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Asparagus ferns not alike

February 23, 2013
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

While volunteering at an all-day yard sale last weekend, in the cold and wind, I was asked some questions about the asparagus fern. The main question was HOW do you get rid of the bloody things? The short answer is - not easily.

There are more than one asparagus ferns; the question was about the asparagus fern densiflorus "sprengeri."

This subtropical relative of edible garden asparagus is actually in the lily family. It looks very pretty and soft, however, it has hidden spines all along the plant. No way do you want this in your food supply. It also is not really a fern.

You can grow it inside in a pot near a sunny window and it will thrive. It does not need much water and does not need spraying of any kind.

It may grow a little more than you would like it to, think 6-foot-long runners. You can, of course, just cut them off and toss them and shape the plant as you wish.

The problem with this particular fern is that when you plant it outdoors in the soil, it becomes a very invasive plant. It was placed on the class 2 invasive plant list in 2011. It really is invasive out there in the world. Left alone it can cover the understory of acres of woodland.

It does well in full sun but will gladly tolerate some cool shade. The best way to plant it in soil is to put it into a large pot, no special soil or fertilizer, and then sink the pot into the ground. In a pot the roots are bound and they will not travel around. However, it does not need its roots sneaking about to be come invasive.

I have one that was already planted in a sunken pot when we moved here. I was told that it would spread all over the place but it never did. I had flowers and the berries but must not have had many hungry birds. About three years ago I noticed that I was having several new asparagus fern babies about 10 feet away from the original plant.

The only thing that had changed was the loss of two of our Christmas tree palms, vourtesy of Hurricane Charlie. The fern was planted at their base. Maybe birds did not like eating under the trees?

They have very inconspicuous white flowers for about 2 weeks in the summer and they are fragrant. That is not a problem either. The plant will also have beautiful bright red berries that the birds' just love, and that is the problem.

The birds eat the berries, which each have 3 seeds, and then fly about, in the world releasing these digested seeds everywhere. The seeds are not particular where they land and start to grow, fast.

This fern is nice in a hanging basket, and on the patio the berries will be safe.

Although it is drought free, if it looks pale or dry, spritz it some or just water it well and let it drain out. Keep it on the dry side.

Another type of asparagus fern is the foxtail. It may be found with two different names - "Meyor" or "Myersi." It has fat bushy arms that really look like an upright bushy foxtail. Very attractive. This one is not invasive. I do not see this a lot in the big box markets. Mine is a pass-along from a Garden Club friend a couple years ago. No berries to contend with and it is also drought tolerant.

This fern you do not trim to any shape, the fox tails stand alone and the only time you will be trimming them is when they become older and dried up, and then you just twist them off the base or clip them off about 4 inches from the base.

I have not fertilized mine for the two years I have had it. Maybe this spring I will add some fresh organic soil to the wooden basket it sets in outside in the lanai.

It also does well planted gently in soil, in a nice dry space. It goes well with rocks or other yard art.

It will not spread anywhere. The tails will not become large and need a lot of trimming. However, the older tails will dry up so you just remove them.

When you have had it for awhile and want to thin it for more plants, just divide the roots leaving about 8 or 10 sprigs of green in the clump. Plant at same level and make sure it drains well.

No need to spray for any bugs. It will tolerate one night of cold temperatures, if several are going to happen it should tolerate it but if some tails do dry up and die. Just trim them out.

Remember it is where you have plants placed that make a difference if you need to actually cover them. Then you do so without the cover touching the plant and remove it in the morning by 10 a.m. If there are other plants surrounding each other, they offer some protection. If you live east of 75 you will have a much colder time. Our 40 degree drop may well mean a drop to 35 degrees over there.

A nice free place to visit Saturday, March 2, is the semi-annual Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council Flower show. Entitled "La Florida," its aim is to call attention to Juan de Leon landing on the East Coast of Florida, 500 years ago. This is one of Florida's historical events and we can learn a lot about what happened and why. In a fun way.

They will be at various places as they tell this story of our early Florida history as Ponce De Leon came and went and where he landed and lived. He was a good popular man. I know Edison/Ford is planning an event.

However a poisoned arrow from an unfriendly Indian tribe eventually did him in. Medical care in those days was not really great. Maybe we should be celebrating the fact that now if someone shoots us in the rear with a poisoned arrow, we would more often than not survive, or maybe learn to wear out battle clothes over all of our tender areas. Those Indians were very fierce about defending their territories.

The show will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. There will be flower designs hanging and setting around to be admired - hundreds of cut horticulture entries from over 30 garden clubs in Lee County. Yes, of course, beautiful orchids. The most fun of all is when you enter the building you will see tables and tables of cut specimens that will all be judged as to their perfection. The entries are cut right out of our gardens and placed in the show. There will be names on them so you may see an entry from someone you know. You will be able to ask questions about you garden and yard.

The show is open also Friday evening from 5 to 8 pm.

A short drive over the Cape Coral bridge onto College Parkway, turn Right at McDonald's restaurant, which is on South Point Boulevard. Go down about a mile and turn into the Eco Living Center at Rutenberg Park. There is a line of large newspaper boxes as you turn left into the property. Drive straight back and see parking lot to the left, after the speed bumps.

It's a nice event to take some visitors or a group of friends. You will not be disappointed. See you there.

Happy gardening til we meet again.

Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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