It’s all about the fern

The Progress-Index Weekend - - NEWS - By Shirley Houser Prince Ge­orge Mas­ter Gar­dener

Afern is a mem­ber of a group of vas­cu­lar plants that re­pro­duce via spores that have ei­ther seeds or flow­ers. Ferns are among one of the old­est group of plants on earth with fos­sil records dat­ing back mil­lions of years. How­ever, de­spite the ven­er­a­ble age of the group as a whole, most of the ear­li­est ferns have since be­come ex­tinct. To­day ferns are the sec­ond most di­verse group of vas­cu­lar plants on earth, out­num­bered only by the flow­er­ing plants.

Most ferns have rhi­zomes, un­der­ground stems from which the leaves are pro­duced. While the leaves may drop due to age or cold weather, these rhi­zomes can per­sist in­def­i­nitely, send­ing new leaves year af­ter year. The en­tire leaf of a fern is called a frond.

Ferns are not a ma­jor eco­nomic im­por­tance but some are used for food, medicine or as a bio fer­til­izer. Learn­ing how to care for the fern de­pends on the type you grow. Many types of ferns are de­cid­u­ous and some are ev­er­greens. Ferns pro­vide ex­cel­lent tex­ture in the shade gar­den and can be planted as com­pan­ions to brighten blooms. Ferns range from deeply cut to del­i­cate lacey fronds. All can come in a va­ri­ety of col­ors from dark and bluish green to browns and yel­low­ish.

There are many types of ferns that are for the gar­dens or wood­lands. The South­ern Maiden­hair is a hardy plant that spreads and will sur­vive a wide ar­ray of soil con­di­tions in­clud­ing rocks and acid soil. The Au­tumn is a semi green fern that has arch­ing fronds. The fo­liage will be a cop­pery pink color in the spring, green in the sum­mer and cop­per in the fall. This plant does well in the shade and prefers wet soil. The Christ­mas fern is a pop­u­lar fern in the south­east, look­ing sim­i­lar to the Bos­ton fern. This fern grows slowly but is well worth the wait. Holly fern’s green leaves of­ten per­sist through­out the win­ter. The Ja­panese Tas­sel do well in con­tain­ers and the hay-scented fern has the dis­tinc­tion of smelling like freshly mowed hay when bruised or crushed. This plant grows to 3 ft. tall and wide and will spread quickly as a ground cover. Lady ferns are beau­ti­ful and dainty, they are tol­er­ant of sun and dry soil. Ja­panese painted ferns have sil­ver fo­liage, a few hours of morn­ing sun­shine will en­hance col­ors. Os­munda fern are the largest fern, they thrive in moist soil. Cin­na­mon ferns are tough de­cid­u­ous beau­ties and can be grown at the edge of ponds or wood­lands. The Os­trich fern is rapid grow­ing and tol­er­ates sun as long as the soil never dries out. The wood fern is tough, beau­ti­ful and drought tol­er­ant once es­tab­lished. Some will keep the ever­green leaves while oth­ers drop their leaves. Un­di­vided clumps will be­come large and unattrac­tive. Out­door ferns are ex­cel­lent for nat­u­ral­iz­ing and will re­ward the gar­dener with their grace­ful tex­ture year af­ter year.

Ferns for the in­doors can be very at­trac­tive in homes. Croc­o­dile ferns have bright green fronds. The leaves have the ap­pear­ance of the rep­til­ian. This plant will take medium to bright light and high hu­mid­ity. Le­mon but­ton ferns have golden green fronds with rounded edges. This one is easy to grow and needs bright light and high hu­mid­ity. The Maiden­hair fern is among the most loved and it of­fers fine tex­tured fronds on black stalks. The rab­bit foot fern is slow grower, dark green in color and has fine tex­tured fronds with fuzzy stems. Bird nest fern is a fa­vorite, its slow grow­ing and has bright green fronds that ra­di­ate from the cen­ter of the plant cre­at­ing a vase or bird nest shape.

It is ver­sa­tile and easy to grow. Sil­ver Brake fern will be a dis­tinc­tive look in a home. The crested fronds are al­most spi­dery in ap­pear­ance and bear a bright sil­very stripe down the cen­ter of the plant. The Kan­ga­roo Paw fern of­fers shiny dark green fronds and bare creep­ing stems that may grow down the side of its con­tainer. The Bos­ton fern is the most com­mon of ferns. Other ferns to con­sider are the Holly fern, as­para­gus fern, and the staghorn fern.

Most ferns like an evenly moist soil with reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing, al­low­ing the soil to dry out be­tween wa­ter­ing. Bushy ferns can be dif­fi­cult to wa­ter. A wa­ter can with a long spout can be used to di­rect the wa­ter to the cen­ter of the plant. Wa­ter the plant gen­er­ously un­til wa­ter flows from the bot­tom of its con­tainer. Bath­rooms and kitchens are a good en­vi­ron­ment for ferns be­cause of run­ning wa­ter which gives the mois­ture that fern thrives. Groom your ferns oc­ca­sion­ally by snip­ping away the brown fronds. Ferns will come in an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of tex­tures and col­ors. If you have a lot of shade, rely on ferns to de­liver. The col­ors of the ferns mix so well with other flow­ers. They are also deer re­sis­tant.

Shirley Houser is a Mas­ter Gar­dener with the Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Prince Ge­orge Mas­ter Gar­dener. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers are vol­un­teer ed­u­ca­tors who work within their com­mu­ni­ties to en­cour­age and pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tally sound hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices through sus­tain­able land­scape man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers bring the re­sources of Vir­ginia’s land-uni­ver­si­ties, Vir­ginia Tech and Vir­ginia State Univer­sity to the peo­ple of the Com­mon­wealth.

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