Growing and caring for ferns
Ferns were some of the first plants to grow on the earth and are hugely popular plants with gardeners today, who grow ferns for their wide range of foliage forms and for the texture and atmosphere they can bring to the garden.
Although there are many tender ferns, suitable only for growing indoors, there are also hundreds of hardy ferns, both evergreen and deciduous, that are ideal for growing outside in the garden. When considering how to grow ferns it is worth knowing that they are some of the easiest plants to grow provided they are given a sheltered but moist, shady spot.
Ferns do not have flowers or fruit and so do not need a huge amount of light like other plants but to grow ferns well almost all need a rich, neutral to alkaline soil, so add plenty of compost to the hole before planting. They also prefer an open, free draining so if you are growing ferns in a heavy soil add some grit to the planting hole too. Although some ferns like Dryopteris can be grown in drier conditions grow almost all other ferns in shade. The ideal spots in which to grow ferns are generally damp shady corners or by streams and ponds.
Growing ferns does not require a lot of effort from gardeners as once they are established these tough plants need very little attention.
How To grow ferns
Container grown ferns can be planted at any time but the best time to start to grow ferns is during their growing season between April and October - always take care to water well any ferns planted in the summer, particularly if the weather is dry.
A good tip when growing ferns is to make sure that they are planted at just the right depth - too deeply and the crown will get buried which can cause plants to rot and eventually die.
Deciduous ferns such as Osmunda and Athyrium will die down with the first frosts in autumn although others can keep their older fronds well into the winter. These help to protect the young crowns beneath from the winter cold and damp so a good tip when growing ferns is to leave these where they are until the new fronds start to unfurl in spring. Evergreen ferns can also be tidied up at this time of year and any scruffy or tired leaves removed.
Another helpful tip on growing ferns is to give them a boost in spring by mulching with composted bark, garden compost or leaf mould. Rejuvenate any old, congested clumps at this time of year too, by lifting and dividing into fresh new plants.
Some of the most stunning ferns are tree ferns, commonly species of Dicksonia or Cyathia. Striking, architectural plants, they have a crown of fronds above a tall, thick trunk and are ideal plants for a sheltered shady garden. They are also slow growing ferns, which makes them perfect for the smaller garden.
When growing tree ferns it is essential to know that their trunk and fronds must not dry out, so water them regularly to ensure the trunk stays damp - a good tip when growing these ferns is to spray the trunk itself with the hose in very dry weather.
Although they are fairly hardy, these are expensive statement plants and it is best to protect the crowns in winter. A bundle of straw in the crown should be enough but if very cold weather is predicted wrap plants with fleece or straw held in place with chicken wire. If growing these ferns in very cold areas lift plants and keep them in a greenhouse or conservatory over the winter.