Foxtail fern is an excellent landscaping plant for our area. They’re relatively small (growing only about 2 feet tall), but they spread out and make a wonderful filler or accent plant in your garden. Their bright emerald green branches and needle-shaped leaves are interesting and lovely to look at in a landscape. When it comes to landscaping ideas, foxtail ferns are a beautiful choice!
Despite its name, this plant is not a fern at all! Ferns reproduce through spores, while this plant (which is actually in the Lily family) reproduces with seeds. It is called a “fern” instead because of its interesting growth pattern that resembles the fronds of a true fern. This is a hardy, drought-tolerant plant that can thrive without extensive care–perfect for low-maintenance gardeners who strive for a beautiful landscape that doesn’t take up all of their free time.
Foxtail ferns produce small, delicate, white (and sometimes buttery yellow) flowers in the springtime that later develop into bright red berries. The contrast of the red berries and bright green branches together make this a delightful plant for your garden or for your indoor houseplant collection.
Light: This plant is a great option for areas where your landscape receives shade or dappled sunlight. Too much bright, direct summer sunshine can quickly cause the leaves to burn. Be sure that at the very least they are shaded from the hottest light during mid-afternoon. If kept in an outdoor pot, move them into direct light during the winter, but keep them in areas that only receive early morning sun in the summer.
Water: As mentioned, foxtail fern is drought-tolerant and they prefer that the top few inches of soil dry out before another deep, thorough watering. However, they do enjoy some humidity. They can get both here in our Florida climate, but if you want its branches to perk up on hot, dry days, give them a good misting. This plant can also tolerate some salt exposure, so it is a great addition to your garden if you live very close to the beach–especially because its delicate appearance offers a nice change from other salt-tolerant species, which often look hardier and more rugged.
Fertilizing: Foxtail ferns are daily good at communicating when they require fertilizer–you’ll notice that the tips of their plumes turn pale or begin to yellow. To keep them happy, apply a fertilizer with a 10-10-10 NPK ratio to their soil starting in early spring, and then once a month throughout the growing season until September or so.
Pruning: These plants can spread quickly. To keep your filler from becoming over-takers, prune your foxtail fern regularly. This will hinder the plant from encroaching on areas where it isn’t welcome while encouraging bushier growth (instead of lanky, long, thin branches). You should also prune away any branches that are yellowing significantly to allow your foxtail fern to focus its energy on maintaining its healthy branches. If you are growing foxtail fern in an outdoor pot, they appreciate being moved to a slightly larger container every one to two years so that their fast-growing roots have room to spread out.