The fern was one of the first plants on Earth. Fossil fern remains, dating back 450 million years, have been found in coal beds. Ferns can be found all over the world. Ferns are also great plants for indoor and outdoor gardening. There are types that are great for shade gardens, sun gardens, rock gardens, ponds, bog gardens, flower borders, and just about everywhere.
The ferns were at their height during the Carboniferous Period (the age of ferns) as they were the dominant part of the vegetation at that time. During this era some fern like groups actually evolved seeds (the seed ferns) making up perhaps half of the fern like foliage in Carboniferous forests and much later giving rise to the flowering plants. Most of the ferns of the Carboniferous became extinct but some later evolved into our modern ferns. There are about 12,000 species in the world today.
During the Victorian Era ferns became popular indoor plants. Today, they are used as specimens in atrium’s, greenhouses and conservatories and we find them in the smallest apartments to the largest homes.
They can be subdivided into three groups, ferns that shed their leaves in autumn, ferns that shed their leaves below zero and evergreen ferns. Ferns that shed their leaves in autumn or winter will grow new leaves in spring. This means that every spring, your garden has a new, fresh fern. Evergreen ferns however do not shed their leaves and give the garden a green aspect in winter as well.
Ferns are an easy plant to care for. They need a lot of light, but not bright, they grow on any soil, as long as they can take up sufficient water and nutrients. Ferns come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and heights and they can be used in the following garden regular, shady, humid, rock and Japanese.
The fern’s location in the garden and its water requirements mainly determine whether a fern is suitable for your garden. Many fern species feel at home in a container on your balcony or terrace. In addition, some fern species are excellently suitable for high traffic areas such as in verges and roundabouts, as ground cover in parks and gardens, and along ponds and in wet areas.
Garden ferns generally prefer shade. The fern is even one of the few plants that grow continuously on a shady spot. However, other ferns thrive in the full sun.
Ferns used for indoor culture prefer a cool temperature and a high level of humidity in the air. Ferns can be found under dense canopies of trees or large woody plants, in the tropics and woodlands. Some species are native to somewhat dry climates, that have periods of heavy rainfall. Usually the rainfall occur during hot weather, thus providing a cooling effect.
When ferns are grown outdoors during summer, they should be located in the cooler areas of the garden, usually in deep shade or a garden structure. Never expose ferns to full sun in the summer.
During winter when your heat is on, many ferns need misting. Use an atomizer, plant mister or a plastic spray bottle that gives off a fine mist. Mist the plants early in the morning. Apply enough to moisten the fronds. Ruffled or fluffy (finely textured with dense foliage) ferns are a bit sensitive to too much water on their foliage. Mist these types only when your air is extremely dry. Broader- and thicker-leaved ferns may need daily misting when your heat is on frequently or for long periods.
Humidity is one of the most limiting factors in fern culture. Without a fairly high level of air moisture, most ferns will be unattractive and unhealthy.
Some gardeners water by soaking ferns in clay pots in a sink or tub of water for a few minutes. If you do this, remove the plants as soon as they are soaked, usually when the bubbling stops. Don’t submerge the plant when you soak it. Some ferns are sensitive to being covered with water, even for a few minutes. Also, fronds of some types are very brittle, while others are extremely soft. The weight of excess water may break or damage them.
Your watering practices determine your success with ferns. Over or under watering are by far the most common reasons for poor results. Shedding or leaflets occurs very rapidly if the plants are under or over watered.
Ferns need grooming periodically to help them maintain health and vigor. This simply means removing dead fronds or matings of dropped leaflets. This is particularly important in the fluffy types that may be quite compact. Keep the pot clean. Wash it occasionally with warm water and a soft brush
Most ferns develop shallow root systems, so shallow pots or pans are best. To maintain the proper balance of root systems and space, some ferns, depending on growth rate, need re-potting several times a year.
Start small ferns in small pots. Shift them to the next size pots as they become crowded.
you should wait until the plant seems to be spilling out of the pot before re-potting. Remember that some ferns grow rapidly, while others are extremely slow. In time, you will learn the growth characteristics of the ferns you enjoy
In potting, place an inch of gravel or clean pieces of broken pots in the bottom of your container. This keeps the drainage holes from clogging. Also, make certain the pots are thoroughly clean. It’s also a good idea to soak the pots in a solution of one part household bleach and nine parts water. A periodic washing of the pots is desirable too. This helps remove scum, soil, accumulated fertilizer salts or other materials that might clog air spaces.
Ferns have relatively few pest problems. However, when they do occur, they can be overwhelming and cause a lot of damage. The major pests of ferns include fern scale, hemispherical scale and several species of mealy bugs. When you purchase plants, inspect them carefully to make certain they are free of insects. Check the tops and bottoms of the leaflets and the stems. Do not buy any plants showing the slightest sign of insects.
Here is a short list of different types of ferns: