Fern Care

  1. How Much Do You Really Know About Ferns?

    Cinnamon_fern

    What is a Fern Anyway? A fern is a leafy, flowerless plant that grows in areas of high moisture. Ferns are vascular plants, in that they have a complex internal vein structure that supplies nutrients to the outer regions of the plant. Ferns are different from other vascular plants in that most vascular plants grow directly from seeds, while a fern grows from a spore, through an intermediate stage called a gametophyte.  A fern requires certain characteristics in its surroundings to grow. Moisture in the air and soil is a must. A fern is a fairly delicate plant, so wind protection is needed also.

    A fern will require some direct sunlight, but not too much. Ferns also prefer climates that are more or less constant. A fern will usually not live through a frost.  Ferns have even more specific conditions when it comes to reproducing. For example, a fern may live for a while in a fairly hostile environment, but will most likely not be able to reproduce there. Ferns will only grow naturally where conditions suit the survival of both the plants themselves, and the intermediate gametophytes. It is commonly accepted that the strength of the gametophyte alone will determine survival of the fern.  Ferns have evolved to suit their environment. While some ferns are able to tolerate drought and heat, others will only thrive in the densest of rain forests.  For a fern to grow properly in a garden, the garden and its surroundings must be very similar, nearly identical, to the environment it evolved in.  For example, a tree fern, found mostly in rain forest climates, will not live in a garden that mimics a desert.   Below is a fern classification chart from Wikipedia:

    Fern_Classification_Chart

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  2. The Life Cycle of Ferns

    Fern Spores

    Ferns, unlike some other plants, do not flower in order to propagate. Instead, they reproduce sexually from spores.  The life cycle of a fern is very different from the life cycle of many other plants. While many plants grow a mature adult form straight out of the seed, ferns have an intermediate stage, called a gametophyte, which then grows into a mature fern.  There are two distinct stages in the life cycle of ferns.

    The first stage is that of the gametophyte.  Spores are produced on the underside of mature plants. These will germinate and grow into small, heart-shaped plants called gametophytes.  The gametophytes produce both sperm and egg cells, and will fertilize itself, or others. Once the fertilization occurs, the adult fern will begin growing.

    Alternation of fern generations

    The second stage in the life cycle of a fern is the adult stage. The fertilized gametophytes begin to look like a mossy growth.  After some time, young fronds will appear, rising out of the moss. If direct sunlight falls onto the young fronds for an extended period of time, the plant may die easily. This is because the tiny stems are not strong enough to sustain direct light and will dry out.

    Fern Spore Close Up

    Once these tiny fronds grow larger, the plant has a better chance of survival. When the veins are matured, moisture from the ground will be transported easily to the outermost leaves and the plant can withstand periods of direct sunlight.  After the plant is large and mature, it will grow spores on the undersides of its leaves and the life cycle of a fern will begin again.

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  3. Dividing Ferns Made Easy

    Multiple Ferns

    Many time when growing ferns and other types of plants, they become too large for their pot or basket. When this happens, the plant must be placed into a larger pot or basket in order for the plant to continue growth. On many occasions, however, a larger holder may not be available or desired. On these occasions, it is possible to divide the plant into two or more smaller plants.  Dividing ferns is very similar to the act of dividing other perennials. First, the plant must be removed from the soil or pot.  This can sometimes be tricky, as the root structure inside the pot may be dense and unwieldy. Next, as much soil as possible must be removed to allow access to the root ball.

    Using a sharp, long bladed knife to cut the root ball into equal pieces, depending on the number of plants desired. Each part should then be replanted into a separate container. Dividing ferns is unlike dividing other perennials in that ferns can take quite a bit of abuse when dividing.  The root ball is usually extremely tight, so it may take considerable force to cut when dividing ferns.  Many other perennials are more delicate and should be handled slightly differently than when dividing ferns.

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  4. Growing Ferns

    Fern in the winter

    Growing ferns differs from growing other types of plants in many ways. First of all, many plants need partial to full sun to be able to survive in a garden.  Growing ferns in partial to full sun, on the other hand, will be extremely detrimental to the health of the plants. The natural habitat of many ferns is the rainforest, and they have become accustomed to being shaded and having lots of moisture.

    Growing ferns differs from other plants in the amount of moisture needed. Most plants will get along fine when watered a couple times a week at most.  Ferns, on the other hand, require constant moisture in both the soil and the air in order to grow properly. Misting the leaves of a fern plant is the best way to mimic the extremely humid atmosphere that the plants are generally local to.

    Fern in the spring

    Another difference between growing ferns and growing other perennials is that ferns will often not survive harsh frosts in the winter.  Most perennials are used to the cold winter months and build strong root structures in order to survive.

    Ferns, as they are generally used to living in warmer climates, cannot survive the cold.  In order to prevent ferns from dying over the winter, it is often necessary to remove them from the garden and plant them in pots and hanging baskets indoors.

    Growing ferns is an enjoyable experience.  Many gardeners attempt growing ferns without first understanding the very specific conditions needed for the fern to thrive.

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