Ferns reached the height of their popularity in the Victorian era when it was fashionable for grand gardens to have a specially constructed fernery. But for most of the twentieth century, flamboyant flowering plants outshone the ferns.
Now, it seems, the situation has changed and once again we are appreciating the special qualities of ferns. Their serenity adds a delicate charm to shaded garden beds. Potted ferns make delightful indoor or outdoor specimens.
Many ferns will grow happily outdoors as long as they are given plenty of moisture and some shade. Popular choices include bird’s nest fern, hen and chicken fern, king fern, tree ferns.
Ferns do best in a moist atmosphere so should be kept away from strong draughts, air conditioning, and sunlight though windows. They grow well in bathrooms where the high humidity levels keep them happy.
Maidenhair, Boston, hare’s foot and leather ferns are all widely used indoors.
These ferns naturally grow high up in trees where they feed themselves by catching falling leaf litter. Plants that grow in trees are called epiphytes. The best known epiphytic ferns are elkhorns and staghorns.
Pot ferns into a mix with relatively low nutrient levels. A mix that holds extra moisture (like Yates Patio & Tub mix or Thrive Hanging Basket mix) are best.
Every fern grower you speak to will have his or her own favourite method of feeding. The important thing to remember is that ferns grow slowly and have quite limited fertiliser requirements. Don’t overdo it!
Feed potted ferns with controlled release Nutricote (there’s one that’s specifically labelled “Fern & Palm”) or half strength Thrive Soluble. Some indoor gardeners find they get good results by using gentle, organic fish emulsion.
Outdoor ferns appreciate an occasional sprinkling with Dynamic Lifter, and mulching with old leaves or well-rotted manure.
Some fern experts swear that their ferns enjoy a tonic of vitamin B1. They recommend dissolving one vitamin B1 tablet in 2 litres of water and pouring the solution over the root system.
Pests and Diseases
One of the worst pests is fern scale. The usual recommendation for controlling scale is to spray with white oil. Unfortunately, with sensitive fern leaves, this cure can sometimes be worse than the disease. A safer treatment may be to trim off all the leaves and fertilise to encourage fresh new growth.
Confidor, available in either a ready-to-use trigger pack or as a concentrate, will control mealy bugs and thrips. Two-spotted mite (or red spider) can be controlled with applications of Mavrik or Nature’s Way Insect Spray. These will also help take care of caterpillars, but it’s best to remove caterpillars by hand if possible. Check your ferns every week and try to get rid of pests before they reach nuisance proportions.
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