There are over 10,000 known species of fern or pteridophytes (their scientific name). The fern has been present on earth for many years, around 300 million to be more specific, which predates them to before the dinosaurs.
In Victorian times, it became more commonplace to have plants shipped from foreign countries to within the home thanks to the introduction of terrariums. Ferns therefore became a popular plant of choice. So much so that in the mid-19th century, the term ‘pteridomania’ was coined for the avid nature by which the plant was collected. The fern motif was used to decorate many items of the time such as wallpaper, christening presents and gravestones.
Fern fact: The ‘silver tree fern’ is significant within New Zealand culture and can be seen proudly emblazoned on the All-Blacks rugby top as well as on national coins.
There are several ways to propagate ferns, including the sowing of spores and division of rhizomes (stems). The easiest and most effective way to acquire more ferns is dividing the crown of an existing plant.
Make sure before beginning this exercise you have enough ‘heads’ on the fern to be able to do this, as it can take a few years for individual heads to develop on a plant. Many bought ferns can be made up of smaller plants packed together. Look for divisions and then, once the fern is dug up, use two forks facing away from each other and embed into the centre of the plant and pull the plant apart.
Once this is done either pot up your new juvenile plants or place it back in the bed before the roots dry out.
Much like buying a house or situating other plants, think location, location, location. Look for a relatively shady area to plant in and avoid full contact from the sun.
Ferns enjoy a moist, well-drained soil with a slightly alkaline to neutral soil, depending on the type of fern you have.
Whilst ferns prefer a lot of water, do not become over eager when watering as you may end up drowning the plant. When watering, make sure to water the base of the plant and do not directly water the leaves/fronds. As ferns are often situated in the shade they will not dry as quickly and could therefore experience rot.
The extent of pruning can be left up to you and how much you wish to involve yourself with the process. Dead and damaged fronds can be removed when they appear to make way for fresh growth and improve circulation to the plant. In late winter or early spring you can cut all fronds down to ground level leaving a head of dormant growth.