How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Asparagus Ferns

Although not technically a true fern, Asparagus setaceus is an excellent plant for fern-lovers who struggle to keep them alive. Houseplant expert Madison Moulton explains everything you need to know to ensure your asparagus fern thrives.

Close-up of Asparagus Fern plant branches in the garden. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus), also known as the "Lace Fern" or "Plume Fern," has feathery, bright green foliage that consists of many fine, needle-like leaves that cascade elegantly.

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Many of the popular houseplants on the market today are appreciated for their impressive size, massive leaves, and bright colors. But this bold and in-your-face look isn’t for everyone.

If you want a houseplant that is a little more understated but still wonderful to behold, this plant has you covered. A few plants fall under the ‘asparagus fern’ umbrella, but we will look at the common variety – Asparagus setaceus.

These plants are surprisingly low maintenance and easy to grow if you understand their native habitats and growth habits. Follow these basics to keep your fern lush and thriving.

Plant Overview

Close-up of an Asparagus Fern plant in a garden. The plant features delicate, feathery, bright green foliage comprised of numerous fine, needle-like leaves.
Plant Type Houseplant
Family Asparagaceae
Genus Asparagus
Species Asparagus setaceus
Native Area Southern Africa
Exposure Bright indirect light
Height 2-3’
Watering Requirements Low
Propagation Division, Seed
Pests & Diseases Spider mites, mealybug, root rot
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Well-draining houseplant mix

What Is It?

Close-up of Asparagus Fern frond on blurred green background. The Asparagus Fern frond consists of numerous small, needle-like leaflets that radiate from a central stem, creating a delicate, feathery appearance. Each leaflet is typically bright green, thin, and slender, giving the frond a soft, airy, and fern-like texture.
It offers a unique addition to indoor plant collections and is more resilient than some true ferns with similar delicate leaves.

The name asparagus fern might be a little misleading because it relies more on the ‘fern’ name than ‘asparagus’ (especially considering it’s usually grown indoors). As with many houseplants with confusing common names, taxonomy will tell you the full story.

Technically, this plant isn’t actually a fern at all. With the scientific name Asparagus setaceus, it belongs to the Asparagaceae family, making it more closely related to edible asparagus. The specific epithet setaceus derives from Latin for ‘hairy’ or ‘bristle-like,’ describing the fluffy, needle-like leaves.

The fern in the common name is quite apt, though, as the leaves look remarkably similar to fern fronds. They are so similar that they’re often compared with other houseplant ferns like the maidenhair fern, bearing a much closer resemblance to those than to the asparagus spears we recognize.

Although they aren’t the most popular houseplants, the long stems and delicate leaves offer something unique in houseplant collections. Plus, they tend to be much tougher than some true ferns with the same delicate structure.

Native Area

Close-up of Asparagus Fern's fronds against a background of rocks. The Asparagus Fern's fronds consist of numerous small, needle-like leaflets, densely arranged along delicate, arching stems. These fronds create a lacy, feathery appearance, with bright green foliage that forms a cascading, airy, and intricate structure.
Asparagus ferns come from Southern Africa, preferring warm, humid conditions.

Asparagus ferns originate from Southern Africa, thriving in warm, humid, and often coastal environments. Preferring moderate conditions and not handling extreme cold well, these plants are usually grown indoors or in greenhouses around the US, where conditions can be better controlled.

There is also another reason to avoid planting outdoors. In some regions, particularly those that match this plant’s native environment, it is considered invasive. Its rapid growth and ability to produce and spread seeds interrupts the local ecosystems and can become incredibly difficult to control.

Luckily, when confined to a container and kept indoors, you won’t have to worry about these threats. Its resilience, minimal watering needs, and tree-like appearance make it an attractive addition to any houseplant collection.

Characteristics

Close-up of Asparagus Fern frond on a blurred green background. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) fronds consist of delicate, fine, and needle-like leaflets that grow in clusters along the plant's arching stems. These leaflets are a vibrant shade of green, creating a feathery, fern-like appearance.
The delicate and feathery fronds can produce red berries.

The most distinctive feature is the soft, feathery ‘fronds.’ These fine and lacy leaves (lending it its other common name, lace fern) create a green mist that gently hovers above long stems. A closer look at the stems will also reveal small thorny structures that contrast with its inconspicuous appearance.

Unlike its true fern counterparts, it produces flowers in the right conditions. They don’t have as much ornamental value as the leaves themselves, but they do leave behind adorable red berries that introduce an unexpected pop of color to your indoor space.

Although they may look tempting, don’t eat the berries or leave them in the path of curious pets or children. They are considered toxic when ingested.

