Ferns in pots

by Adam Pasco

When the first hard frost struck in my garden at the end of October, it was the kiss of death for so much of the long-lasting summer colour...

Evergreen fern - Polystichum - growing in a potWhen the first hard frost struck in my garden at the end of October, it was the kiss of death for so much of the long-lasting summer colour. Busy Lizzies crumpled instantly, summer bedding packed up shop, and leaves started falling from the trees.

So, what's left? Thankfully, I was tempted to buy a couple of hardy evergreen ferns from Fernatix while at Gardeners' World Live a few years ago and now, planted in tall terracotta pots, they take pride of place on my patio during winter.

Ferns have rotten botanical names to pronounce, and this one is called Polystichum polyblepharum. Sorry, but that's its name! Well, you could use its common name of Japanese tassel fern, but if you're trying to impress someone I think the botanical name sounds better (if you can get your tongue around it).

The value of evergreen ferns is that they add interest throughout the year; my pots of polystichum act as sentries in the shade either side of my patio doors. And the joy of pots is that they can be moved around as required.

For planting things that are going to live their life in a pot I always choose a loam-based John Innes No.3 compost. The loam gives it the guts to last, along with longer-lasting nutrients. There's no harm in mixing in some water-retaining gel, especially in the base of the pots. Terracotta also has the effect of drying out the compost very quickly, so a good tip is to use old compost bags or pieces of polythene to line the inside of the pots before filling with compost.

New leaves emerge from the base from early spring, unfurling beautifully. The only other thing I've noticed with new growth in my pots is that it can look very pale, which I put down to lack of feed. So pay attention, and add liquid feed to a watering every couple of weeks.

I never tire of choosing plants for pots, but I'm starting to run out of space. With so many pots to care for, some plants don't receive the attention they need, and end up on the compost heap. Is that really being cruel? If so, please don't report me to the RHS!

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/11/2008 at 18:39

What a great name ! Also great looking plant. Think I might have to get a couple for the patio.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2008 at 23:00

No. Frost-free mean 'frost-free'. If the temperature in your shed dropped down to below freezing then it's not frost-free.I'm not sure what plants you need to keep free from frost, but perhaps oyur garage is a better option.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/07/2009 at 20:18

I have got several evergreen ferns in my garden which I cut back every Autumn. In Spring they come back stronger than ever.I wish to move two of them to a shady part of my garden,when is the best time of the year to transplant them. Thank you.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/07/2009 at 14:26

Do ferns do well in damp shade or better in dry shade? I too wish to transplant some which are no longer in the shade as I cut back a plant that was making the shade.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:37

I am mystified by the term 'frost free shed' how can an unheated shed be free of frost. Temp. in mine last night was -1c Is it still frost free in gardening terms?

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