Plumosa ferns are an ornamental perennial that has soft, long leaves that grow in fun feathery clumps, and this is where the fern gets the name. However, this plant is actually part of the Asparagaceae family, and it’s not actually a true fern. You may also hear the plumosa fern referred to as the climbing asparagus, lace fern, or ferny asparagus.
It’s important to note that real ferns fall into the Polypodiopsida, and they reproduce using spores. The plumosa fern doesn’t, and it produces seeds instead. They’re a type of cladode, and it’s a leaf-like plant part that is actually a flattened stem that resembles a leaf. Without them, this fern can’t photosynthesize. Another notable feature of this plant are the smaller clusters of white flowers. Once they flower, they’ll produce red berries that have seeds.
In warm climates, the plumosa fern is actually invasive. They can quickly take over your yard and grow very vigorously in zones 9 to 11. This is why it’s a good idea to plant them in a pot to prevent them from spreading out of control. They make fun, easy to care for houseplants, and we’ll outline how to keep them thriving below.
Even though it’s not a true fern, the plumosa fern makes a wonderful houseplant with green foliage and arching fronds.
Popular Plumosa Fern Varieties
There are several plumosa fern varieties you can choose from when you shop, but the most common ones you’ll find in your local garden center are:
- Foxtail Fern – The plumes on this fern are very bushy, and they slightly resemble a fox’s tail. The leaves are very light green with a needle-like look, and they’re very airy and light. They have tiny white flowers that turn into smaller red berries, and this gets slightly large at up to four feet wide and two feet tall at full maturity.
- Ming Fern – Ming plumosa ferns are a hybrid mix of sprengeri and foxtail ferns, and they can be hard to tell the difference because they’re less common. The leaves are tight clumps that look like pom poms, and you’ll hear it called the pom pom fern. This is an edible vegetable that can get roughly six feet in size, and the branches will grow in a whimsical zigzag pattern. Even though it looks just as soft as other ferns, this one has spikes on the stems.
- Sprengeri Fern – The leaves on this fern are very dense, and they produce emerald green needles that stick out everywhere. They produce whte flowers that will slowly turn into red berries as the season goes on, and they get approximately three feet in size.
Plumosa Fern Overview
|Common Name:||Feathered plumosa fern, Ferny asparagus|
|Diseases:||Crown rot and root rot|
|Family:||Liliacea family – not a true fern|
|Fertilizer:||Fertilize once a month from spring to September. If kept indoors, cut it to half strength.|
|Humidity:||Needs a humid environment with misting|
|Lighting:||Partial shade with direct sun for two to six hours a day|
|Maximum Growth:||Five feet wide and two feet high|
|Origin:||East and South Africa|
|Pests:||Spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale|
|pH:||Less than 6.0|
|Propagation:||Root division or seeds|
|Pruning:||Prune according to your desired size and shape|
|Repotting:||When the plant is root bound, has root rot, nutrient deficiencies, or pathogen infections|
|Scientific Name:||Asparagus setaceus|
|Soil:||⅓ garden potting mix, ⅓ peat moss, and ⅓ sand|
|Space Range:||2 to 2.5 feet per plant|
|Temperature:||65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C)|
|Toxicity:||Toxic to cats, dogs, and horses|
|Type:||Perennial ground cover|
|USDA Hardiness Zones:||9b, 9a, 10b, 10a, 11b, and 11a|
|Watering:||Keep the soil evenly moist and water each day for a few weeks after you transplant it before shifting to two or three times a week.|
Plumosa Fern Care Guidelines
If you’re growing your plumosa fern as an indoor plant, you need to know the most important care requirements to keep it happy and thriving. The following can help you with this:
If you want the plumosa fern to give you very lush foliage, you might want to fertilize it. However, generally speaking, most houseplants don’t need a lot of fertilizer. It is important to feed them from time to time to keep them healthy. You have a few options when it comes to fertilizer, including:
Granular vs, Liquid
You can get liquid or granular fertilizer. Both forms will work with the plumosa fern. If you want to use the granular form, you should bury it a few inches down into the soil away from the roots to avoid burning them. If you want a liquid fertilizer, always dilute it to half strength before applying it right to the soil. Never spray the liquid right on your plant leaves as you’ll burn them.
