It’s all about the fern
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.