There are many fern varieties that are grown as houseplants. They come in a wide range of sizes and the foliage can vary from long, cascading fronds to tiny button-shaped leaves. Ferns are generally divided into two groups: terrestrial and epiphytic. The first group, as the name implies, grows in soil, while the second group naturally grows on other plants, although often these too are grown in pots. Epiphytic ferns grown in pots require a suitable soil mix. Rather than the usual combination of equal parts of a soil-based mix and leaf mould used for terrestrial ferns, epiphytic ferns require a mix composed of equal parts leaf mould, peat moss, and coarse sand or perlite to create a lighter, more porous planting medium
Epiphytes can be grown on stumps or pieces of board which have some sphagnum moss attached. These can create quite a dramatic display, but they are problematic to water and it is difficult to prevent the wet moss from staining furniture or walls. The best example of an epiphytic fern is the staghorn fern, and I have seen it grown on a piece of tree trunk as well as in a terra cotta pot.
The most popular terrestrial ferns are the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis), and the sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia). Notice that the Latin names indicate that these two ferns are from the same plant family and thus require similar growing conditions. They are large plants and are best displayed on a stand or as a hanging plant, located so that the long fronds can cascade unimpeded. Different varieties have different lengths of fronds, but some of the largest cultivars have fronds well over two metres in length, while others like the Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis have a bushy growth habit with shorter fronds.
All of the so-called sword ferns are relatively easy-care plants, but they do require regular watering and feeding, as well as periodic grooming when yellowing fronds or those which have browned at the ends are removed. Removal of dead fronds and brown leaves will keep the ferns vigorous and attractive. Some cultivars have been developed which have wavy or lacey foliage. One good example is N. exaltata Whitmanii, which is commonly called the lace fern because of its delicate, lace-like fronds.
Some ferns are very unique plants. The bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus), is elegant and distinctive, and certainly one of the most unusual. Unlike most ferns, which have finely divided fronds, this one has large, entire-edged (not finely divided) and spoon-shaped fronds which can grow almost a metre long on mature specimens. Unlike many other fern fronds, the bird’s nest fern’s frond are erect, not pendulous; they arise from the base of the plant in a rosette and unfurl as they open, exposing their shiny, apple-greencoloured leaves with almost-black mid-ribs causing the plant to look rather nest-like – hence its name. The bird’s nest fern should be displayed in an attractive pot on a table or shelf to showcase its uniquely beautiful foliage. Such ferns are often referred to as “tabletop ferns.”
Like most ferns, including all of the sword ferns, the bird’s nest fern prefers cool temperatures, and a peat-based potting mix to which some sand has been added, high humidity, and bright, indirect light. It should be fed a half-strength soluble fertilizer every three weeks or so during the growing season. If ferns are grown in low humidity their leaves will sometimes brown, but in our homes in the wintertime the humidity is usually high enough to prevent this from happening. Ferns can be grown in quite low light, but their growth will be slower and over time the plants may become less vigorous.
The maidenhair fern (Adiantum), which is much admired because of its thin, wiry stems and small, dark-green leaves, is a bit more temperamental than most other ferns. It is a bog plant so requires lots of water and high humidity. If the planting medium is allowed to dry out to any degree, the plants will often die. This is another fern whose growth habit is upright rather than pendulous, so it can be displayed on a shelf or table.
It is wise to display a maidenhair fern in a watertight pot of some kind that can be kept halffi lled with water. While allowing the pot to be half submerged in water would doom most other houseplants, as typical bog plants, maidenhair ferns thrive on having some of their roots in water.
An interesting group of plants, ferns are useful to add greenery to the interior landscape. Whether you choose a large specimen that can stand on its own and is allowed to cascade from a high shelf or plant stand, or a smaller tabletop one which can be included in a plant grouping, a fern is a welcome addition to any indoor garden.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba
Itshouldbefeda half-strengthsoluble fertilizereverythree weeksorsoduring thegrowingseason.