How to Care for Your Ming Fern (Asparagus Retrofractus)

The Ming fern (Asparagus retrofractus) routinely appears in bouquets of cut flowers, but it’s also a delicate and beautifully bushy addition to the home as a houseplant. This bushy plant can grow 6 feet tall when grown in the wild, and it can also exist quite happily in a small pot as a bonsai.

Like most ferns and fern-like plants, the Ming fern does need a little tender loving care to grow happily in your home. However, it does respond well once you get the placement and watering schedule just right.

Ming Fern Care
Photo by PINKE

You may grow your Ming fern outside if you live in a mild climate. Let’s learn about what makes Ming ferns a beautiful and lush part of your home.

Ming Fern Quick Care Guide

Scientific NameAsparagus retrofractus
Common Name(s)Ming fern, asparagus fern, zig-zag shrub, pom pom asparagus
FamilyAsparagaceae
Size6 feet tall by 5 feet wide
LightBright, indirect light
SoilWell-draining potting soil
WaterDaily misting plus weekly watering
Temperature55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit
HumidityModerate to high humidity
FertilizerRepot once a year with nutrient-rich soil
PropagationSeeds or root division
Pests and DiseasesMealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites
ToxicityToxic to pets and humans; skin contact may cause irritation

Your Ming fern will fare best in a bright area of your home, so find a sunny window and make sure it has a spacious pot to grow.

The same goes for Ming ferns grown outside in pots or on the ground. An area that receives some sun each day is best.

Ming ferns enjoy frequent misting when they’re grown inside, particularly during the winter when conditions may become dry due to the use of the heater. Water the fern at soil level at least once a week with a hearty amount of water.

Regarding fertilizer, the fern needs just one application of fertilizer in the spring and another in the summer if the plant needs a little help or looks unhealthy.

Look at the soil once a year and ensure it’s loose and aerated and does not remain soggy after its weekly watering.

All About the Ming Fern

Also known as the asparagus fern, the Ming fern is mildly drought tolerant even though ferns have a reputation for needing a moist, humid environment.

The secret is that the Ming fern isn’t a true fern and is actually part of the lily family.

The Ming fern also doesn’t behave like one of the ferns you might find at the bottom of a lush forest canopy since it can tolerate full sun and will even live through temperatures that sink to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You can grow it outside in hardiness zones 10+, but you do need to keep a mild eye on the humidity level when you grow it inside.

The Ming fern is an excellent choice when you want a fern’s vibrant, fluffy appearance in your home, but you’re not quite ready for a fern that requires complex care.

Ming Fern Care

Light

The Ming fern can tolerate a fair amount of sunlight, but you shouldn’t place it somewhere that it will receive full sunlight all day long. You may place it right next to a bright window, just out of the direct sunlight, or choose a window that only gets a brief amount of direct sunlight daily.

Ming ferns do better when they get bright light rather than dim light, so always opt for a brighter spot in your home when you place your Ming fern.

You might want to gently acclimate your Ming fern to a bright place in your home if you bought it at a garden center grown in a low-sun area.

Water

Ming ferns don’t need an overwhelming amount of water, but they do like frequent misting and regular watering at the soil level. When you mist the fern, ensure that the mist reaches the stems at the center of the plant rather than just the exterior bunches.

Overwatering is a concern for Ming plant owners, but so is underwatering. You may need to adjust your watering frequency throughout the year.

Don’t let the soil get too dry, but make sure it doesn’t remain soggy for too long. Watering the fern each week is usually sufficient, but you may need to water it more frequently if you live in a very dry area.

Soil

Ming ferns want well-draining soil that is easy to keep moist and won’t dry out too fast or remain soggy for too long.

It’s a mild balancing act to get the soil right, but using one-third of peat moss, sand, and compost is an excellent place to start. Any potting mix advertised to drain quickly is appropriate, too.

If you grow the Ming fern inside in a pot, you’ll want to refresh the soil every two or three years, which can coincide with putting the fern in a larger pot. Try to aerate the soil yearly if you don’t repot it, so the soil won’t become compacted and prevent drainage.

Fertilizer

You have a few options for keeping your Ming fern well-fed. One option is to purchase fresh potting soil yearly and repot the fern in fresh, nutrient-dense soil.

You shouldn’t need to fertilize the fern in the first year after you buy it from a garden center, and repotting the fern after a year is enough to keep it fed.

Alternatively, you can mix a liquid fertilizer into the water to feed the fern. The Ming fern isn’t demanding when it comes to fertilizer, and a single application of fertilizer in the spring is usually enough.

Consider another application in the summer if the fern hasn’t responded well during the growing season.

Propagation

A true fern propagates from its spores, but a Ming fern is not a true fern and will actually grow from seeds. You can also divide the plant by the roots or tubers to create new ferns.

The plant produces red berries in the summer and into the fall, and you can use these berries to make new Ming plants from seed.

The best time to propagate the Ming fern is in the spring before the new growth appears on the plant.

To grow new Ming ferns from seeds, soak them in warm water for at least 12 hours before placing them in the soil. The seeds take anywhere from three to six weeks to germinate.

Troubleshooting

Common Problems

Ming ferns may start to turn yellow when they’re watered too much or too infrequently. Take a look at the soil every few days after you water the plant to gauge whether you’re letting the soil get too dry or whether the plant is sitting in wet soil for too long.

A plant that remains in the sun for too long may burn, so watch out for browning leaves and move the fern if you think it’s getting too much direct sun.

Pests and Diseases

If you overwater your Ming fern, your plant may develop an unfortunate case of mealybugs or scale insects. Spider mites are another kind of insect that may attack your plant.

You may need to wash the plant with an insecticidal soap to get rid of the infestation. When taken care of and thriving, Ming ferns are generally resistant to infestations and diseases.

Author: Stanislav Lem

Bio:

Stanislav Lem is the founder of Big Time Living, where he provides tips for gardening, traveling and lifestyle. Stan is an entrepreneur, journalist and traveler.
His mission is to provide information to help people become better planters, travel more and live a happy life. His blog has been featured on Huffpost, Yahoo and MSN.
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