Planting Ferns: Location, Care And Propagation

Farne pflanzen

Planting ferns is not difficult. With the right preparation, you can also easily grow the diverse plants in your garden. They feel especially at home in forests in the shade of large trees.

Ferns are among the oldest living plants in the world. Millions of years ago, tree ferns formed entire forests. Today, the remains of them can be found in lignite. Most fern species today grow in forests – but you can easily plant ferns in your garden as well.

The plant species belongs to the vascular spore plants. Unlike most plants, they do not produce flowers or seeds. There are about 12,000 species of ferns worldwide. Most of them are native to the tropics, but we also have about 170 different species growing here in Europe.

Planting ferns: The preparation

Du kannst Farne auch bei dir im Garten pflanzen.

Ferns have a strong fascination for many people. Yet it is quite simple to plant ferns yourself. If you consider these points, ferns can also decorate your garden:

Species:

First, you need to decide what kind of fern you want to plant. Because the varieties differ not only by their leaf shapes, but also have different requirements. Evergreen ferns, for example, need stable temperatures all year round and are therefore only suitable as houseplants in our latitudes.

The different varieties also differ in size. For example, royal fern requires a lot of space and should therefore stand alone.

These species are particularly suitable for the garden:

  • Worm fern
  • Ribbed fern
  • King fern
  • Ostrich fern
  • Wall fern

Location:

Generally, ferns prefer shady places. They grow especially well in the shelter of tall trees or shrubs. Ferns also thrive in places where other plants struggle.
Some fern species are particularly suitable for planting on walls or rock gardens. These include the script fern or the deer’s tongue fern.
Ferns also become real eye-catchers around garden ponds. Swamp fern and clover fern grow especially well next to bodies of water.
You can also plant ferns indoors in a pot. The hem fern and maidenhair fern are especially ideal for this.
Soil:

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Ferns need loose, humusy soil, like that found in forests.


If the soil is very firm and clayey, it is recommended to enrich it with some humus.
Ferns also need a lot of moisture. The plants have difficulty coping with dry soil.
Tip for the fall: Spread some autumn leaves around the ferns. This not only provides the plants with valuable nutrients, but also protects them from cold temperatures in winter.
Note: Some fern species such as striped ferns or eyelash ferns are protected in Europe. Therefore, you should not carelessly take the plants out of the forest. Pre-grown specimens in pots can be purchased in a well-stocked nursery.

Planting ferns and caring for them properly

Farne sind sehr pflegeleichte Pflanzen.

Ferns are frugal and, given the right climatic conditions, very hardy. With proper care, they will last your garden for many years:

The best time to plant ferns is in the spring. This gives the plants enough time to develop a strong root system – so they can survive the winter well.

To plant the fern in the garden, follow these steps:

  • Carefully loosen the fern from the pot. Keep the root system in water until no bubbles appear.
  • Dig a hole and place the plant a little deeper into the ground. The roots of the fern grow upwards.
  • Between the plants you should keep a distance of 30 to 50 centimeters, depending on the variety.
  • Then cover the soil around the ferns with some foliage. This will protect the newly planted plants and prevent the soil from drying out.
  • If you enrich the soil with humus at the beginning and cover it with foliage, you will not need to fertilize it later.

If you plant a fern in a pot, proceed in a similar way. However, note the following:

  • At the beginning you need a pot with a diameter of about 20 to 30 centimeters.
  • Keep the soil moist. However, you should avoid waterlogging.
  • It is best to enrich the soil with compost every time the fern needs more space and you have to repot it.
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How to care for your ferns properly:

Spring is the best time to cut the old fronds and make room for the fresh shoots. You can reuse the cut leaves to cover the soil around the plants.
If ferns feel comfortable in their location, they tend to become rampant and spread out a lot. The best way to prevent this is to dig up a few specimens, roots and all, in the fall.


Propagate ferns

Auf der Blattunterseite bilden Farne Sporen aus.

Unlike flowering plants, ferns do not reproduce by seeds but by spores on the underside of the leaf. You have three ways to propagate ferns:

Division:

If you want to propagate ferns, you can simply divide them. This method works for all ferns that form several fronds (rhizome heads) or shoot buds.

To do this, carefully expose the rootstock of the fern.
Use a spade to cut off a hand-sized piece with at least two shoot buds.
Place the individual pieces in a pot with low-nutrient growing soil. Keep the soil moist.
Overwinter the new fern in a frost-protected spot and transplant it outdoors next spring.


Brood tubers:

The fern’s spores fully form in the summer until late summer. Then you can propagate the plants using this method:

Separate a leaf with formed spores from the mother plant.
Place the frond with the underside of the leaf on the nutrient-poor soil and fix it with a metal clamp.
After two to four weeks, new roots and fresh leaves will form from the spore vessels.
Carefully detach the young ferns from the soil and place each in its own pot.
Overwinter the plants frost-proof. Next spring, you can set them outdoors.
Spores:

You can also propagate ferns through their spores. However, this is demanding and tedious. You proceed as follows:

Cut off a leaf with clearly visible and palpable spores on the underside of the leaf. Besides the spore chambers, which are visible as brown dots, you should also see fine dust, the spores, on the leaves.


Place the cut frond on a sheet of paper. After about two days, most of the spores should have fallen out of the spore vessels.
Sprinkle the fine spores from the paper into a small growing container on low-nutrient soil.
The spores need light to germinate. Therefore, it is enough to gently spread them on the surface of the soil.
Keep the soil moist with a spray bottle and cover it with a translucent sheet or lid.
Aerate the soil regularly to avoid mold.

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After about a year, you can put the young ferns outdoors.
Tip: Make sure it is windless while you work with the spores. They are so fine that they can be carried away quickly.

Caution: Ferns are poisonous


Although the young shoot tips of some fern species are even edible, the adult leaves and spores are poisonous. It is not dangerous to touch the fronds. However, you should wash your hands thoroughly afterwards so that the spores do not come into contact with your mucous membrane.

According to the Bonn University Hospital, humans and animals can suffer from symptoms such as nausea or vomiting if they ingest the poisonous parts of the fern. You should especially consider this if you live with animals or children. If they chew on the ferns or inhale their spores, they can quickly become poisoned.

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  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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