How to plant fern bulbs?


Ostrich Fern Info: Learn More About How To Grow Ostrich Ferns

Have a corner in your yard that’s deeply shady and damp? A spot where nothing much seems to grow? Try planting ostrich fern. Growing an ostrich fern in such a miserable spot can benefit the gardener in several ways.

First, it relieves the gardener of the yearly headache of what to try this year to cover the awful spot. Visually, planting ostrich ferns can turn an eyesore into a triumph of woodland delight, eventually forming a backdrop for other shade lovers like hostas or bleeding hearts.

Looking for a bit of the tropics in your garden? With their pots surrounded by ostrich fern, houseplants of various tropical varieties, many of which need a bit of shade, will look simply stunning. Once you know how to grow ostrich ferns and your plants are thriving, you’ll have the additional benefit of a tasty treat in the fiddleheads you can harvest.

Ostrich Fern Info

Matteuccia struthiopteris is native to North America and grows quite well in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-7. Once established, it will grow to a height of three to six feet with a spread about the same. Ostrich fern grows in vase-shaped clumps called crowns. The showy, arching, sterile fronds are plume-like and reminiscent of the tail feathers of the bird from which the common name is derived.

When growing an ostrich fern, you’ll notice other, shorter fronds that emerge a few weeks after the initial fiddleheads. These are the fertile fronds that produce spores for reproduction. These fertile fronds are much shorter, only 12-20 inches long, and will remain standing long after the larger fronds have died back in dormancy.

How to Grow Ostrich Ferns

There are no special tricks to learning how to grow ostrich ferns. While they can be grown from spores, it’s best to order plants from a reputable grower. Your plants will usually arrive as dormant, bare roots packed in moss or wood shavings and are ready for planting.

Ostrich ferns should be planted in a shallow hole that has plenty of room for spreading roots. Make sure the crown sits just above soil level. Fill in around the roots with any average soil and water well. Take care of ostrich ferns for the first year or so by watering regularly.

Don’t expect too much at first, and don’t panic if the plant appears to stop growing. An ostrich fern’s first priority is to establish a hardy root system. Sometimes the fronds begin to grow and then die back several times during the first season.

Once established, the plant spreads easily through underground rhizomes and will soon fill in the space provided. The care of ostrich ferns is mostly cosmetic and consists of cleaning up debris during the dormant season. They’ll appreciate a little fertilizer once in a while and, of course, water frequently and well during the occasional drought.

Ostrich Fern Houseplants

Thinking of bringing this exotic looking bit of nature indoors? Ostrich fern houseplants do well as long as their outdoor growing conditions are met. Keep them out of direct light and keep them moist. Be prepared though for an occasional dormant season where your plant needs time to rejuvenate.

Ostrich fern houseplants need plenty of water and humidity levels that are higher than what is normally found indoors. Misting will help.

Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

Once you know how to grow ostrich ferns and have a good bed established, you might want to try harvesting fiddleheads for a springtime dinner treat. Fiddleheads are the first ostrich fern shoots to show in the spring and are so called because of their resemblance to the neck of a fiddle. These are the sterile shoots that will grow into the largest fronds.

Pick no more than half from each crown while they are small and tightly curled. Before cooking, wash them carefully and remove the brown papery covering. Fiddleheads can be boiled or steamed and are a particular treat when sautéed in bacon drippings with a bit of garlic. Make sure to cook them thoroughly and use only ostrich fern fiddleheads.

Fixing a problem area with lush and beautiful growth and providing an otherwise expensive delicacy for your springtime table, all while needing very little care, ostrich ferns can be the ideal solution for filling that damp, shady spot.

Have you ever used a bag of commercial potting soil? If so, you may have noticed small white objects that look like styrofoam balls in the mix.

These little balls are a type of mineral product called perlite. Every ingredient in those mixes have a beneficial effect on plants, and perlite is no exception.

If you want to become good at gardening or hydroponics, perlite can be your best friend. Seasoned gardeners swear by this mineral, and use it extensively in their horticultural endeavors.

What is so special about these queer, innocuous-looking balls? Learn more in our in-depth guide to all things perlite.

Don’t know where to find a good perlite product on the market? Here’s our favorite brand.

Products Details Product Details


PR8 8-Quart Organic Perlite

Natural, clean perlite that is great for horticulture or hydroponic use.

What is Perlite?

Perlite is the name of a naturally occurring mineral. In nature, it exists as a type of volcanic glass, created when the volcanic obsidian glass gets saturated with water over a long time.

And since fertile volcanic areas have been settled since biblical times (due to fertile soils), humans have been aware of perlite at least since Third Century BC.

Natural perlite dark black or grey colored amorphous glass. Amorphous means that it doesn’t have any definite shape or structure, unlike a crystal.

What is Perlite made of?

Like all other volcanic rocks, perlite is also pretty heavy and dense in its natural form. Perlite typically contains the following ingredients:

  • 70-75% silicon dioxide
  • Aluminum oxide
  • Sodium oxide
  • Potassium oxide
  • Iron oxide
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Calcium oxide
  • 3-5% Water

Since it is a naturally occurring mined mineral, perlite is a nonrenewable resource. The major producers are Greece, US, Turkey, and Japan.

It is a relatively cheap mineral and is often used for industrial purposes like construction and in the manufacture of plasters, masonry, and ceiling tiles.

But of special interest to us here is the use of perlite in gardening and hydroponics.

And for that, the hard mineral glass needs to be processed into the light, white colored, plasticky stuff that resembles styrofoam, confusing many a rookie gardener about its origin and purpose!

Lets’ look in detail at the processes that transform perlite glass into “perlite foam” in the next section.

How is Perlite Made?

Mining Perlite

The processed perlite that we see in gardening mixes is basically “volcanic popcorn.” That is a very literal description.

Since perlite glass is rich in water, it pops when heated to very high temperatures, exactly like popcorn. So the processed perlite balls are created by crushing natural perlite glass and then baking them in industrial ovens.

To complete the transformation, crushed perlite needs to be heated quickly to 900 degrees Celsius (around 1650 degrees Fahrenheit). The mineral structure is softened by the heat, allowing the water trapped inside to expand into steam in a bid to escape.

The process leads to expansion of the crushed pieces of the mineral. It is not usual for perlite pieces to expand between 7 and 16 times their original size and volume, creating those lightweight faux-styrofoam balls.

The foamy balls have a lot of porous openings inside them and are clean, sterile and generally stable. It can hold its shape with ease in the soil without crumbling.

