Silver fern
You often see ferns in the wild, but they can also make a great addition to your garden. This guide shows you how to propagate ferns and take good care of them.

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.

  • Ferns are unique in the way that they grow because they do not produce flowers or seeds. Instead they have spores that dot the underside of the leaves (or frond to use the correct terminology). These growing habits make them prime examples of plants that provide fascination within the garden. Whether it be observing the tranquil unfurling of the fronds in spring, or taking the time to turn one over and appreciate the intricate patterns the spores produce on its underside.
  • Some individuals with social anxiety may be able to relate to a plant that is not gregarious in nature and is generally happier on the periphery.
  • Ferns can occasionally be seen growing out of walls. This tenacious growing habit could symbolise a determination to ‘hang in there’ when times are tough.
  • The unfurling of the frond itself may also illustrate the slow passage to wellness some may experience in their own physical or mental health.
  • Ferns are good for our physical health as they function as indoor air purifiers. In studies carried out by NASA, ferns were found to be excellent at removing a variety of indoor air pollutants including formaldehyde as well as others.
  • Ferns are likely to remain naturally zesty in appearance due to their preferred growing conditions, whilst other plants may start to appear duskier in appearance as the summer goes on.
  • There are lots of options for where to place them, as ferns are great indoors, in containers or planted out in beds. Just check with your supplier or the label as to where specific ferns would be best situated.
  • For younger children ferns can act as a link to the past. Activate budding imaginations by using part of a bed to allow your child to introduce toy dinosaurs and create their own Land Before Time scenes using ferns to create a realistic backdrop.
  • It’s not just adults who may find fascination with ferns. Further explore the ferns fronds with a magnifying glass and point out how it differs from other plants in the garden.
  • A fern could be a first plant to look after, and due to the ferns relatively low maintenance levels could be a first step towards promoting greater responsibility.

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.

Potted fern

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.

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