window to check if things get better.
B. Root rot
Foxtail plants store water in their tuberous roots and use it when you do not actively water the plant. Consequently, they are susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections if you water them more than necessary.
The pathogens result in plant death and root decay. One of the first signs of root rotting because of overwatering is plant wilting, drying, and foliage discoloration.
Some prevalent pest infestations that might affect your foxtail ferns are scale insects, mealybugs, and spider mites. They show as a sugary, sticky substance or white cottony fuzz. How to take care of foxtail fern that is infected.
Thus, you must monitor your plants and handpick any sapsuckers to avoid severe damage. What to do if the damage is severe? You can use neem oil or insecticidal soap to get rid of pests. Instantly when you spot infestations, quarantine your plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ques 1. Is foxtail fern poisonous to humans?
Ans. The foxtail fern’s white flowers and red berries both are toxic to pets as well as humans if ingested. It can also cause irritation if it comes in contact with the skin. So, exercise caution while working with it.
Ques 2. How to care for foxtail fern in winter?
Ans. Every winter, foxtail fern undergoes a period of dormancy when grown in pots or in the garden. Hence, remove the damaged and dead leaves from the foxtail after the first frost and spread a thick mulch layer around the base.
While the plant is dormant, you must not fertilize it. However, keep watering it once a month. If you have a potted plant outside, you can move it indoors near a sunny window and prune all the dead fronds and leaves.
Do not fertilize the outdoor fern, water it once a week or whenever the topsoil feels dry. You might see some messy leaf drop in indoor foxtail ferns. So, timely clear to avoid fungal diseases from spreading.
Ques 3. When should you cut back foxtail?
Ans. You must cut back the foxtail if the leaves look wilted or brown. Always prune in the early spring before new growth shows.
Ques 4. Can foxtail ferns be planted in the ground?
Ans. You can plant foxtail ferns directly in the ground.