Significance of Perlite for Gardening

There are several reasons why perlite is such a useful additive to gardens and hydroponic setups. They mainly stem from its unique physical and chemical properties:

  • Perlite is physically stable and retains its shape even when pressed into the soil.
  • It has a neutral pH level
  • It contains no toxic chemicals and is made from naturally occurring compounds found in soil
  • It is incredibly porous and contains pockets of space inside for air
  • It can retain some amount of water while allowing the rest to drain away

These properties allow perlite to facilitate two critical processes in soil/hydroponics, which are essential for plant growth:


All plant cells need oxygen, even those that are underground. The green parts up top are capable of creating it during photosynthesis.

But down below, the root system has to absorb it from the soil. Aerating the soil allows little pockets of air to remain, which helps with the growth of strong root systems.


Without water, no living thing can survive. But when it comes to plants, excess water in the soil can lead to drowning.

In this situation, the root system is starved of oxygen, causing eventual death. Proper drainage is crucial to allow empty air spaces to remain in the soil.

Adding perlite to the soil improves its drainage capabilities, as it has excellent filtering and water draining capabilities. The presence of all those pores allows most of the excess water to drain off.

And those air pockets also mean that perlite is great for root systems as well. When the soil gets packed down, the air pockets are lost. But since perlite is a harder mineral, it retains its shape, keeping those air pockets around for the roots.

How To Use Perlite In The Garden

Perlite has several uses in regular gardens:

In Soil Mixes: you can make your own homemade soil mixes using a combination of perlite, loam, and peat moss in equal measures. In pots, it keeps everything loose, aerated and well draining.

On the surface: perlite can be scattered on the surface of the soil as well, where it acts as a wicking agent. It will gradually work down into the soil, improving drainage.

For root cuttings: it encourages root growth much better than just plain water. You can place your starting seeds or cuttings in an air-filled Ziploc bag contained moistened perlite for several weeks.

How To Use Perlite In Hydroponics

Perlite is equally useful in hydroponics and soil-less horticulture:

Propagation of plant cuttings: Perlite stimulates root growth, and prevents drowning by helping drain excess water away from the cuttings. It can be used with rooting compounds.

Standalone Growing Media: Perlite is a decent option in some instances as a hydroponic medium. But it is not suitable for high water settings, like deep water culture, or ebb and flow systems.
In mixture with other growing media. Perlite is commonly mixed with vermiculite in equal amounts (50-50). This greatly solves the water-retaining issue of Perlite while improving the water-holding capacity of vermiculite, making it able to use in the water-rich systems stated above.

Are there different types of Perlite?

Perlite manufactured for gardening and horticulture purposes are usually graded into three different categories depending on the size of the individual particles:

Coarse Perlite

This has the highest porosity and draining capabilities. It is best suited for succulent plants and orchids. It is also least affected by winds! But it doesn’t work its way up to the topsoil very easily.

Medium Grade Perlite

This straddles the middle ground regarding aeration and draining. It is best suited for potted seeds and seedlings.

Fine Perlite

This is the lightest grade, best suited for starting seeds and root cuttings. Fine particles of perlite can also be scattered lightly on top of the soil in your gardens and lawns.

Is Perlite Organic?

There are two ways to look at this:

From a chemistry perspective, organic compounds are those that contain carbon. Perlite does not contain carbon, so it is an inorganic mineral.

But in the context of growing stuff, like organic farming, the meaning or the word “organic” is different. It means something that is naturally extracted from the earth and doesn’t undergo significant chemical processing.

Perlite is a mined mineral that undergoes some physical processing. It is actually allowed by the National Organic Standards Board for use in certified organic agriculture.

So if you are planning to do some organic farming or horticulture, yes, perlite is a safe “organic” additive.

How Does Perlite Compare to Some Other Mineral Additives

Perlite vs. Vermiculite


Perlite is directly comparable to another mineral additive called Vermiculite. Both have overlapping functions and help with soil aeration and seed starting.

Vermiculite also comes from some kind of rocks and expands in the same popcorn fashion like perlite. But vermiculite has a stronger expansion potential.

Perlite has more air porosity than vermiculite, and better drainage effects as well. Vermiculite, on the other hand, retains water much better than perlite.

Perlite is better suited for succulent plants, while vermiculite is better for tropical plants that need more moisture retained in the soil.

They both have their uses, and many experts tend to combine these two minerals in their soil mixes.

Perlite vs. Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is also a mineral additive, available in a fine powder form. It is commonly referred to as DE.

DE is used more for pest control than anything else in gardening. It also has high water retention abilities. But since it is a powder, it doesn’t help much with aeration.

DE is not really a contender against perlite in any conceivable way. Both additives can be used together, for their respective benefits to the soil.

Pros and Cons of Perlite


  • Excellent for aeration of roots
  • Very stable and inert structure
  • Helps improve drainage
  • Cheap and easily available
  • Useful for hydroponics and gardening


  • Finer grades are affected by airflow/winds
  • Does not retain water
  • Contains no nutrients
  • Tends to float in excess water
  • Give off dust. So wear a mask to protect your exhalation when working with perlite

Where can you buy Perlite?

You can get perlite in significant amounts and many varieties at Home Depot, Lowes, your local nurseries, any hydro shops. Or order online at Amazon, eBay.

I often buy in bulk to save it for later uses since Perlite is an effective, safe growing medium that can last long.

I always choose a 100% made perlite package and mix it later with soil or other growing media. But that’s my liking you can select perlite as a mix of soil, soilless growing media, or fertilizer. Just pay attention to the product’s component to know that.


Rookie gardeners tend to forget the importance of oxygen supply to the roots of growing plants and seedlings. Perlite is a key additive that can really improve the growth of seeds, saplings, rootings, and adult plants. It can be used as a standalone growth medium, or with other additives.

Fern Structure

Ferns can have some very unusual forms and structures. The following describes fern structure and forms that people typically encounter.


The leaves of ferns are often called fronds. Fronds are usually composed of a leafy blade and petiole (leaf stalk). Leaf shape, size, texture and degree of complexity vary considerably from species to species.

A fern leaf or frond.

Parts of a fern leaf.

The midrib is the main axis of the blade, and the tip of the frond is its apex.

The blade may be variously divided, into segments called pinnae; single leaflets are pinna. Pinna may be further divided, the smallest segments are pinnules.


As new fronds emerge, generally in the spring, they unroll, these unrolling fronds are called fiddleheads.

Fiddleheads of Alaska hollyfern (Polystichum setigerum) just beginning to unroll.

Unrolling fiddleheads of a lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina).

Leaf Divisions

Depending on the species, fern leaves display a wide array of divisions. Various degrees of leaf divisions are shown in this series of frond silhouettes.


The fronds are undivided.

Heart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum). Photo by D.J. Evans, New York Natural Heritage Program.


