The Fern Nursery, Grimsby Road, Binbrook, Lincolnshire, LN8 6DH
Tel. 01472 398092
This page will, we hope, answer a few of the questions that you may have about ferns and the growing of them in gardens. It will especially try to answer a few of the more common questions people have, in a quick and simple way, especially for those who would like to grow a few ferns in their gardens, but not so many they feel the need of a text book on the subject.
If you need more advice than you find on the site, on planting, growing, identifying, gardening with ferns or other related gardening matters, we are more than happy to try and help. You can simply email us at the above address, or we will accept letters, frond samples and photographs by post. (Contact Us.)
Why Grow ferns.
Many people think that ferns are difficult to grow, or that they can only be grown in damp and shady places. Neither of these ideas are true. One of the great advantages of ferns as garden plants, is that in many cases they require next to no care at all, and that of the simplest sort. While there are ferns that can be grown on the highest mountains, in the driest deserts, on wall tops, in sun or shade, or even on the bottom of ponds, in fact virtually anywhere.
And there are only a couple of things to remember about planting them.
Firstly, though is not possible to give hints on planting every type of fern individually, there are some general points that should get you started.
Though many of the tougher types of fern will tolerate almost any type of soil, generally speaking most ferns require an open free draining soil if they can get it. The reason being that ferns have many fine fibrous roots, rather than woody tap-roots, and these find it much easier to penetrate an open loose soil, which is not waterlogged, than a dense or very wet one.
It is best therefore to prepare the ground for ferns, by mixing the soil with materials such as, leaf mould, shredded bark, garden compost, well-rotted farmyard manure (which includes animal bedding), and even gravel or grit on the heavier soils. It is best to avoid fresh manure however, as the fine roots of ferns can be sensitive to strong fertilizer, and will die back if over fertilized even organically. This however is one of the big advantages of growing ferns. For as they do not flower or make seed, they have very small needs for food, or light etc. and therefore can get by in some very difficult places indeed.
When to plant ferns
Secondly it is best not to move ferns in the winter or the dormant season. This is mainly because of those fine roots again, which do not have great reserves of strength and can therefore easily suffer damage through cold, dry, waterlogging, or severing of the growing points, in winter, so that they will not be able to start work or growth again in the spring, just when the plant needs them most. The best planting time for ferns is during the growing season, April to October and the months between.
How to plant.
Plant deeply to avoid rocking but do not get soil in the centre of the crown, as the crown can rot if covered. Insure that the soil is close round the root ball, and if needs be, tease out and spread the roots a little, but do not firm the soil as hard as you would if planting as shrub. After planting water well, and then water once or twice a week through the rest of the first growing season if there is no rain, stop however in autumn to avoid waterlogging in the winter. Once established ferns should not need any watering except in very severe droughts.
Where to plant ferns.
Almost, all ferns will enjoy very heavy shade indeed, especially when compared with other garden plants. Though naturally they will not grow in complete darkness, it is worth a trying a few in the gardens really dark corners just to see. It is best however to avoid putting the taller woodland types where they could encounter strong winds, as they can be killed by burning and rocking. But most of the shorter, spreading and alpine types are more than tolerant of even the strongest winds. It is best however, to avoid planting any fern directly on to the top of tree roots, and if you do plant in mature woodland, then it is a good idea to make a large hole and fill it with loose materials, in order to give the ferns start, before they have to compete with the established roots.
This is the good bit. Ferns need very little maintenance at all, in fact we can divide maintenance into three groups.
1. For the really lazy gardener. If you plant the larger woodland types of fern, or any of the smaller ferns listed in books catalogues as "tough" or "easy". Then they will probably be happy to live and increase in size slowly, without outgrowing their space for many years/decades, with no care at all.
2. For the slightly tidy gardener. You may like to tidy away any dead/untidy fronds in spring, early may for example, if you wish, but do not do it earlier as the old dead fronds will protect the roots and soil beneath.
3. For the real enthusiast. Ferns really like a mulch now and again, ideally on top of the soil and in spring again. You may use anything except strong manure, i.e. leaf-mold, garden compost, composted bark even grit. They do not need lots of fertilizer, nor do they usually need dividing, though you may try reinvigorating a really old clump if you wish. Just split it apart with two forks and replant in spring, if you really must.
And thatís is all there is to it.