Ferns are an ancient plant group that evolved before flowering plants. Their key defining trait is the use of spores for reproduction instead of producing flowers and seeds. Moisture is needed for spores to grow, which is why ferns are often seen in shaded, damp locations.
How to grow them
Always plant ferns into rich, fertile soil for best results, but, as they have small root systems, they’ll also grow well in pots either indoors or outside. There are even some that are epiphytic and don’t require any soil at all.
Watering frequency and light requirements will depend on the fern type you grow. As a general guide, the softer the foliage, the more moisture and shade it will need. Ferns with thick, leathery fronds can handle drier conditions and more sunlight. In wet climates, ferns can generally tolerate stronger light compared to when grown in arid conditions.
Maintenance and fertilising
Tiny energy is required to keep ferns looking great. Regularly lean previous, fronds that are tatty away to create space for split clumping options and fronds every several years to keep them vigorous.
Ferns don’t possess a nutrient need that is large and, if cultivated in rich soil, can succeed without the fertilising. For potted ferns, use an organic fertilizer at half strength when actively increasing (frequently during spring and fall) and provides regular programs of seaweed solution.
If you’d like to increase your fern numbers, try these ways to get started.
Some ferns, such as maidenhairs, naturally build sections over-time, which can then be split. Split is best performed simply, and once the fern is actively expanding requires cutting through the root mass with secateurs. Remove pan the new sections and any outdated, tired fronds. Water in with half-power green-seaweed to lessen strain and stimulate root growth.
Some ferns spread by producing runners along the soil area – Hare’s foot is one of these. With these ferns, remove a section of rhizome about 10-15cm long that includes a couple of fronds. Hopefully, the cutting will have some roots, which can be buried straight away, and your new fern can start growing. If there are no roots, use small skewers to pin the cutting onto the potting mix surface until roots form. Mist regularly, but don’t saturate the mix or the cutting may rot.
A few ferns create small plantlets that are removed and grown as new plants. Most grow on the fronds and the success rate with this method is very high – try the hen and chicken fern. Simply pin down the frond so the plantlet is touching the ground and it will start developing roots. Once established, cut it free from the frond. Alternatively, wait until the plantlet is larger, then remove it from the frond and plant it. Keep the humidity levels high until roots have formed.
Elkhorn ferns also produce new plantlets, which can be cut away when they’re bigger than your fist. Dunk them in a diluted solution of eco-seaweed before attaching to a new board or tree trunk.
Expanding from spores is trickier and demands some persistence. Remove a frond that’s just about to release its spores (the ‘blisters’ darken and swell slightly as they mature) and place it in a paper bag. Leave in a warm spot for one to two days during which time the spores will be released and appear as dust.
Sterilise a very fine potting mix with boiling water. Once cooled, spread spores thinly over the mix. Mist with sterilised water, then cover with glass or plastic bags to maintain high humidity. Place in a bright warm place out of direct sunlight. Germination can take up to three months.