Originally published July 2011.
With no rain in sight and temps continuing to hover around 100 degrees in most of the U.S., there is no doubt your landscape is suffering right now. Hopefully, you have a few pops of ornamental color remaining such as that which is provided by heat resistant crape myrtles, vitex, lantana, and portulacas.
If your blooming plants located in your pots and baskets have become brown, dry and brittle or perhaps are gone entirely (as are most of mine), you may wish to add a little greenery to them to tide you over until early fall when you can safely add color again. If your existing plants are salvageable or you originally had a mixed pot where portulacas are all that remain, you may simply add greenery as a filler to make the container far more attractive. In fact, simple greenery alone can look incredibly soothing during these dog days of summer.
So what “greenery” can possibly survive the extreme type of weather we are having these days, let alone, can be potted at mid-summer? Asparagus Fern!
Asparagus Fern, or Asparagus densiflorus, is a tropical, tender perennial that is native to South Africa and actually is not a fern. Instead, it derives from the Liliaceae family, or lily family. Thus, unlike true ferns, the Asparagus Fern can tolerate full sun, poor soil and dry conditions – think onions and asparagus. Note: While plant classifications have changed recently with regard to the family Liliaceae, the Asparagus Fern is indeed a distant relative of sun-loving alliums and the vegetable, asparagus. Don’t get me wrong; Asparagus Fern will enjoy and appreciate a little shade, some enriched soil and a bit of moisture. In fact, it is a very good houseplant if placed near a bright, sunny window. However it is nice to know that it can survive outdoor summertime extremes when the situation calls for it!
In performing research for this post, I found gardeners touting its amazing ability to survive 110 degree days in the arid climates of Arizona, Southern California and Queensland, Australia. If you’ve ever potted a mature Asparagus Fern, you have witnessed the portion of the plant that helps it thrive and survive in these dessert-like conditions – its roots. The root system of the Asparagus Fern is comprised of multitudes of white tuberous structures that are very good at holding water. These bulbous structures look so foreign to this plant that the novice gardener may mistakenly toss it out for fear it has developed some odd disease!
Speaking of disease, Asparagus Fern is quite disease free and virtually pest resistant, although spider mites may become an issue. The tell tale signs of mites are crispy brown ends and eventual webbing on the plant. Application of horticultural oil is the best method to eradicate mites, but you must be very careful when using it in direct sunlight as you may literally cook your plants. The only other complaint I’ve heard regarding the Asparagus Fern is that sometimes portions of the plant may turn yellow. The cause may be too much light or some folks believe the cause may be too little light. As one who possesses an Asparagus Fern and brings it indoors during the wintertime (20 degrees Fahrenheit is its minimum tolerant temperature), I tend to believe the cause of yellowing is probably due to a sudden change in environment one way or the other. Mine always tends to yellow a bit at first when I bring it indoors, but once it adjusts to indirect light, it adapts and greens up. Same as when I re-introduce it back outdoors in the spring.
Although Asparagus Fern is not a true fern, it indeed looks like one – soft, feathery and frilly. Its dainty, fine appearance elegantly arches when planted in pots or hanging baskets. Last year, I planted Asparagus Fern in a large basket that hung from a high, sturdy limb of my 20 year old Live Oak tree. Cascading 5 feet down from the basket, the fern took on the ambience of Spanish Moss. It was absolutely mesmerizing!
As far as blooms go – tiny white flowers generally appear on mature Asparagus Fern in the summertime. The blooms develop into green, and, ultimately, bright red berries. The red berries are quite striking against the Asparagus Fern’s feathery foliage, especially as the season moves into fall. These berries typically hold 3 seeds each – should you wish to try your hand at growing seedlings, although the birds may beat you to the harvest!
However, if you prefer to create new plants the quick and easy way, you may successfully divide an Asparagus Fern as you would similar plants belonging to the lily family. Simply split the plant, including the root ball, via a small saw or shovel, and transplant.
In conclusion, one very early morning or late afternoon when the outside temps are bearable, you may wish to venture out and add a little greenery to your bare or thinning pots and baskets. Asparagus Fern would be the ideal candidate this time of year. Depending on the light exposure your new plants were accustomed to in the store or nursery, you may need to incrementally introduce them into the full, 100 degree sun. Or, you may simply wish to keep the greenery in a partly sunny location for now. Either way, the addition of Asparagus Fern to containers, baskets or beds this time of year will bring forth an atmosphere of full, green lushness to your stark ,mid-summer patio or landscape.
Until next time,