Asparagus ferns also differ from true ferns below the soil. These plants grow from bulbs or tubers, storing water and nutrients to manage periods of drought. This is ideal for forgetful or infrequent waterers who may struggle to keep more demanding ferns with thin foliage happy.

How to Grow

Despite their soft appearance, these plants are easier to grow than you may think.

Light

Close-up of Asparagus Fern in dappled sunlight in the garden. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) is a perennial plant with slender, arching stems. Its foliage is composed of fine, needle-like, feathery leaves that emerge in clusters, creating a soft and bushy appearance.
They prefer bright indirect light and tolerate some morning sun, but too much direct light causes leaf discoloration.

In their native forest-like environments, these plants receive dappled sunlight filtered through taller trees and shrubs. This partial sunlight is similar to the light found in our homes in front of bright windows, just out of the path of direct sun.

Like many forest-dwelling houseplants, bright, indirect light is preferred for the strongest possible growth. They also handle some direct morning sun well, developing much lusher growth than in lower light areas. Aim for an east-facing window or south-facing with some protection from midday and afternoon direct sun.

If the fern is exposed to too much direct sunlight, especially during peak summer periods, the leaves will quickly discolor and become scorched. But it’s also vital not to go too far in the other direction. Lack of sunlight can lead to leggy growth and little foliage, making the already thin leaves look sparse.

Rotating the plant every couple of days will also ensure that all sides get equal light, promoting even growth and preventing the plant from becoming lopsided. You want the leaves to spread evenly to develop that tree-like shape rather than leaning to one side.

Water

Close-up of Asparagus Fern frond with water drops. The Asparagus Fern frond consists of fine, needle-like, feathery leaves of a bright green color that give the plant a soft and airy appearance.
This drought-resistant houseplant has water-storing tuberous roots.

Despite their delicate look (and perhaps their association with water-sensitive true ferns), asparagus ferns are surprisingly drought-resistant. Their tuberous roots store plenty of water to manage dry periods, keeping the stems and leaves hydrated even when you forget the occasional watering.

However, as always, that doesn’t mean you can forget about them altogether. Regular and consistent watering is still needed to keep them looking their best, adjusting to the environment and season.

Keep the soil lightly moist in spring and summer, allowing it to dry out slightly before watering again. Don’t apply so much that the soil becomes soggy, leading to rot. Water when the top inch or two of soil dries out, depending on the size of the container.

When temperatures drop in fall and winter, growth slows down, necessitating a change in watering schedule. Since the plant uses less water overall, you can allow the soil to dry out more between watering sessions. Lower temperatures will also cause moisture to evaporate slower, extending times between waterings.

Even if you have a perfect watering schedule, you can still face watering problems if the container has no drainage holes or the soil itself does not drain well. Ensure you’re planting in the right pot and empty any drip trays or pot covers to stop the roots from sitting in stagnant water.

Soil

Top view, close-up of Asparagus Fern in a large black flower pot with moist soil mixture. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) is a perennial plant known for its lacy, feathery fronds. Its foliage consists of numerous bright green, needle-like leaflets that form a delicate, airy bush.
To maintain plant health and prevent root rot, ensure well-draining soil when repotting.

Due to their tuberous roots and drought tolerance, the correct soil mix is essential in maintaining long-term plant health without rot. When you first purchase the plant, you won’t need to worry about soil, but if you ever need to repot or transplant, the soil mix is completely in your control.

The most important characteristic to focus on is drainage. Root rot due to compacted or dense soils will quickly spread throughout the roots, eventually killing the entire plant if not controlled.

Most houseplant potting mixes provide the ideal balance between moisture retention and drainage. You can also make your own by amending standard potting soil with additional perlite and coconut coir to recreate the light and airy conditions these plants need.

If you’re stuck, the best solution is to look at the soil the plant is currently in. As long as it’s growing happily, you can replicate this texture using standard potting soil components to limit transplant shock and take the guesswork out of choosing the right soil mix.

Once you’ve replaced the soil, don’t forget about it. Over time, potting mixes can compact and break down, reducing aeration and affecting drainage. Repotting the fern every couple of years is essential to refresh the soil – the foundation of good plant health.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of Asparagus Fern branches in lard against a blurred background of green plants. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) is characterized by its fine, needle-like, bright green foliage that forms a lush, airy, and cascading curtain of delicate leaves on slender, arching stems.
Aim for 50% humidity; lower levels can cause browning and limited growth.