Synthetic vs. Organic
Synthetic fertilizers are usually fast-releasing. They make nutrients available to your plumosa fern right away. It’s a good idea to use synthetic fertilizers when you need immediate nutrient boosts to your plant. For a more sustainable option, go with organic. It’s a slow-release type, but they can give your plants nutrients for an extended time. Apply the fertilizer once a month from the early spring months until the end of September, but cut off applying it during the winter months. Diluting it to half strength before you apply it will prevent you from burning the plants.
It’s important that you follow the instructions for the fertilizer you choose to give your plumosa fern to ensure that it’s not strong enough to burn the root system and damage the plant when you apply it.
The plumosa fern likes to be in an environment with higher humidity levels, and you should aim to keep to around 70%. If you keep your home at a lower humidity level, you should add a humidifier by the plant to introduce moisture into the air. Misting your plumosa fern is something the plant will love, even if it is slightly more work.
You can also set up a pebble filled tray that you fill with water just below the pebble line. Place your pot on top of the tray and allow the water to evaporate to increase the relative humidity around the plant. Grouping your tropical, humidity-loving plants together is another thing you can do. As the plants release moisture into the air, it gets more humid. Your fern will benefit from this.
Keeping your plumosa fern inside is ideal because of the more specific light requirements it has. It only needs partial shade to keep the foliage thriving. You can place your fern in an area that gets direct light with a lower intensity, but it shouldn’t be more than six hours a day. They usually grow in a more shaded environment in a rainforest, and it’s important to recreate these conditions as best you can inside.
Direct, bright light can easily scorch your plumosa fern. Putting it in a shaded spot will filter out excessive light and protect it. If you don’t have enough natural light, you can use artificial grow lights. This is more than sufficient to keep your plant happy. You can also wait until it starts to turn yellow to expose it to more light. If it’s in a low light space and staying green, leave it be.
Like most of your indoor plants, the plumosa fern needs a combination or organic matter like peat moss, garden soil, and sand as a growing medium. You can combine them in ⅓ increments each to get a fertile but well-draining potting mix. Adding a small amount of organic fertilizer will start feeding the plant during the active growing stage. Giving your soil good texture will help the plant get enough water and nutrients without being overloaded. It also prevents water from pooling up around your plant’s root system and causing root rot. The pH level should be less than six for this plant.
A temperature range of 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C) is the ideal range for the plumosa fern to thrive. It can survive down to 20°F to 30°F (-7°C to -1°C) without any damage, but you should put it in a space where the temperature is stable. A moderate temperature range is essential for the plant to keep growing in the house. Since it adores moisture, you have to look out for a sudden temperature increase. An air conditioner or central air can help keep the temperature cool and give your plant a cooling effect. Misting is also helpful when the plant starts to dry out.
It’s essential that you keep your soil moist. Apply water at yoru root zone to ensure that the plant is absorbing it. You want to be very careful and not splash water on the foliage of the plant as this encourages fungi growth. If you’re just transplanted your plumosa fern, you’ll want to water it every day until it’s established. After this, you can cut back on your watering to two or three times a week. However, the type of soil you have will determine how much you water, and the following tips can help ensure you don’t over or under water your plant.
- Establish a Schedule – Having a fixed schedule to water your plants on will help ensure you don’t skip a day. You should keep equal intervals between the days you do and don’t water. This ensures that there is enough time for the water to evaporate before you add more to the soil.
- Provide Excellent Drainage – Even if you water enough and the drainage isn’t fantastic, your plant is in danger. You should improve your soil’s texture to make sure it has enough pores for the water molecules to go through. The pots should also have good drainage holes.
