Ferns date back to prehistoric times. There are thousands of different species of ferns, growing all over the world.
The dramatic unfurling of new fern fronds in spring is one of the highlights of a new gardening season. There’s such a wonderful range of evergreen and deciduous ferns to choose from. Hardy types are the perfect addition to any garden and tender types make wonderful houseplant or terrarium specimens. Ferns are ideal for sun or shade – just make sure you pick the right one.
Here’s our complete guide to growing ferns.
Planting a fern
Where to plant ferns
Before planting ensure that you have the right fern for your garden or home. It is often wrongly assumed that all ferns like shade and a moist soil.
Grow Dryopteris affinis or Osmunda regalis if the sun shines on your plot. If you’re creating a bog garden then plant Matteuccia struthiopteris or Osmunda regalis in the moist soil. The majority of ferns prefer an alkaline or neutral soil but blechnum species prefer an acid soil. The possibilities are endless with such a diverse range on offer.
Watch Monty Don’s video guide to growing ferns in dry shade:
Tree ferns (perennial ferns with woody trunks) will only thrive in a very sheltered position. They are half hardy and require a neutral to acid soil. A sheltered city garden is often the perfect place to grow them.
Delicate pink and bronze fern foliage
How to plant ferns
All ferns thrive in a well-drained but moist soil that is humus rich. The addition of leaf mould before planting is ideal. If growing in a container mix in leaf mould and some sharp sand to the multi-purpose compost. Ferns do not appreciate the addition of a rich well-rotted farm-yard manure. As they don’t flower, they don’t require the addition of a fertilizer.
For best results, plant ferns between May and September. When planting, avoid covering the crown of the fern with soil as this can cause rot.
Ferns don’t produce flowers or seed. Instead they produce spores on the underside of their fronds. Growing new plants from spores can take up to two years. This is a specialist method for very keen gardeners.
Some ferns, such as Asplenium bulbiferum, produce bulbils. The bulbils have small fronds emerging from them so are easy to spot on the parent frond. To propagate more plants from the bulbils remove a bulbil laden frond. Put some seed compost in a seed tray and water. Pin the frond flat onto the compost with small hooks of garden wire. Put the whole seed tray in a clear plastic bag and seal the end. Leave the seed tray in a light and warm place and look out for signs that the bulbils have rooted. Once rooted, carefully lift out the new ferns and pull them away from the parent frond. Pot them on and keep moist.
Frilly-edged, glossy leaves of Asplenium scolopendrium (Crispum Group)
Ferns: problem solving
Ferns are trouble-free and are not often affected by pests and diseases.
Removing discoloured leaves in spring
How to look after ferns
Ferns require very little care. Remove any dead or damaged fronds in May on evergreen ferns. The fronds of deciduous ferns can be cut back in autumn. They will appreciate a mulch in autumn or spring of home-made leaf mould.
Discover the three Golden Rules of growing ferns, in this short video featuring Steven Fletcher of Fernatix:
Avoid moving ferns in the dormant season.
Ferns as houseplants
If you’re looking for a house plants or terrarium specimens go for Asplenium nidus, Adiantum monocolor or Blechnum gibbum. Ferns grown in the house must be kept away from drying radiators or open fires. Avoid direct sunlight.
Glossy leaves of Asplenium scolopendrium
Fern varieties to grow
Osmunda regalis – an elegant deciduous fern that enjoys sun or shade but needs a wet soil. Reaches 160cm
Asplenium nidus – an evergreen fern that’s a popular houseplant. Ideal for a north-facing windowsill. Reaches a height of 60cm
Asplenium scolopendrium (pictured) – a tough, evergreen fern that’s often found growing wild. 30cm
Adiantum aleuticum ‘Imbricatum’ – a delicate looking fern that is very hardy. Enjoys a shady spot in the garden. Reaches 30cm
Blechnum spicant – requires a lime-free soil. An elegant, hardy fern that reaches 45cm in height
Matteuccia struthiopteris – dramatic foliage reaching 160cm. A deciduous fern that spreads well by rhizomes
Dicksonia antarctica – the tree fern. The crown needs protection over winter in cold areas