Asparagus ferns aren’t too fussy about temperature but prefer moderate conditions over extremes. These plants thrive in temperatures between 65F and 75F during the day, appreciating a few degrees dip once the sun goes down.

Prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50F can lead to stress, indicated by stunted growth or leaf discoloration. If you live in an area with freezing winters, ensure the plant is placed away from drafty windows or doors. The same goes for those with very hot summers. Keep temperatures consistent throughout the seasons for the strongest possible growth.

A humidity of 50% is ideal, but they can also tolerate lower humidity levels above 30%. Due to their thin and delicate foliage, arid indoor air can quickly lead to browning and other discoloration, along with limited growth.

If you need to boost humidity, place your plants in a room with higher humidity, group several houseplants together, or use a humidifier. If your indoor air is too dry or fluctuates often, the plant may need time to adjust to your home environment before it returns to normal.

Fertilizing

Close-up of an Asparagus Fern in a green ceramic pot on a windowsill, with a blurred window background. The plant forms vertical feathery, slender, arching stems covered in small, needle-like, bright green leaves. The foliage gives the appearance of a fine, lacy texture, and it forms dense, cascading clumps.
While not heavy feeders, these asparagus relatives benefit from occasional fertilizing.

While these plants are not considered heavy feeders, a nutritional boost can lead to more vibrant growth and a healthier overall plant. This is especially important if the plant has been in the same container for a while without a soil refresh, as nutrients deplete over time.

Luckily, the fertilizing process is not difficult or technical. A standard balanced liquid fertilizer, with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, will provide everything these plants need to thrive. These fertilizers are also suitable for other leafy houseplants, allowing you to fertilize all plants with the same formulation in one go.

When fertilizing, it’s vital to follow the instructions on the product. Despite what we may assume from the results of feeding, more fertilizer is not always better. Overfertilizing can lead to a buildup of salts, which can harm roots and leaves if not controlled. If you notice the tips of the leaves turning brown or crispy, you may have overdone it.

In the cooler months, when growth naturally slows, it’s best to hold off on fertilizing and resume when signs of new growth appear in the following spring.

Maintenance

Close-up of a woman's hand showing Asparagus Fern. Asparagus Fern frond consists of fine, needle-like leaves arranged in a feather-like pattern along slender, arching stems. Each frond features numerous bright green leaflets that are about 1-2 inches long.
If the fern gets dense or overgrown, consider pruning to manage its size and stimulate new growth.

The feathery leaves may turn yellow or brown over time. This may be due to incorrect care or conditions but could also result from the plant’s natural aging processes.

Regardless of the reason, trim damaged leaves off as soon as you spot them. This not only enhances the plant’s appearance but also promotes healthier growth by allowing the plant to direct its energy to the production of healthy new leaves.

When inspecting the plant for signs of damage or trimming leaves, take the opportunity to look out for pests. While generally problem-free, encounters with common houseplant pests like mealybugs and spider mites do happen. A quick reaction will prevent a minor issue from becoming a major infestation that spreads to the rest of your indoor garden.

If your plant becomes too dense or overgrown, consider pruning it back to create a lighter, more ethereal look. This helps manage its size and can boost an older plant, stimulating new growth and ensuring it remains bushy and lush.

Repotting is another important part of plant maintenance. As the fern grows, its tuberous roots can become cramped, potentially breaking the pot it is planted in. Repot every couple of years into a pot just one size up, dividing simultaneously if the roots appear too cramped.

Propagation

If you have an overgrown asparagus fern that needs extra room or have simply fallen in love with the plants and want to grow your collection, propagation is the answer.

The easiest propagation method to try is division. Lifting the plant out of its containers, you’ll notice the tubers that the stems sprout from. Splitting those in half (or into three sections if your plant is large enough) will double your stock instantly without worrying about rooting times and cutting care.

Propagating by Division

Close-up of many potted Asparagus Ferns in a garden. The plant has feather-like fronds which consist of numerous bright green leaflets giving the appearance of a fine, lacy texture.
Division is a common propagation method for these plants.

Before you start the division process, gather your supplies, including a sharp, clean knife or pruning shears, houseplant potting mix, and new pots with drainage holes. Water a day before to ensure the roots are well-hydrated and ready to handle the stress of the repotting process.

Carefully remove the plant from its current pot, squeezing the sides to loosen the soil. Lay the plant on its side and gently shake off excess soil to expose the root system. You’ll notice the tuberous roots growing throughout the soil – look for natural divisions where the plant can be separated.

Using a sharp knife or pruning shears, gently separate the divisions. Cut carefully to avoid damage, ensuring each new section has a healthy set of roots and foliage. Fill your new pots with fresh soil mix and place each division into its own container. Fill the gaps with more soil, pressing gently to eliminate air pockets.

