Raising a fern garden

You can make ferns your garden’s main attraction or use them as a bewitching background for your flowering plants. Some ferns serve as good ground cover too. And yes, you can also grow them in containers both indoors and outdoors. Did you know that some ferns are even relished as delicacies?

Ferns are amongst the planet’s most primitive plants and they come in thousands of varieties.

It were the Victorians who first fell for the fern as a garden garnishing plant. Dr Ward discovered ferns can be grown in glass cases and bottles, now called terrariums. Most ferns are green, but they come in numerous shades too. Some have red veins! Some have glossy leaves or ‘fronds’. The Himalayan maidenhair makes for great ground cover. The Japanese painted fern with its grey-green fronds is simply ravishing! The black tree fern and the thousand-leaved ferns are other lovely varieties. Some ferns are tiny whereas tree ferns grow tall!

Remember, ferns are mostly comfortable in the shade (say, underneath an evergreen tree’s overhanging branches). They wilt in excessive sunlight. A few varieties, however, thrive in the sun too.

An extremely windy location can damage delicate fronds. Since ferns flourish wonderfully with care, leave enough space for their expansive tendencies. Ensure that the soil is rich in organic matter. If unsatisfactory, add compost. The soil should be kept moist but not soggy.

Though they are best grown from the spores that develop on the fronds’ undersides, it’s a time-consuming process. Ferns are also propagated through their underground rhizomes (roots). First-time gardeners usually pick full-grown plants from nurseries and garden centres.  
Indoor ferns can grow in tabletop containers, floor stands or hanging baskets. Some fern varieties like the Boston fern, Japanese holly fern and the Rabbit’s foot fern are especially suited for indoors. Place indoor ferns near a window, but not in direct sunlight. The containers should have a hole for drainage.

But, don’t take it too easy. Ferns are likely to rot faster, are more sensitive to overwatering and vulnerable to insects than other plants. Avoid using plastic pots because they don’t facilitate proper drainage or release of salts, key factors for fern health. Clay pots or hanging baskets lined with sphagnum moss are recommended instead. Plus, carelessly handled, pest control chemicals can burn your ferns. Try test doses first on a few plants and proceed to use them extensively only if they prove to be harmless. So, when do you know your ferns are in trouble? The leaves appear deformed as if chomped up by insects if you overwater.

Burned edges indicate you’ve overused salts. Burned spots are formed when you’ve carelessly sprayed a neighbouring plant. Fungicides can also result in stunted or deformed plants.

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