The frond is divided into segments divided from each other almost to the rachis.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis).

Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).


The frond is divided into segments completely separated from each other.

Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).

Further Divided

Many ferns are known for their lacy appearance, these ferns have fronds that are even further divided.

  • 2-pinnate (bipinnate): fronds are divided two times.
  • 3-pinnate (tripinnate): fronds are divided three times.
  • In cases were these secondary divisions do not cut to the rachis or the axis of the pinna the term pinnatifid is added to the degree of cutting to describe this type of frond dissection.

Examples of ferns displaying various degrees of leaf divisions:

Pinnate pinnatifid – Beech fern (Phegopteris connectilis).

Bipinnate pinnatifid – Northern wood fern (Dryopteris expansa).

Dimorphic Fronds

Some ferns have two kinds of fronds: fertile fronds (leaves with sporangia) and sterile fronds (leaves lacking sporangia). Ferns with two kinds of leaves are referred to as dimorphic. Examples of dimorphic ferns are deer fern (Blechnum spicant) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

Deer fern (Blechnum spicant).

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). Photo by Linda Swartz.

Other ferns, such as the moonworts have sterile pinnae and fertile pinnae on the same leaf. This can be seen in the moonwort fern (Botrychium lunaria).

Fern Sori

Sori (singular: sorus) are groups of sporangia (singular: sporangium), which contain spores. Sori are usually found on the underside of the blade. Young sori are commonly covered by flaps of protective tissue called indusia (singular: indusium). See the following graphic.

Sori can vary considerably in shape, arrangement, location and covering depending on the kind of fern. These differences can be useful for identifying ferns. However, depending on the time of year, sori and indusia may not be useful characters because they may be too immature or too mature to be diagnostically useful.

The following are some of the more common kinds of sori.

Sori without indusia. The sori of polypody ferns do not have indusia. Here we see the sporangia with no indusium.

Sori with umbrella-shaped indusia. The indusium is round, shaped like a tiny umbrella and attached to the leaf from the middle. These sword fern indusia do not quite reach the edge of the sori. Individual sporangia are easily visible around the edge of each sorus.

Sori with hood-like indusia. The indusium is attached at the lower edge and partially under the sorus. The hoodlike indusia of fragile fern are easy to see early in the season.

Later in the season fragile fern’s indusia shread and become difficult to see.

Sori with kidney-shaped indusia. Northern wood-ferns have kidney-shaped indusia that are attached to the bottom of the frond by a narrow band of tissue.

Linear sori with linear indusia. The tiny fronds of maidenhair spleenwort ferns bear few linear sori on their undersides. Note the tiny black spores resting on the frond. Asplenium trichomanes ssp. densum, Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental,

Sori with false indusia. False indusia are not formed of specialized tissue (as are true indusia), but are leaf tissue rolled or folded over the sori. They can be marginal, along the side of the pinna, or at the tip of the pinna as in the maidenhair ferns.

The sori of western maidenhair ferns are covered by the folded-over end of the pinna.

Fern Stems and Roots

Fern stems (rhizomes) are often inconspicuous because they generally grow below the surface of the substrate in which the fern is growing. This substrate can be soil, moss or duff. People often confuse rhizomes with roots. Fern roots are generally thin and wiry in texture and grow along the stem. They absorb water and nutrients and help secure the fern to its substrate.

Stems can be short-creeping with fronds that are somewhat scattered along the stem, such as the fragile fern; or, stems can be long-creeping resulting in fronds scattered along the stem, exemplified by the licorice fern.

Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) has a long creeping rhizome (stem) with relatively widely scattered fronds (e.g. long-creeping). Note the wiry roots also growing from the rhizome.

The rhizome of this live licorice fern grows under a thin layer of moss and is tightly attached to an alder tree. Plants growing on other plants are called epiphytic plants.

Stems can be vertical, producing rosettes of leaves, as displayed by the sword ferns.

Pressed specimen of Kruckeberg’s hollyfern (Polystichum kruckebergii) showing the entire vertical rhizome (stem) and attached roots.

Braun’s hollyfern (Polystichum braunii) showing the distinct rosette of fronds characterizing vertical stems.


Distribution and abundance

Geographically, ferns are most abundant in the tropics. Arctic and Antarctic regions possess few species. On the other hand, a small tropical country such as Costa Rica may have more than 900 species of ferns—about twice as many as are found in all of North America north of Mexico. The finest display of fern diversity is seen in the tropical rainforests, where in only a few hectares more than 100 species may be encountered, some of which may constitute a dominant element of the vegetation. Also, many of the species grow as epiphytes upon the trunks and branches of trees. A number of families are almost exclusively tropical (e.g., Marattiaceae, Gleicheniaceae, Schizaeaceae, Cyatheaceae, Blechnaceae, and Davalliaceae). Most of the other families occur in both the tropics and the temperate zones. Only certain genera are primarily temperate and Arctic (e.g., Athyrium, Cystopteris, Dryopteris, and Polystichum), and even these tend to extend into the tropics, being found at high elevations on mountain ranges and volcanoes.

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Ferns are uncommon as invasive species outside of their native ranges, although a few occur. The most notorious is bracken (Pteridium), which spreads quickly by its underground ropelike rhizome, rapidly invading abandoned fields and pastures in both temperate and tropical regions. One species of water spangles (Salvinia auriculata) became a major pest in India, blocking irrigation ditches and rice paddies. Another species (S. molesta) within three years covered 520 square kilometres (200 square miles) of the artificial Lake Kariba in southern Africa, cutting off light and oxygen and thus killing other plant life and fish. Some fern species have been introduced into tropical or subtropical areas (e.g., southern Florida and Hawaii) and in some cases have become naturalized and have spread into the native forest. Examples include the giant polypody (Microsorum scolopendrium), climbing ferns (Lygodium japonicum and L. microphyllum), green cliff brake (Cheilanthes viridis), silver fern (Pityrogramma calomelanos), Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), rosy maidenhair (Adiantum hispidulum), Cretan brake (Pteris cretica), and ladder brake (P. vittata). Two Old World species (Cyclosorus dentatus and Macrothelypteris torresiana) were introduced into tropical America beginning about 1930 and now are among the most common species even in some remote areas.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).Gretchen Garner/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Because of their ability to disperse by spores and their capacity to produce both sex organs on the same gametophyte and thus to self-fertilize, it would seem logical to assume that ferns possess higher powers of long-distance dispersal and establishment than do seed plants. Although genetic tests have shown that many, if not most, fern species tend to have an outcrossing breeding system, some other species are involved in the case of ferns with remote disjunctions—separated growing regions. There are interisland and intercontinental disjunctions, east and west, as well as wide north-south disjunctions including species found in the Northern and Southern hemispheres that skip the tropics. Some disjunctions seem to follow the pattern of prevailing winds; the main centre of distribution of a species often may lead to downwind groups consisting of one or a few small populations sometimes hundreds or thousands of kilometres away. Examples of species exhibiting west-to-east transcontinental disjunctions in North America are Wright’s cliffbrake (Pellaea wrightiana), mountain holly fern (Polystichum scopulinum), and forked spleenwort (Asplenium septentrionale); all of these ferns are well known in the western United States, and they exist as tiny populations in the mountains of the eastern states as well. Some species are disjunct between continents, such as between New Zealand and South America (Blechnum penna-marina and Hypolepis rugosula) or South Africa and Australia and New Zealand (Todea barbara). Some disjunct patterns, such as similar plants growing in Asia and in eastern North America, are not the result of long-range dispersal but rather are the remnants of an ancient continuous flora, the intervening areas having been changed over time.