- Use Quality Water – Rainwater is the best water you can give your plumosa fern. It’s free of any chemicals or treatments that could harm the plant. However, if you don’t have rainwater available, you can use filtered tap water. You just need to make sure your water doesn’t have high salt concentrations.
Setting up a schedule for watering helps to reduce the chances of over or under watering your plumosa fern and having issues with root rot.
Plumosa Fern Propagation
There are two methods you can use to propagate the plumosa fern. You can perform vegettive propagation using root division, or you can use the seeds and sow them. The following will give you a quick outline on how to do both so you can multiply your plumosa ferns:
If you’ve got your plumosa fern to bloom and produce berries, you can save the seeds and replant them to get more plants. You can sow your seeds in a tray filled with ¾ potting soil and cover them with the remaining ⅓ soil. Water your seed tray regularly, and the seeds will germinate in roughly two weeks. When you see a minimum of two true leaves on each plant, you can transplant them into individual pots and water them regularly.
A second way to propagate your plumosa fern is by using root division. This plant produces tubers in the roots that you can cut out and plant in the soil. Don’t use stem cuttings with this plant because they’ll never develop roots. Make sure you pick out superior tubers to give your plumosa fern the best chances of growing. Cut the tubers off at the root ball and plant them in separate pots in soil. This is best done during the spring months before the active growing season takes off.
Pruning Plumosa Ferns
Growing plumosa ferns can explode and get out of hand very quickly, especially since it can be invasive if it’s not contained. This is why you want to prune it from time to time. Don’t be afraid to prune away larger portions of the stems down to the base because they’ll quickly regrow. There can be different reasons you trim a plant, and you should trim it according to your purpose.
Achieve a Desired Size or Shape
Depending on the aesthetics of the room, you can remove portions of the plant’s stem to keep it at a certain shape or size. If you want to keep it down to a small, compact plant, this is perfectly fine. However, it’s going to require more maintenance from you, especially if you only have a small space to keep it.
Prevent Water Loss
Plants use a process called transpiration to lose water. The exchange of water vapor and gas through the stomata in the leaves is the main cause. When it’s too hot out, the transpiration rate goes up. When this happens, the plant loses water much quicker and it’s prone to dehydrating. To reduce this process, pruning the leaves will help.
Remove Aged or Damaged Plant Parts
Your plumosa fern can easily develop brown or yellow spots as it ages. This can be part of the natural aging process of the plant, and it’s nothing to concern yourself with. However, it can also be a warning sign that your plant has a disease. Pruning out these impacted areas in your plant can help keep it looking nice and healthy.
Keeping your plumosa fern in a rounded, bushy shape is the key to keeping it healthy and thriving indoors.
Potting and Repotting Plumosa Ferns
This is one plant that doesn’t mind being pot-bound. They can easily grow in the same pot for up to two years before you have to repot them. They don’t need huge pots when you grow them inside as they are slow spreaders when you compare them to the growth habit outside. To be successfully with repotting your plumosa fern, you should consider the following tips:
Start by dividing the plant up into large clumps, and make sure each clump has a good section of roots that are healthy before you divide them. Place your roots into similar sized pots or containers and try to recreate the old growing conditions. When you repot it, it’s best to try and minimize how much you disturb the plant. You should repot it when:
- The fern is showing signs of root rot (moderate or severe)
- The soil has a pathogen infection like gnats
- The soil quality deteriorates and it loses nutrients
- The roots are starting to get bound, and this limits future root growth
Plumosa Fern Common Pests and Diseases
Insects like spider mites, mealy bugs, and scales are very common issues for the plumosa fern. You should carefully look at any plant for these pests before you plant it. It can be difficult to plant it if it’s heavily infested.
- Mealybugs – They produce cotton-like structures that show up on the surface of the stems of leaves. The white appearance makes them easy to spot on your plumosa fern.
- Scale – This is also a type of bug that has protective shells. They can look brown to tan in color and have an oval shape. They multiply very rapidly, so if you don’t notice them straight away, you’ll have a hard time getting rid of them.
- Spider Mites – This is the exact opposite of mealy bugs because they’re hard to spot and subtle. Since they’re hard to spot, they can easily attack new buds or leaves on your plumosa fern without you noticing.
It’s essential that you isolate any infected plants as soon as you notice a problem to stop the pests from transferring to another plant. Immediately remove the pests by spraying them with water or picking them off. You can also dilute dishwashing liquid with neem oil to kill them. If there is a severe infestation, you may have to use a chemical pesticide. Be careful to apply it using the instructions to avoid damaging your plant.
Since the plumosa fern isn’t a hugely sensitive houseplant, you won’t have to worry about it dying from diseases. However, you have to take care to prevent the following from taking hold and damaging your plant:
Crown rot is a common disease your plumosa fern can develop. When this happens, the lower portion of your fern’s stem will start to rot. Unlike root rot, the rotten portion is dry rather than squishy. It will damage the younger portion of the plant, especially new leaves. Infected areas will turn a yellow shade that is bordering on red.
The whole plant will wilt, and your plumosa fern can die if you don’t take steps to treat it. Wet conditions are usually the main cause of crown rot because it allows fungi to grow and develop. The fungi’s presence can threaten any good microorganisms on the plant, and this makes it more prone to disease issues.
Root rot happens when your plants get more water than they can effectively use. However, pathogens that infected your plant’s soil can also cause it. Both of these causes can lead to severe damage to the plant’s root system. Plumosa ferns can develop this disease just like any other house plant can, and this is why you have to be very careful with how you water it.
Also, it’s a good idea to sterilize the soil to prevent infections. When the roots start to rot, the foliage on your plant will start to turn brown or yellow. The base of the plant will also start to look mushy. So, if you’ve noticed these early signs, you’ll want to double-check the roots straight away to avoid your plant dying.
Plumosa Fern Toxicity
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) lists the plumosa fern as being toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. So, if you have one at home, you want to be careful to put them in a space where they can’t get at them. The berries can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting if they happen to ingest them.
You have to watch for the white flowers to appear in the spring until the early autumn months because this signals that the berries are close behind. Put them in a safe space. Also, the leaves can cause skin irritation if you touch them frequently. So, it’s a good idea to wear gloves as a preventative measure when you handle the berries or leaves, and wash your hands if you accidentally get into contact with them.
Make sure you keep your plumosa fern well away from any curious dogs or cats you have around your home as they are toxic if they ingest it.
Frequently Asked Questions
The plumosa fern is a pretty houseplant that has a nice texture with minimal care requirements. However, the following are questions people had when they first got this plant, and they include:
1. Why is your plumosa fern showing brown or yellow spots?
Yellow or browning of your plumosa fern’s foliage can point to various issues, with one being a nutrient deficiency. If the plant isn’t getting enough nutrients from the soil, the leaves will yellow. This is usually due to a nitrogen deficiency. Lack of light is another reason for leaf yellowing, and they turn chlorotic if they’re getting too much shade.
Another issue could be a disease. So, you have to carefully rule out which one is the main cause of browning or yellowing on the foliage. When you do, you can figure out the appropriate treatment measures.
2. Can you grow the plumosa fern outside?
This is a very beginner-friendly houseplant that you can grow indoors or outdoors without an issue. In warmer climates, the plumosa fern can adapt nicely to growing outdoors, and it usually grows like a creeper. However, it can quickly become invasive. To grow it indoors, the key is to keep it dense, bushy, and rounded.
3. How big does a plumosa fern traditionally get?
Generally speaking, your plumosa fern can get up to two feet high, and it can get between two and three feet wide outside if you don’t prune it.
You can now grow the plumosa fern indoors or outdoors without any huge issues following this quick guide. We’ve outlined all of the important care conditions, how to look for diseases and pests, and how to grow it into an airy, feathery, and thriving plant in your home or garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.