Saturday, October 10, 2009

Asparagus Adventure

Six years ago, I was browsing through one of the local nurseries and came upon a plant I had always wanted, Asparagus densiflorus meyersii, aka Foxtail “Fern.” I purchased it, and it grew vigorously for me. I usually placed Foxy outside in the summer, and would make it part of a container arrangement. The first year, I put it in a pot with an Iresine herbstii, and some red Impatiens. The next year it was much bigger, and I surrounded it with Dahlias. As it grew bigger I just used it by itself.

Foxy with Ivy wreath, 2008

After a certain point though, the damn thing got huge. Gorgeous, but huge. It was always a struggle to bring Foxy back inside. Last year, after being moved to a 20-inch pot, it was so heavy that we could no longer carry it upstairs to the spare bedroom. That room had the optimum conditions for it; it was bright and, more importantly, cool. (We keep the rest of the house rather warm.) So Foxy spent the winter in my living room, where it shed cladodes (the proper name for the needle-like foliage) like crazy.

So this year when I put it outside, I decided I would leave it there in the fall, and let the frost get it. (Actually, I’d have to let a hard freeze get it; Asparagus ferns are quite hardy.) I even bought a (small) replacement for it.

Foxy on Saturday, before I got started

But a freeze is forecast for tonight, and I had a change of heart. So I decided to do what I had to do to get it inside.

Tools used during this little adventure:
Big saw, little saw, trowel, fork, pruners, and dowel

First, I examined the plant and trimmed off all the dead fronds and those with bare stems at their bases. Then I placed the pot on its side, and removed as much soil as possible, using the trowel. I then plunged the fork into the pot, and rocked it back and forth as much as possible, which wasn’t much.

View of some of the unsightly fronds before pruning

First round of trimmings

I tried to get the plant out of the pot. It wouldn’t budge. Okay, Plan B. I dig around and remove more loose soil. I then attempt to move the root ball by pushing the dowel through the drainage hole. It wouldn’t budge.

Okay, Plan C. Since I planned to severely prune the root ball anyway, I ask my husband, Bob, if he has any long thin handsaws. Of course he does. Woodworking is one of his hobbies, and he has lots of tools of almost every description. He shows me the small saw pictured second from the left, above, and the wider saw. I tell him the ideal would be something as narrow as the small saw, but as long as the wider saw. He didn’t have anything like that, so I took what he had. I sawed around the inside of the pot with the small saw to get started, then used the large saw. I put the pot back on its side, and pulled. Still wouldn’t budge. I called Bob for help. I figured that I could pull on the plant, while he stood on the other side and pulled on the pot. We tried it. Still wouldn’t budge. Bob suggests that maybe we could just cut the pot apart. In addition to hand tools, he has lots of power tools, and he loves to use them. I decided that I didn’t want to do that, since it’s a fiberglass pot, and fiberglass is not a pleasant material to deal with.

So he took the handsaw and sawed around the inside of the pot again for me, getting deeper than I had before. The plant still won’t budge. I thanked Bob for his help, and he went back inside. Just then, I have a moment of inspiration born of frustration. I decide to put the pot on its side again, and bang it against the walkway. Amazingly, there is movement. I turn the pot around, and bang it again. More movement. A strong pull, and the plant is out of the pot.

Out of the pot, at last

Next chore is to saw off a large section from the bottom of the rootball. Asparagus roots are tough, I’m pretty sure they can take it.

Severed rootball. Oh the humanity! (Or plantaceaity, or something)

Original pot, plus round pot I was going to use.
It is the same size (14") as the square pot I ended up with

The next step is to fit the plant in a new, smaller pot. I lift the plant. Too wide for the pot. I saw off some roots on the sides. Still too wide for the pot. I saw some more. At this point, if there were anything to the notion of plant perception, (link to the wonderful series by mr._subjuntive at PATSP) I would be charged with violating the Geneva convention. But it was still too wide for the pot. Also, at this point, all this manipulation had caused several of the healthy fronds to break off. I knew I would have to prune off some more top growth, to balance all the root hacking, excuse me, pruning, I was doing. I had wanted to be a bit more selective, however. C’est la vie. Finally, with a little more sawing, and some clipping, and a lot of huffing and puffing, I get the plant into its new pot.

In the new pot, ready to go inside

After all this, I hope Foxy survives my attempt to save it.

I’ll keep you posted.


CelticRose said...

My word. :-O

Mr. Subjunctive has already given me a few reasons not to buy an asparagus fern, but now I have another one. I don't want a plant that requires you to use a saw to get it out of the pot and trim its roots!

mr_subjunctive said...

At work, we had a big kitchen knife that I used for stuff like this, and I divided Asparagus plants pretty regularly using that. Of course, it needed to be sharpened like eighty times a day, too.

If it weren't for the thorns (they're not, botanically speaking, thorns, but I can't remember the right word), I wouldn't mind Asparagus nearly so much. Foxy really is pretty, er, foxy.

Also, it had not struck me until just now that "cladodes" is a broad enough word to cover the leaf-like projections on Selenicereus chrysocardium and Asparagus spp. both. I'd heard, and written, the word in both contexts without making the mental connection before.

Ivynettle said...

'Meyersii' is really pretty - way prettier than the 'Sprengeri' asparaguses we have at work. Not planning to buy one, though - I've had far too much experience with monstrous (and monstrously prickly) asparaguses at work!
Still, I kind of wish I had room for one!

Lzyjo said...

Beautiful asparagus fern! I love densiflorus' conical fronds! I killed a setaceus when I was 14, it was too dry in my room and I never remembered to water!! WTH is pop anyway!!! It will always be soda to me too!

Karen715 said...

Oh yes, the thorns. I didn't take a picture of the gloves I wore as part of the equipment, though I should have.

@mr_subjunctive: I thought of using a kitchen knife, but I figured if I did, I'd have to buy a new one once this was all over. So I went straight for the saws. After all, the plant couldn't be tougher than wood, right?

@Lzyjo: Right on!