Cliff brake (Pellaea).Sven Samelius

What is a fern?

There are ferns in most New Zealanders’ backyards and local environments. Ferns are green flowerless plants with divided leaves that tend to grow in damp, shady areas. The developing leaves of most ferns uncoil from a koru.

Ferns are ancient plants

Ferns are an ancient group of plants. From the fossil record, scientists consider that land plants emerged from the water around 475 million years ago. By about 400 million years ago, vascular plants had separated from non-vascular plants, and soon after this, ferns separated off. By about 350 million years ago, some of the major families of ferns are seen in the fossil record. This makes ferns older than most land animals – some invertebrate animals were on land by this time – and far older than dinosaurs!

Ferns come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the very small, like the kidney fern, to the 20 metre tall tree fern. Most ferns share the same basic structure.

The structure of a fern

Ferns have 3 major parts – the rhizome, the fronds and the reproductive structures called sporangia. The characteristics of each of these 3 parts of the fern plant are used for classification and identification.

The rhizome is the stem of the fern plant. It comes in 3 basic forms:

  • An erect rhizome, which is a solid mass that gives rise to a tuft of fronds. You can see this type of rhizome on a king fern or a crown fern.
  • A laterally growing rhizome that creeps along or under the ground. It may even climb up a tree. Hound’s tongue and thread ferns are examples of a fern with a creeping rhizome.
  • A vertical rhizome. This can grow into a short or a tall trunk. The trunk of the ponga (silver fern) is a vertical rhizome.

The fronds are the leaves of the fern. There is usually a stalk (the stipe) with a flat blade (the lamina), often divided into segments. The frond may be simple and undivided or it may be divided into a number of divisions (called pinnae). New fronds are produced from the rhizome. They are tightly coiled into a spiral (called a fiddlehead or koru), and these slowly uncoil as they mature. Fronds have a dual function. They are there for photosynthesis but they are also there for reproduction.

The spores grow inside casings called sporangia. These are found on the underside of fronds. Not every frond has sporangia underneath it. Fronds that have sporangia are called fertile fronds. In the vast majority of ferns, the sporangia are found in clusters (called sori). These are the brown, black or orange patches that you see on the underside of fronds. When the sporangia break open, they release the spores.

Ferns are unique

Ferns are unique amongst land plants in that they have 2 separate living structures in their reproductive cycle – the sporophyte and the gametophyte.

The leafy fern plants we see in the bush that produce spores are sporophytes. When the spores are released by the sporangia, if they land in a hospitable environment, they can grow into a tiny plant – the gametophyte. This inconspicuous, short-lived plant has 2 sets of reproductive organs – the antheridia (male) and the archegonia (female). In suitably moist conditions, fertilisation takes place either on the same gametophyte or an adjacent one. Fertilisation gives rise to a new sporophyte.

No other land plant has these 2 separate independent living stages. This is a unique characteristic of ferns.

Nature of science

Clear communication is essential in science. As scientists look more closely at an organism, the vocabulary they use becomes more precise. Hence, the specific labels used when referring to fern structure and reproduction.

10 Reasons to Plant (and How to Propagate) the Foxtail Fern

“I had 2 beautiful foxtails. They spent a very cold night outside and are now completely brown. Do I need to cut them back and when do I do this? It’s January now and I live in the north Texas area. They have been so beautiful and green for two years but we did get some real cold weather. Thank you for your help.” —Mary Ellen

“Mary Ellen, very old three foot foxtails have enough roots and spears to protect from occasional frosts. Since they are only 2 years old it all depends on if the root system froze as well. Cut the brown off and water if there’s no chance of frost for a few days. Try to predict overnight frost, using the weather report, and cover with newspaper. Remove the newspaper during the day so the soil and plant get the warming and helpful sun rays. When the spring growing season kicks in is when you will know if the roots survived, because new spears will grow. Good luck.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“Shannon, I would not give up on it. See if you get new shoots during the summer months. If there are viable roots they will sprout, but with that it will take a couple of years to get a plant of any good size back. Mine took more than 3 years to get shoots bigger than 5 inches.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)
“I had a beautiful foxtail fern . . . sadly, it spent a very cold night outside and is now completely brown. can i cut back all growth and hope it will return? i am hoping it bounces back like my asparagus ferns do . . .” —anonymous
“I have grown the ‘other’ type of asparagus fern. Yes, it was in a hanging basket in the 70s! The only way to kill it was to throw it away. I have always loved the Foxtail fern and will most definitely buy one this year.” —Mickie Goad
“I’ve had my Foxtail Fern for 3 years as a pot plant in my conservatory. I live in the south of England and I put the pot outside for the summer months where it does very well, however I find that it does not like the strong winds that sometimes whistle through my back garden. I’ve shied away from dividing my plant as I didn’t want to lose it as I’ve never seen them for sale here before, but after reading this article I think I may give it a go next spring. My plant has white bulbs on the roots and I’d like to know what you have to say about those if possible. Many thanks.” —Debbie
“Debbie, Glad to meet you and your success with the foxtail. Since my little Jack Russell started eating those white root balls and showed no ill effects, I have decided that they are used for water storage. If you should divide your potted plant, retain 75% for the present plant to 25% for the new plant. If you put your potted plant in a windy area it will need more water, than in the protected conservatory. Thanks for telling us your plant experience.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I bought a plant at a local nursery, more than I wanted to pay, but I loved the plant and had to have it. After two years I had to divide it as it was getting to big for the large pot I had it in. I put the divided piece in another large pot and now it looks like I am going to have to divide again next year. I will have 4 big plants next spring and they look so beautiful on our deck, they are truly the highlight of our landscaping. They have long two and a half foot long flowing sprigs and the center is densely full of shorter nice shaped sprigs. I don’t mind the original cost now as I am getting more beautiful plants, I also have about 20 small plants that I have grown from seed from the plants. It has become my favorite plant,and I plan to have 10 0r 12 plants in the planter box that runs along the side of the deck.” —anonymous
“Thanks for a great article! I have two identical pots with a foxtail fern in each. I live in West Virginia and I take the pots in every fall, keep them in a heated garage with lots of sunlight. I trim them up in the spring and put them back out by my pool, where they get full sunlight day after day. I have done this for about 6 or 7 summers!” —anonymous
“I have one that I’ve had outside for 12 years. I repotted it finally last year. I’m in San Diego.” —anonymous
“I have these potted, and they love root cramp, so you can keep them in the same pot forever, dividing as you want to grow more plants. Great article!” —L. Olson from Northern Arizona
“I had very good success when we lived on the west coast. They grew like weeds – very hardy! Here on east coast, no luck. Too tender.” —anonymous
“I live in Phoenix, AZ, and have a beautiful foxtail, that I baby, and shade from direct Sun, for about 5 mo.out of the year. It is in a 24″ diameter pot, placed in indirect Sun. It is about 18″ across, and 18” at highest point. They are beautiful plants, and do not tear up your hand lije the Asparagus. I love the pictures, and your progress on plant. Most of all love the Jack Russell, as I have a female J.R., that I rescued, who is my constant companion. Gotta love em!”—anonymous

