Who’s Afraid of Ferns?: Foliage Plantings

Ferns are different from flowers. They, however, are evergreen plants that are pretty perennials. They need to be fed every two to three weeks with a balanced, healthy feed that contains a minimum of 2 cups of a fertilizer that contains a high concentration of phosphorus and a medium to high concentration of potassium. Fertilizer should be fertilized during the fourth growth stage (one to two years old).

They do great indoors in containers for growing green. They also do great if planted outdoors outside and established under the trellis, in the ground, on the sidewalk or in pots with stones or mulch.

If you transplant, dig the soil well around the seed plant. If you do transplants in pots, pick out the large starlings and chickadees from the container before planting. Footed Ferns need a spot with pH of 6 or higher so it can thrive in colder climates. For a vertical planting, for example, next to your fire escape stairs, they will do well. Use a potting soil that is 2/3 compost and 1/3 straw and dry it on a dry rim from 120 to 150 degrees. If you get an early winter, you will need a bit more rainwater and fertilizer because the plant needs more moisture to keep the nitrogen/phosphorus mix from clumping, so if the soil gets too dry, put a big pot of water into the container for it to get extra fertilizer.

Footed Ferns form with water and thrive in wet or moderately wet soils. Water them constantly and they need a wet spot to dry out if they go dry before you have a decent watering time. They need only about 1 inch of moisture a week to grow, but they will shrivel up and die if they don’t get water every day. The ground is not necessary for Footed Ferns to thrive; they could grow anywhere that has a slightly acidic soil so long as they don’t have a chemical background or dock soils.

You can grow Footed Ferns as trees by pulling the tops off when they are just a few years old and replanting them on a stand so they have lots of coverage. If you have a double growth cycle that flower and fruit, you can use old fruit cuttings as new hostas to add color. When you dig them up, think of planting them in mason jars because they do best near the center of a mason jar, rather than in square containers. When you do this, don’t forget to pick out the climbing legs that come out when the plant shoots are getting bigger. They should be removed so you can get the whole plant. Water them regularly after transplanting them.

Ferns take about a month or two to show signs of life and your garden is sure to turn a beautiful shade of green with the flower wood of this beautiful little plant. Don’t let them go hungry or they will grow to the size of a half buck during its lifetime.

Julie Creery is a horticulturist with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached at jcreery@ufl.edu.

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