Ferns are plants that many of us have admired as we visited our grandparents' homes. Beautiful, lush, green ferns seemed to be able to thrive anywhere. But the reality of the situation is that ferns are not that easy to grow.
Most of us are accustomed to the beautiful Boston fern. This is perhaps one of the most common ferns grown indoors. But what our parents and grandparents had that we in modern homes don't, is a house that wasn't as well insulated and tightly sealed. Our constant quest for a sealed home environment may be bad for our ferns, according to Karl Young at J.H. Galley Florist and Greenhouses in West Seneca. Young says ferns like well-ventilated, cool, somewhat breezy areas. This, he speculated, is why ferns did well in old drafty houses.
It's true that ferns like moderate to low light. They don't like hot, direct light so they would do better in an east window, or behind a sheer curtain that gives them enough protection. Ferns should be potted in soil high in organic material, and should be kept moist but not waterlogged. Use good drainage materials in the bottom of the pot, and mist the fronds or leaves to add moisture. Ferns reproduce by spores, which you can sometimes see on the back of the leaf. You may think your fern has a disease, but this could be the buds or spores. Other ferns reproduce by sending out runners, and a few sprout new ferns. Ferns can be moved outside during the summer. A porch or under a tree is a great place. Place them where they will get indirect light and humidity and they will flourish.
There are hundreds of ferns that would be suitable for indoor growing. Ferns are usually noted for their beautiful shades of green, and their delicate beautiful leaves. The fern just seems to tempt people into touching its leaves. This is bad for the fern, for the oils in your hands plug the delicate pores of the plant and cause the leaves to turn brown.
Some popular ferns include:
The Boston fern, perhaps the most well known, yet one of the touchier ferns. Young suggests the Kimberly Queen, which looks like the Boston fern but is more tolerant of conditions and can withstand a little more neglect.
The Maiden Hair fern. These are some of the most delicate ferns. Keep away from hot air registers and remember the Maiden Hair needs high humidity.
Australian Tree fern. A big, beautiful fern that can grow up to six feet tall. The big downside to this fern is that if you forget to water it for even one day, you could end up having to cut it all the way back and start over.
The Artillery fern has lots of very small light green leaves. It gets its name because when the time is right, the artillery fern "shoots" the pollen from the plant.
Rabbit's Foot fern. A Davallia species, this fern has very lacy, delicate-looking leaves. At the base of the plant is a group of rhizomes. These look like long, hairy extensions. They are brown with white tips and do look like a rabbit's foot. These ferns store moisture in their rhizomes, so it is especially important not to over-water or leave these in standing water. If you're into plants that look or sound animal-like, try the Bears Paw fern, or the Squirrel's Foot fern.
The Button fern has very full, tiny, deep green, button-shaped leaves. Native to rocky areas, these can also be grown indoors in moderate light.
The Staghorn fern looks just like what you expect. These dark green ferns have flat leaves that resemble the horns of Bullwinkle Moose. These ferns can be potted, but many times you will see them mounted on a branch or in baskets. They need more water than most ferns, and depending how it is mounted, you may need to submerge the plant's base when watering.
If you have fond memories of that Boston fern your grandmother had, or the one you may have had in college, give them a try again. Ferns are still some of the prettiest plants in the indoor garden.
Jackie Albarella is a lifelong Gardenville resident and gardener and the host of Gardening For Real People seen Saturdays at 11:30 on WNLO. For more gardening information and tips, visit www.gardeningforrealpeople.com.