“The natural looking artificial plants give every soul a soothing effect that is hard to give away. Imagine a wonderful greenish plant smiling right at your computer desk to relax and refresh you from a stressful day.” —jemsadriatic
“I have not grown the Foxtail Fern, but landscapers use it for texture, shape and color in many gardens here in Northern California. Lovely plant.” —Kathryn Grace from San Francisco
“What I love about the foxtail fern: It doesn’t take over the garden like some ferns do. This is a lovely fern on a lovely article! Thank you.”—Thankfultw

“My cat ate some leaves of the foxtail fern. He is sick. What symptoms would a cat that eat the leaves of the foxtail fern be?” —Sheree
“Sheree, Our dogs have never ate any of the leaves, but I believe that part of the plant is not good for animals. I do not know the symptoms or how sick an animal will get. If it persists you may want to see a vet. Please let us know if your cat is okay. Information like that will be good for animal owners and people who have the foxtail fern.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)
“We do not have a deer problem here. Too many fenced yards in SoCal, not sure about deer eating it. As far as, fertilizer I have never added any to the foxtails. If you are starting new ones maybe root booster will help. I have noticed that the new one I have started in a pot is growing very slowly.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)
“I have one of these plants in the Pacific Northwest. I always bring it in in the winter. It often will turn brown each year, but is fine and has new growth on it. Can’t wait for the weather to turn so I can take it out in the backyard. Wonderful plant!” —MarcellaCarlton
“I’ve had this plant for about 3 yrs now. Living in NE Wisconsin, it does great outside during summer, but must come in for the winter. It will become dormant for the winter months and doesn’t like to be watered. Come spring I trim any dead branches and put back outside where it livens back up to new! Love it.” —LKrocker.

“Thanks for this information LKrocker. I was wondering how snowy climes protect their foxtail ferns. Does it come into the heated house or the cooler basement?” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I love the Foxtail Fern. It doesn’t take much care and it never dies. I would like to know what to do about the roots with the little balls that spread out on top of the ground. What do you do with them. Can you start new plants with them. The last freeze, 17 degrees, did a little damage but I removed the fronds at the base. How do I divide them and what do I do about the roots and balls spredding around the diameter of the plant on top of the ground. Please help.” —Jackie

“Hi Jackie, I would try less water to discourage all the water balls and the roots on top of the ground. Mine get no water around the perimeter. I water with the hose about twice a month directly into the center of the plant. The roots do stay near the surface, though. I do not think the balls will start new plants. I heard of seeds but have never tried them. I just divide some of the plant off to start new ones. Instructions are above. Have a nice spring season.”—Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I love the Foxtail Fern. It doesn’t take much care and it never dies. I would like to know what to do about the roots with the little balls that spread out on top of the ground. What do you do with them. Can you start new plants with them. The last freeze, 17 degrees, did a little damage but I removed the fronds at the base. How do I divide them and what do I do about the roots and balls spreading around the diameter of the plant on top of the ground. Please help.”—anonymous

“My 1 yr. old Jack Russell loves those balls and now makes a mess of the beds to get at them. When he chomps on them I can tell they are crunchy. I do not think they produce plants. We would have new shouts everywhere if they did. I imagine they are for storing extra water.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I have a fox tail and it is a wonderful plant, everyone asks me what it is because it is so interesting looking I decided to transplant it to an area where it could really spread out and really show off. When I dug it up I noticed that the roots had balls about the size of Queen Olives. What are those? Can you plant them and grow more?” —anonymous
“Thanks for the useful info. My Foxtail is 33 years old and is 6 feet in diameter. Has always been a house plant. I do tend to let it dry out between waterings, it also likes lots of light. I’ve never propagated it, but I’ll give it a go after reading this.”—anonymous

“Sherry, THANK you for such wonderful information on the Foxtail Fern. I just purchased one of these yesterday (Virginia Beach, VA) and hope that I have the luck you’ve had. I was going to find a place in partial sun .. but from reading your post, I plan to put it in full sun. Also the watering thing, everything I’ve read says to “keep it moist” but since you do not recommend that I’ll go with your suggestion. Thanks again.” Sheena White – Virginia Beach

“Hi Sheena, During your warm months it can dry out a few days, and sun will give you fuller and rounder spears. I am concerned about winter and the snow. Is your plant going to be in a pot because frost will kill your meyeri. It will need shelter from the snow.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“The roots and bulbs are not enough to get grow new spears. Those bulbs are for water storage only. If you take the roots, bulbs and several of the spears with it, that is what will take root in new soil.”

