Ferns Gardening Houseplants

Houseplant of the Month for February 2019

Ferns are among the trendiest houseplants. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Ferns

From bushy to stylized, and from dark green to silvery gray-green: ferns come in many forms with leaves (called fronds) that can also vary considerably. One has curls, another featherlike plumes, and a third has no frills at all. Together they form an attractive group of foliage plants that fit with the growing interest in botanical elements and collections in the home. As a bonus, ferns also help keep the air in the home healthy.

Origin

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Young fern leaves, called fronds, are often rolled up into a fiddle-head when the form, then unravel. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Ferns are amongst the world’s oldest plants. Fossil remains have been found dating back some 420 million years, and for a long time, tree ferns were the most common plant on the planet’s surface. Seams of coal are made up of the residue of dead ferns, amongst other things. There are some 10,000 different species that grow anywhere that gets some rain. Only in deserts and locations with permanent snow are there no ferns in the landscape.

The ferns used as houseplants come from tropical and subtropical regions.

Spores, Not Seeds

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Spore cases are most often found on the underside of fronds. Photo: kaibara87, http://www.flickr.com.

Ferns propagate by means of spores. Spore casings are usually located on the underside of the frond: along veins, on leaf edges, on the end of the frond or scattered. Once the spore casings are ripe, they burst open and the spores, as light as air, drift to damp places where ferns can naturally grow.

Variety

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Blue star fern (Phlebodium aureum). Photo: http://www.leroymerlin.pl

The most popular ferns for use as houseplants are:

  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis)
  • Staghorn fern (Platycerium)
  • Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium)
  • Deersfoot fern (Davallia)
  • Blue star fern (Phlebodium)
  • Maidenhair fern (Adiantum)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium)
  • Brake fern and ribbon fern (Pteris)
  • Cliff brake fern (Pellaea).

Species with harder and tougher foliage are easier to look after because they lose less moisture to evaporation.

Boston ferns and staghorn ferns are best suited for use as hanging ferns.

What to Look for When Buying Ferns

  • Size, pot and height should be in proportion.
  • You’ll find the greatest variety in mixed trays of ferns.
  • The growing mix must be slightly moist. Small pot sizes in particular dry out quickly. Ferns that have been left dry for too long will quickly suffer from shed fronds, dry fronds or brown leaf edges.
  • Look for plants free of yellowing foliage. The staghorn fern’s gray-brown basal frond, though, is part of the plant.
  • Check for mealybugs and scale insects. If you discover the plant is infested, leave it in the store. They are very difficult to eradicate once you get them home.

Care Tips

  • Ferns like a bright spot, but not full sun.
  • When watering, completely moisten the potting mix, but don’t get water on the fronds. Ensure that the growing mix is always at least slightly damp.
  • Ferns do well in a spot with high humidity like the kitchen or the bathroom.
  • If the fern is placed in a room where the air is dry, place the planter on a humidity tray so water can evaporate and rise around the plant.
  • Average room temperatures are fine for most indoor ferns. Most tolerate or even prefer cooler temperatures (down to 50 °F/10 °C) in the winter.
  • Apply an all-purpose fertilizer once every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season.
  • Cut off yellow or dying fronds.

Displaying Ferns

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Ferns offer a wide choice of decorative uses indoors. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

A modern way to display ferns is to place various species in a row in identical jars like in a laboratory. Also play with the various ways in which they can be used: show hanging varieties, but also ferns placed on water (evaporation creates good humility) and in a moss ball (kokedama) on a dish. Bird’s nest fern and staghorn fern can also cope with being mounted on a piece of wood.

Text based on a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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