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Tips for combatting winter ‘shedding’ of asparagus fern

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q. I have a beautiful asparagus fern that flourishes every summer. In the winter I bring it inside, and over the next six months or so Tracey Fitzgibbonindoors, the branches die back and it drops lots of little “spikes.” By the time I can get it back outside, it is less than half the size it started out. I have tried various locations around the house. Can it winter outside? I can cover it on freezing nights, or is that even necessary? Thanks for your help. – LG, Albuquerque

A. I had an asparagus fern once, growing happily indoors and it did well for the first several months heading into autumn. Then slowly, like what you’re describing, it started “shedding” dreadfully! Vacuuming under it and snipping off dead and dying branches became a chore that I detested. By spring I chucked it outdoors, and lo and behold, it started to flourish again.

Well, I didn’t want to go through another winter of cleaning up after it, so I didn’t bring it in for the next round of winter months. I know, harsh.

According to my bible, “Sunset Western Garden Book,” the asparagus fern won’t winter over in this zone. We get too cold, and stay there for too long. I truly don’t think that even if you were religious in your covering and uncovering each day, never allowing it to dry out, it would survive.

So I do have a thought that might offer you a bit more success when you do bring the fern inside – which by the way, aren’t ferns at all but are actually in the lily family.

First, aim to find a truly bright, sunny window that has a shade or curtain that can be drawn to keep the chill off at night. If you hang it from the ceiling, make sure there isn’t a vent blowing on it causing it to dry out. If you have baseboard heat, be sure that it’s out of the upward flow.

I want you to create a humidifying tray for the fern. Whatever size container the fern lives in, you’ll want to purchase a saucer at least two inches (four inches is better) larger that the existing one, and some pebbles or decorative rock, enough to fill the new saucer. Set the new pebble-filled saucer wherever the asparagus fern is going to live, then set the fern pot and saucer on the pebble-filled saucer. Always keep the pebble-filled saucer filled with clean water. As the water evaporates you’ll have effectively created a humidity tray for the fern to live during the winter. If you’re going to hang the fern, you can create the same effect by using a longer macrame hanger to hold both the new humidity tray and the original pot and saucer.

Now some might think why the tray? You don’t want the plant to sit in puddling water for long periods of time. By keeping the original saucer sitting on top of the pebbles you’ll be better able to monitor the water needs of the fern. You will want to keep the asparagus fern well-watered, just not sitting in a puddle, to help keep the drying out of the branches to a minimum. A dry fern is an unhappy fern.

By keeping it brightly lit during the day, comfy and not chilled at night, and both humidified and consistently watered, hopefully that will lessen the fern’s shedding!

Since it isn’t quite time to bring the fern in for the winter months, you might consider a fertilization of a water-soluble food. I would also start to inspect for critters, and if you choose to spray, apply a ready-to-use pesticide, pyrethrin or insecticidal soap. Do it at least three times in 10-day intervals to insure the fern is pest free before it’s brought in for the winter.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to