“I have 3 ferns at the moment the one located at a shaded part blossoms and sprouted more spray. While the other in direct sunlight went brown and dried. Is it because I added to much water? If it was originally from Africa does it mean it should not be watered too much? Please help. thanks.” —Mac

“Mac, If the sun is very hot because it is summer, burning may have destroyed sprays. Generally, foxtail will do fine in the sun, but a potted plant may need extra water. If you think hot sun may have burned the sprays it should be okay and sprout again. If it is in a pot move it to a more shaded area for the summer. Let it dry for a day before watering again.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I bought asparagus meyerii foxtail fern seeds from ebay. none of them have come up. I started them in purchased soil, in a greenhouse. I then brought the pot outside for a shaded spot. it’s very hot and humid in SW Tennessee but I expected growth in the last 3 months. What is the germination period? Am I impatient or what can I do to see growth?” —Connie

“Hello Connie, One thing I have not done is start a plant with seeds. I know that the foxtail likes plenty of sun. I would try a direct sunny place for a least four hours a day. It should dry out before watering again. As a young plant it grows very slowly. Let’s wait and see. Let us know if you get any sprouts from your mail order seeds.” —Sherry Venegas (Author)

“I live in Las Vegas, and it’s much too hot for this plant outside for about 9 months of the year. I’ve seen them inside other homes, but they don’t seem to thrive as well. But this is a beautiful green lens, and I’m giving it a leprechaun like for St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks for sharing.”—Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV

“Our New England winters wouldn’t treat the foxtail very well but it looks like it would make a nice border if kept in check. I may try potting something small that could be brought inside during the colder months. The flowers on the Myer’s asparagus are a nice feature.” —ronberry lm

“This spring I purchased a foxtail fern at a nursery. It was beautiful for a while but started turning brown in the center. The fronds start turning brown at the bottom then it moves up until the entire frond is brown. It has worked its way out from the center so that most of the plant is now brown. The nursery gave me a new one to replace it but now I notice that it is turning brown also. Is this a sign that it needs more water? I was told that it needs very little water.” —Katrinka

“Katrinka, Sorry to hear your foxtail is not doing well. It can dry out for about 5 days, then give it some water. If it is in a pot in a hot clime do not let it stay dry for more than three days. It is drought resistant, but they need more water than a succulent or cactus. Is it in full sun all day?”—Sherry Venegas (Author)

Foxtail ferns prove easy to propagate


Q. I need information on the foxtail plant.

— E.J., Houston

A. I suppose you mean the foxtail fern, one of the popular asparagus ferns. These are not true ferns but members of the lily family. They are grown here in gardens in partial shade to filtered sun in fertile and in moist but well-draining soil. The foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri) is also attractive as an accent in a large container. The foliage will yellow if the plant is allowed to stay too dry too long or if the plant is exposed to too much hot sun.

These plants can be propagated by division or seed. There’s no need to hand-pollinate. Large plants can be divided into several small plants at almost any time. You’ll know it’s time to divide container plants when the fleshy roots appear at the surface of the potting medium.

There’s no need to refrigerate seed. These will take a month or possibly two to germinate at a temperature of about 65 degrees. You can plant the seed inside at any time. If you want to try outdoors, wait till spring. Split the berries to remove the seed.

Q. I need bushes for a shady southern exposure, preferably ones beneficial to birds. Also, what bushes would grow densely and help provide privacy from neighbors? This, too, is a shady setting, and I would hope for plants that benefit birds.

— A.B., Houston

A. The native Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) or dwarf wax myrtle offer year-round shelter for birds, and many species love the berries. The larger shrub can reach 15 feet in height; the dwarf matures to 6 to 8 feet. These dense evergreens tolerate sun to partial shade and most any soil, but they prefer a soil that is fertile and on the acidic side. Female plants bear gray-green berries. The wax myrtle would fit either location in your garden.

Some of the newer cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) varieties are especially attractive evergreens that would fit either location in your garden. Birds like the berries on these, too.

Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) is a shade-tolerant evergreen with yellow early-spring flowers and blue berries that attract birds. Mature height is about 4 feet. Give it a fertile soil that drains well.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) produces beautiful purple berries in the fall that attract birds. This native is deciduous and tolerates partial shade. Strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) is another deciduous native that feeds the birds. Although Chinese mahonia and American beautyberry lose their leaves in winter, remember — our winters are generally short, so plants are naked for a relatively short time.

Q. I have a bromeliad that has two pups. Would you tell me what to do?

What is the purpose of applying 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt (before watering) on potted plants?

— R.H. Seabrook

A. Most bromeliads bloom once, and on the average it takes a plant about 18 months to flower. But that bloom may linger for weeks, even months, depending on the variety. After flowering, the plant will produce pups that can be detached and potted when they are one-third to one-half the size of the mother plant. Carefully cut the pups from the mother plant, making sure you get the roots of the small plant as well.

Transplant in a container large enough to keep the young plants from tipping over. Ask your nurseryman for a light, quickly draining medium. Some bromeliads are grown on pieces of suspended driftwood, simulating their natural habitat.

During warm weather, you can grow your plants outdoors, where they will benefit from good air circulation, an important element in plant health. But you will want to protect them in winter.

Light requirements vary for bromeliads from moderate to bright. Strong sunlight can scorch the foliage. Usually, those bromeliads with thick and spiny or gray leaves can take strong light, and those with thin green leaves prefer shade or filtered light.

To water, first dump the old water out of the cup(s) along the plant. Then hold the bromeliad under a faucet and let the water gently rain on the plant — just as it would in nature, refilling all the cups, not just the central one. Collecting and using rainwater is a way to avoid using our city water, which can sometimes brown the edges of the foliage.

An application of a balanced fertilizer once a month generally is adequate, but twice-a-month applications of a liquid fertilizer during spring and summer are fine.

A lot of gardeners swear by Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate. Epsom salt is a source of magnesium and sulfur, and it is said that it helps release elements in the soil for better plant absorption.

One basic recipe is to mix 1 tablespoon Epsom salt per gallon of water and apply to the soil. Some use this recipe as a foliar spray to encourage good green growth and flower production on various plants. Application rates do vary from this basic recipe.

Epsom salt is used to benefit roses, hibiscus, ixora, amaryllis and Christmas cactus. Rosarians apply it at the rate of one-third cup per bush two or three times a year. Water in well. Hibiscus hobbyists apply Epsom salt lightly three times a year or at the monthly rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of container when fertilizing. Some sprinkle a tablespoon of Epsom around each ixora and water in. We’ve known gardeners who apply it at Thanksgiving to encourage Christmas cactuses to bloom during the holiday season. Epsom salt apparently is good for citrus since these fruit-bearing plants are heavy magnesium users. And amaryllis growers sprinkle Epsom on the soil and water in to strengthen color and texture. It’s also believed by some that this helps ward off spider mites and thrips.

Q. My fig tree was bearing figs, but this year, two main limbs have died. Can I trim the tree? When and how much?

— B.V., Sealy

A. Figs will produce best with little or no pruning, but certainly dead limbs can be removed at ground level. And you can thin your tree some to remove twiggy growth that is not producing. If the tree gets so large that you can’t manage it, trim the tallest branches back during the dormant season one-third to one-half. Prune back to a lower attached branch. Repeat this pruning process annually for three years to reduce the overall size of a fig. Southern gardeners often have multitrunk figs, so the tree is less vulnerable than a single-trunk fig to killer freezes.

