One foxy fern

Two years ago, on a whim, I bought a fern. The unique look caught my attention and has quickly become one of my favorites.

The foxtail fern is a fun plant. The bushy stems shot straight up, and it’s hard to resist touching the full yet airy leaves that resemble the fullness of an animal’s tail.

An outdoor perennial in Zones 9-11, this tropical plant works well in containers that can be brought indoors before the first frost. Often, the plant produces white flowers and red berries, but this has not happened with my plant.

This summer, it has happily lived on my front porch. There, it gets indirect sunlight and is protected from harsh winds, rains, and hot afternoon sun. In a few weeks, I will bring the container inside and place it near my sunny window.

The window in my family room is magic. It has just the right amount of morning sun, and I have it crowded with indoor plants that thrive in the space.

This plant, the foxtail fern, also has a secret: it is not a fern. The Foxtail (Asparagus densiflorus) is part of the asparagus family. It reproduces through seeds, not spores like true ferns. Because of its tuberous roots, it is sensitive to overwatering. Too much water will cause root rot, so stay on a weekly schedule or when the top three inches of soil are dry.

Because it is native to Africa’s hot, humid climate, spritzing the plant or putting the container on a tray of pebbles and low water will keep it happy. A shot of liquid fertilizer in the spring and summer will provide nutrients.

Reaching full maturity after three years, the Foxtail can grow up to 3 ft tall and 3 ft wide. Consider repotting if you see roots beginning to show at the top of the container. Only increase the pot size slightly – maybe 2 inches. I have my Foxtail in a clay pot. Clay or stone containers are a good idea because they take on some of the moisture and keep the roots dry.

While repotting, you may decide to propagate or divide the plant. Do this by cutting the roots with a sharp knife. Make sure to have a healthy root and green stem with each section—water generously once the plant is in its new container.

If you notice stems and leaves turning yellow, often a sign of overwatering, prune the weak stems at the base of the plant. This is really the only pruning Foxtails need.

The Foxtail is often called by the common name asparagus fern, a common name shared by several plants. I also have an asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus), which is much different from the Foxtail. It has light and airy leaves that droop over the container; remember the Foxtail stands straight.

The asparagus is perfect for hanging baskets or window boxes filler. The leaves are pine-like and not really that soft. It drinks quite a bit of water and sheds leaves like crazy. I’m not sure why I keep this messy plant around, but it seems happy, and I tolerate its leaf drop while fussing under my breath every time I clean the bathroom counter and floor.

As we ease into September, I am working on rearranging houseplants, making room for the ones I will soon bring indoors. The messy asparagus will go to the bathroom, where the light and humidity make it happy.

The Foxtail will live in the magic corner and thrive on the filtered sunlight. Nothing beats outside, but for now, I have found indoor homes that keep my ferns foxy and healthy.