The beauty of ferns differs from other types of plants. Instead of colorful blooms, ferns offer graceful, delicate fronds and a refreshing greenness. Ferns also differ because of their sexual method of reproduction. Unlike flowering plants, ferns produce spores on the back of the fronds that when planted in damp soil create the prothallia, which are flat, green heart-shaped structures that produce sexual organs to create new ferns when fertilized. These differences in fern propagation, care and diversity are also advantages for fern growers.
Ferns are classified by their structure and spore-bearing parts. They vary in size from tiny mosslike growths to large tree ferns reaching 50 feet or more in height, with a stout trunk. They grow in all parts of the world and are found in both forests and deserts. Their fronds vary widely as well, from feathery plumes and divided fronds to undivided fronds and variegated colors. With so many choices, gardeners are sure to find a fern to complement their garden. The Indian Holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior “Variegata”), for instance, produces bright green fronds with a gold stripe accent and thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7 to 9. It grows to a height of 18 inches
Ferns generally tolerate many different soil types but prefer well-drained soils with organic matters. A layer of mulch is needed to retain moisture and keep the roots cool. Once established, ferns require a yearly application of organic matter, such as manure or organic compounds. Ferns adapt well to their environment and can grow in shade or sun if kept well-watered. The plants require occasional pruning to remove old, misshapen or broken fronds, but no other care if required. The bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) fern can grow in full sun and tolerates dry soil for USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10. It matures to an adult height of 3 to 6 feet.
More Than One Method of Propagation
Two effective methods of propagation for ferns are by division and sowing the fern spores. In the spring, gardeners can divide ferns by cutting through the rhizomes at a node with a sharp knife and replanting it outdoors in the same growing conditions of the mother plant. Sowing fern spores is another option for propagation. You can sow spores directly in a chosen location during spring or summer by sprinkling spores in an area with finely sifted compost and loam.
Few Pest Problems
Ferns are susceptible to a few pests. The pests include mealybugs, scales, and hemispherical scale. Scales are the most damaging pest for ferns, causing an infected plant’s fronds to turn yellow and drop off and leading to plant death. Inspecting the fern before buying it is a good way to avoid pests. Check for signs of insects, such as black honeydew, and never buy a plant with even the slightest sign of pests. Ferns grown under proper conditions are healthy and naturally resistant to pests and disease. Hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10, the sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is very pest- and disease-resistant. Its fronds can grow up to 5 feet in length.