Note. Figs do not need a pollinator. They are parthenocarp fruit, which means they do not require sexual fertilization.

Figs may show vigorous vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting. So once a fast-growing plant slows, it should produce figs. Stress can slow or prevent fruit production, so give figs plenty of water and keep them heavily mulched. Lack of water causes fruit to drop. However, in extreme summers such as we’ve had, even adequate water may not do the trick, and fruit may dry before you’ve had time to enjoy it.

Q. How do I trick my Christmas cactus into bloom?

— F.D., Houston

A. Others have asked this question lately. Christmas cactus (Schlumbegera) blooms are triggered by the length of day and the temperature. When fall days shorten to less than 12 hours and night temperatures drop into the 40- to 65-degree range, the plant knows it’s time to bloom and set buds. In 10 to 20 days after being exposed to short days, small buds will appear on the plant; in about two months, it will be in full bloom.

If a plant is exposed to light longer than the natural fall day — if it’s near a lamp at night, or even a night light — it will “think” it’s still summer and won’t bloom. To ensure overnight darkness and therefore encourage blooms, try placing the plant in an unheated closet for about 12 hours a day beginning in October and continuing until color appears. Another cause of failure to bloom is too little light during the short days once buds have set.

Christmas cactuses require well-drained, aerated, organic soil and bright light. Water when the top of the soil is dry. Some gardeners fertilize more regularly than others — some apply a diluted solution weekly, others just three or four times a year. A balanced fertilizer is adequate. Stop fertilizing about a month before buds set. Flush (leach) the soil regularly to prevent salt buildup.

Leaf growth is best in the 65- to 85-degree range. Prune the plant after it blooms, removing one or two phylloclades (the flattened stem segments that act as the leaves) to improve branching, which in turn improves bloom.

Bud drop is an occasional problem. It can be caused by temperatures above 90 degrees or poor light after buds set. If there’s not enough light during the short days, the buds can’t develop. Ethylene gas, produced when there’s poor ventilation near a heater or fireplace, also causes bud drop.

Mail garden questions to Kathy Huber, Garden Editor, Houston Chronicle, P.O. Box 4260, Houston,Texas 77210. The bulk of mail prevents individual replies to all unpublished letters.

Root Nodules On Boston Fern: What Are The Balls On Roots Of Fern Plants

Ferns are ancient plants that reproduce by generating and spreading spores, much like fungi and mushrooms. Boston fern, also known as sword fern, is a dependable plant with masses of long, graceful fronds. One might also notice root nodules on Boston fern plants.

Boston Fern Root Nodules

Highly valued as an indoor plant, Boston fern thrives in pots or hanging baskets. In warm climates where temperatures are consistently above 50 F. (10 C.), the fern is easily grown outdoors.

If you ever repot or transplant a mature Boston fern, you may notice balls on roots of ferns. These balls, which develop where the fronds meet the underground rhizomes, are small, round growth nodules about the size of a grape. The nodules, also known as “bulbils,” usually appear near the end of the growing season, between late summer and autumn.

Are Balls on Boston Fern Roots Harmful?

Root nodules on Boston ferns aren’t harmful. They are a natural adaptation that ensures the plant’s survival. Boston fern nodules help the plant take up moisture and nutrients in the soil. They are important because they store water for the plant during periods of drought.

Propagating Boston Fern Nodules

Boston fern is often propagated by dividing a mature plant or by planting small plantlets that grow amidst the larger fronds. You can also propagate the plant by planting the root nodules. Plant a small section of rhizome with attached root nodules in a pot filled with moist potting soil or equal parts sand and peat. A rhizome with at least three nodules is more likely to root.

Sometimes, you can successfully propagate an old, dead fern by planting nodules, which may be fleshy and green even if the main plant is dry and shriveled. Plant the nodules in a pot with the green growth facing upward, just above the surface of sterile potting mix.

Place the pot in a plastic bag and fill the bag with air. Place the pot in indirect light and temperatures between 59 and 68 F. (15 to 20 C.).

With any luck, you’ll notice small, white nodules in one to three months. When the nodules develop roots, remove the plastic bag and plant each rooted nodule in its own pot. Moisten the potting soil, then place each pot in a plastic bag to create a greenhouse-like environment.

Allow the new fern to mature, then remove the bag and plant it in a larger container, or out in the garden.

How to Detangle an Asparagus Fern Root Ball

Asparagus ferns are great house plants you can grow in your home or garden. Asparagus ferns (Asparagus spp.) are close relatives to garden asparagus that is used for food but have unusual fluffy fronds with soft needles. This is what sets them apart and makes them into very attractive plants you will want to grow in your home or garden.

Basic Plant Information

There are many different varieties you can grow. The most popular ones are the cascading

Sprengeri (Asparagus densiflorus “Sprengeri”) and the striking plumed foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus “Meyersii”). There are some notable differences in these varieties when it comes to the appearance but the care instructions for both are basically the same.

If you wish to grow Asparagus ferns keep in mind that they will grow well in the U.S. hardiness zones 8 to 11. However, keep in mind that your fern will thrive in hardiness zones from 9b to 11.

Keep in mind that your Asparagus fern will do great outdoors but you may also grow it inside of your home. They don’t demand much care and can do well as potted plants. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that a healthy fern will grow strong roots that will become too large for the pot at one point.

Detangling the Roots

When the roots become too much for the pot you will need to make a bit of an effort to untangle the packed root ball. Luckily, this is not too difficult so even beginner gardeners can do it. All you need to do is to follow a few simple steps.

Here are the things you will need:

  • Sharp, clean shears and/or a knife
  • Serrated knife or hacksaw
  • Warm, soapy water
  • Bleach
  • Pots for ferns
  • Potting soil for houseplants

One warning: it is important to wear gloves when handling Asparagus ferns. They have small, sharp spines on the foliage that can hurt you.

These are the steps you need to make to detangle Asparagus fern root ball:

1. Inspect the Plant

The first thing you need to do is to inspect your Asparagus fern. Start by observing the center of the plant at the soil level to see how it looks. It is best to do this during the spring when your fern develops new growth. Water your plant thoroughly and see what happens. If you see the water running to the sides of the pot instead of simply soaking into the soil, it is a sign that your fern has packed roots. You should be highly suspicious if the soaking of the soil is very slow.

Keep in mind that Asparagus ferns generally like to be a bit crowded but roots that are highly packed are not a good situation to be in. Such a packed root ball prevents water and oxygen from penetrating the mass and as a result the plant cannot get all the needed nutrients. It makes the root ball become dry, which can lead to the plant death if you don’t untangle the roots.

