By Charles Hopkins
Published 04/25/2006 | Gardening
Ferns are found in most countries and are amongst the daintiest of foliage plants. They love shady spots and since suburbia is becoming more and more crowded - and thus shaded by tall buildings, they may be the ideal plant to grow. Ferns will grow where the shade is too solid for most flowers, but they also like moisture, some more so than others.
All ferns increase from brown, dust-like spores that grow on the undersides of their leaves. Many also send out underground shoots that grow into new plants and some will actually mutate, producing many variations that are in some cases quite different from the parent plant.
Ferns come in many different shapes, sizes and growth habits and their cool coloring and graceful appearance make them a welcome addition to most gardens. Some are deciduous, their fronds turning russet, then brown and grey as the frosts of winter increase. Others are evergreen and still look quite respectable in the late spring just before the new green shoots appear. The leaf surface of some ferns such as the harts tongue, can be uncut, while others are cut and shaped into a fine filigree lace effect.
If you have the least shade, a water-feature or rocks in the garden, it will be enhanced by the addition of ferns. They seem to add a feeling of timelessness that few other plants can give and will create a satisfying unity by providing a graceful backdrop for your other plants. But dont think in terms of green only. Of course there are a myriad of green hues to be had from different ferns in various stages of growth, but the young foliage of some ferns is flushed with orange, red or bronze. The fronds of Dryopteris erythrosorus are a coppery pink when young and remain so almost until mature, while the black stems of Dryopteris wallichiana forms a contrast to its lime green fronds.
Ferns are popular for growing in containers either indoors or out. Potting medium for ferns should contain equal parts of garden soil, peat moss or leaf mold, and sand. Keep them in full light, but not sunlight. They dont like still, dry air and are likely to be attacked by aphids and mealy-bugs if poorly ventilated. Maidenhair fern (Adiantum) is popular for growing indoors. Keep it moist, but if you forget and it dies off, it can be rejuvenated by cutting the fronds back, or even burning them off. Fire seems to give it a new lease of life.
An ideal fern for hanging baskets is rabbits foot (Davallia). Keep it moist during warm conditions and its lacy fronds will hang down in a charming arch. Dont worry about re-potting too often, for ferns like to be crowded. Ferns dont like to be force-fed. A half-strength water-soluble fertilizer every four weeks is all that is required - if anything. Its a good idea to alternate your ferns with indoor and outdoor living - two to three weeks for each position should keep them happy.