Once potted, water thoroughly, allowing excess water to drain out. This helps settle the soil around the roots and promotes new growth. Place the new pots in a location with bright, indirect light. Avoid immediately exposing the newly divided plants to harsh sunlight, which can cause stress.

Propagating from Seed

Close-up of many young Asparagus Ferns seedlings in terracotta pots, garden. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus) presents as an elegant and lush perennial plant with feathery, bright green foliage composed of delicate, needle-like leaflets that grow along slender, cascading stems.
You can propagate from seeds, but it’s slower and requires patience.

Since they produce flowers and bright red berries, you can also try propagating from seeds. However, this method requires more patience, as growing from seed is much slower and more time-consuming.

If you want to try it, remove the berries when they are ripe and remove the flesh to expose the seeds. Plant in a light seedling mix and keep moist until new growth appears.

Common Problems

If you notice any signs of distress, it’s best to tackle them immediately. The less energy the plant needs to expend on resolving issues, the quicker it will recover.

Yellowing

Close-up of yellowing Asparagus fern in a large decorative pot with wicker decorative elements. The plant produces long slender cascading stems covered with small needle-like leaflets of pale green and yellowish color.
Yellowing leaves usually signal overwatering or poor drainage.

Lush and green leaves turning yellow often indicate overwatering or lack of drainage. In rarer cases, it can be caused by underwatering, but these plants are far more tolerant of lack of water than excess water.

Ensure the pot has adequate drainage holes and the soil drains well. If not, repot immediately to improve conditions and avoid further growth problems. Adjust your watering schedule in the future to prevent issues with overwatering again.

Brown Tips

Close-up of Asparagus fern in a large black pot. The plant has feathery, bright green foliage composed of delicate, needle-like leaflets that grow along slender, cascading stems. These leaflets have dry brownish edges.
Asparagus ferns with brown tips often indicate low humidity or excessive feeding.

Brown tips are also common and usually result from a lack of humidity. Increase humidity around the fern using a humidifier if your indoor air is very dry, and keep an eye out for things like drafts that can cause rapid changes in environmental conditions.

Excess feeding can also cause the tips to brown. You’ll know this is the cause if a previously happy plant that has been fed recently suddenly turns brown. In this case, flush the soil with plenty of water and hold off on fertilizing until the plant recovers.

Leggy Growth

Close-up of Asparagus fern frond stretched out due to lack of sun. Asparagus fern frond consists of delicate, fine-textured, needle-like leaflets arranged along thin, arching stem. These leaflets are bright green, and they create a feathery, fern-like appearance.
Stretched-out plants need more light, so relocate to a brighter spot with indirect sunlight.

If your fern stretches out with long stems and sparse foliage, it’s not getting enough sunlight. Move the plant to a brighter location with indirect sunlight and prune back affected stems to encourage bushy new growth. Don’t go to the extreme of harsh and direct sun, which can cause the leaves to turn brown and crispy.

Pale Discoloration

Close-up of Asparagus fern frond with discolored leaflets. The plant has fine, feathery leaves that consist of many small, thin, fine-textured, needle-like leaflets.
Pale leaves suggest excessive direct sunlight.

If you see pale or faded leaves, your plant may get too much direct sunlight or react to sudden exposure to more direct sun than usual.

Relocate to a spot with bright indirect light where temperature and humidity are still at the preferred levels. If the plant is exposed to harsh midday sun, consider using sheer curtains or moving it away from the window and out of the path of direct sun.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is asparagus fern a fern?

Despite its name, this plant is not a true fern. It is part of the Asparagaceae family, making it more closely related to edible asparagus than ferns. The ‘fern’ in the common name describes the appearance of the foliage.

Can asparagus fern grow in full sun?

It prefers bright, indirect sunlight over full or direct sun. While it can tolerate some direct morning sunlight from an east-facing window, prolonged exposure to harsh midday sun can cause the fronds to change color.

Will asparagus fern root in water?

It won’t grow roots from stem cuttings. The quickest propagation method you can use is division, separating the tuberous roots into two or more sections and repotting into new containers.

Why is my plant turning yellow?

Previously lush and green leaves turning yellow is often a sign of overwatering or poor drainage. Ensure the pot has adequate drainage holes and the soil drains well. If not, repot immediately to improve conditions and avoid further growth problems.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a fern lover who can’t quite get the hang of true fern care or simply want a delicate and unique houseplant to add to your collection, asparagus fern ticks all the boxes.

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