2. Prune Your Plant

The next step is to prune your Asparagus fern. Make sure to use clean and sharp shears. The level of pruning is up to you. Some people prefer to just trim a little to shape their fern while others choose to cut all stems back to be just a few inches above the soil level. Excessive pruning is only recommended in the spring, when you want to rejuvenate your large Asparagus fern. When pruning, make sure to clip any dead fronds off all the way down to the soil level.

3. Remove Your Fern from the Pot

It is time to start detangling the roots. In order to do it, you need to remove your fern from the pot first. It is best to do it by simply grasping the plant gently by the main stems. Make sure to do it gently and near the soil level. Once you have stems in your hand, lift the plant gently upward to remove it from the pot.

In case the root ball is so tightly packed it might be difficult to remove the plant easily. If this happens, simply thump the side of the pot while still holding the root ball in your hand. This should help you remove the fern from the pot.

4. Clean the Pot

Once the fern is out of the pot, place it on a flat surface where you intend to work. In the meantime, wash the pot thoroughly with warm, soapy water. Make sure to rinse is properly if you want to return the fern into it. In order to clean it properly, make sure to soak it in a 10 percent bleach and water solution for about 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and leave the pot to dry completely.

5. Examine the Root Ball

Take some time to carefully examine the root ball. Chances are that you will need to do some root pruning to be able to detangle the root ball and return the plant to the same pot. It is best to trim about an inch off the root ball all the way with shears. Keep in mind that Asparagus ferns are hardy plants that can benefit from some root pruning.

On the other hand, if you want to return the plant to a larger pot, make 4 or 5 one inch deep vertical slices in the root ball. Make sure to cut from top to bottom and use a sharp, clean knife. It is also important to space the cuts out evenly. These cuts will go through a large part of the packed root ball and encourage healthy new growth.

6. Divide Your Fern

This is a good time to divide your fern if you want to. To divide your plant, simply part the fronds at the soil level. Cut straight through the root ball vertically. Make sure to do it with a strong knife or even a hacksaw. This will produce two or three new plants. They will generally have very dense roots so they are strong enough and the cut ones will not make a problem.

7. Repot the Plant

Before you return the plant to the pot, make sure to remove any old potting soil from the remaining roots. Do it with your fingers so you don’t harm the plant. You may choose to move the fern to a larger pot or to keep it in the old one. If you want to return it to the old one make sure that there is enough of the tangled root ball removed that it makes a difference. If you divided your plants you should move each division to the individual pot.

It is best to use a nice potting soil made for houseplants. Add the plant and potting soil carefully. Make sure to position your fern at the same soil level it used to occupy in its original pot. After you plant it, water your Asparagus fern thoroughly and return it to its regular spot.

Photo credit: Anika Malone asparagus fern via photopin (license)

Asparagus Ferns

jurassic ferns image by Robert Kelly from

  • Propagating Ferns from Seeds for Growing Asparagus
  • How to Kill Asparagus Fern
  • How to Trim an Asparagus Fern
  • Can I Cut My Asparagus Ferns Down?
  • How to Compost Asparagus Ferns

How to Kill Asparagus Fern

While some gardeners enjoy the green foliage of asparagus fern in home landscapes, others do not appreciate the invasive tendencies of this plant. If asparagus fern is spreading at an alarming rate and you wish to remove it from your garden, remove it by trimming the foliage above the ground and then digging up the remaining crown and root system.

Cut away all of the foliage growing above the soil with the gardening shears. Discard every piece of stem, leaf and berry into the garbage bag. Do not compost any part of the asparagus fern plant, because the plant may regrow in your compost.

Dig up the crown and root of the asparagus fern with the shovel. Make sure you remove every piece of the plant from the soil and discard everything in the garbage bag.

Monitor the area where the asparagus fern was growing after you dig it up. Immediately remove any regrowth you see by pulling it from the soil completely. Discard this growth in the garbage.

Continue to watch for regrowth for several years after you remove the asparagus fern. Seeds can lay dormant for up to five years.

How to Trim an Asparagus Fern

Put on fabric gloves and perhaps a long-sleeved shirt before you begin handling the stems and prickly leaves on your asparagus fern.

Examine the plant, noting which stems are either too long, scraggy or plagued with too many yellow leaves. These stems are marked for trimming.

Lift a stem slated for trimming with one hand and trace the stem down to its base at the soil with your other hand. Grasp the stem base of the stem you wish to trim away. With your free hand, snip the stem at a height of 1 to 3 inches above the soil line. Once clipped, pull out the cut stem.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all stems are trimmed away from the asparagus fern. Remember to re-examine the look and shape of the plant after each stem removal. You may find trimming away a few stems will achieve a more attractive plant, without having to trim away too much greenery.

Dispose of cut stem debris into the compost pile. However, if red berries are present, throw the debris into the garbage. The berries will sprout in the compost pile, potentially becoming weedy, especially in frost-free winter regions.

Can I Cut My Asparagus Ferns Down?

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images


The asparagus fern is a member of the lily family and a relative of the green vegetable. The asparagus officinalis pseudoscaber has the appearance of asparagus stalks when it emerges from the ground in springtime. It is a tall, airy plant for a flower bed. Pieces of the feathery sprengeri fern are cut from the plant and are used in floral arrangements.


The sprengeri foxtail fern grows in gardens and containers. Prune away only the old and dead fronds from the base of the plant. Do not cut back the entire planet.


The plumosa asparagus fern has very sharp thorns on its thin, vine-like fronds. If a frond grows too long for the area where the houseplant is kept, it can be cut from the main plant. Keep the dead fronds trimmed away from the plant for a neat appearance.

How to Compost Asparagus Ferns

Dig out the asparagus fern with a spade, if you haven’t removed the plants already. Collect any berries that may have fallen off the fern during the removal process, as these may sprout into new asparagus fern plants.

Place the removed fern in a bucket or on a plastic tarp, or any other surface where the plant isn’t in contact with soil so it won’t take root again. Allow the plant to dry out for three to four weeks or until the plant is dead.

Chop up the asparagus fern into small, two- to three-inch pieces. Use pruning shears or run over the dead plant with your lawn mower.

Throw the shredded asparagus fern into your compost pile or compost bin. Incorporate it into the coarse, dry layer of your pile. Layer six inches of dried organic matter with four to five inches of green organic matter, followed by an inch of soil. Repeat as needed to build your compost pile.

Harvest the compost when it’s done decomposing. Compost can take anywhere from two to eight months to fully decompose, depending on your climate and method of decomposition. Compost is ready when it’s dark and crumbly.

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