Most ferns are not really difficult to grow in the modern home, but they will not tolerate neglect. The compost must never be allowed to dry out, and the surrounding air needs to be kept moist.
There is a bewildering choice of varieties. Nearly two thousand are suitable for growing indoors, but comparatively few are available commercially. The classical picture of a fern is a rosette of much divided, arching leaves but there are also ferns with spear-shaped leaves, holly-like leaflets and button-like leaflets. There is also a wide choice of ways to display your collection. Many of them are ideal for a hanging basket and some, such as Boston Fern and Bird’s Nest Fern, are large enough and bold enough to be displayed as specimen plants on their own.
Delicate ferns, such as Delta Maidenhair, are best planted in a terrarium. When grouping ferns with other plants make sure that they are not crushed – the fronds are fragile and need room to develop.
1. Asplenium scolopendrium. More commonly referred to as ‘Hart’s Tongue Fern’, Asplenium scolopendrium is an evergreen fern which will form a dense bouquet of arching, leathery, deep green fronds with frilled edges. It propagates by way of the spores that develop on the underside of its leaves, identifiable by the stripes they form on the leaf’s surface. Grow in humus-rich, moist, but well-drained soil. Due to their vulnerability to sunlight, it is imperative that they are grown in at least partial shade and they also prefer a neutral or alkaline ph level.
2. Athyrium niponicum. This fern is a particularly beautiful as one can tell from its titular description, ‘Silver Falls’, the ‘Japanese Painted Fern’, as it is also known, has a beautiful silver tint to its leaves and fronds made particularly vibrant by sunlight, which makes it such a shame that it can only be successfully sustained in full shade! It is also deciduous, although it will maintain this colour throughout all seasons on finely divided, lance-shaped leaves. For best results these should be planted in shade, in moist, fertile soil with an acidic ph level.
3. Dicksonia antarctica. The first tree to make it onto our list, with the potential to reach about six metres tall, Dicksonia antarctica has a brown, fibrous trunk and broad, arching deep-green fronds. It should be planted in a shady position, preferably under other deciduous trees. Ensure the stem remains well watered in the summer season but avoid watering the crown in winter as this will increase the likelihood of frost damage. Plant in an acidic, loamy soil, ensure that it is not too exposed, particularly in colder areas and stuff the crown with straw in winter to protect it from frost.
4. Matteuccia struthiopteris. The ‘Ostrich Fern’, or as it is sometimes more descriptively known ‘Shuttlecock Fern’, is a deciduous one, with huge erect rosettes with an outer layer of bright green fronds enclosing smaller brown fronds, it will also bear non-edible cream coloured fruit in the summer and has a clump-forming, spreading habit. It is excellently suited for water or pond based gardens. Like the Dicksonia they are suited to an acid based soil content, but prefer extremely wet conditions in partial shade.
5. Polystichum setiferum. Also known as the ‘Soft Shield Fern’, these evergreens should be treated with extreme care due to the feathery nature of their leaves and thus respective weakness against the elements, they should be planted in a cool, moist and shady area. However the one advantage of these ferns is that they are fairly indiscriminate to whichever soil they are planted in, not minding acid or alkaline ph levels.
Secrets of success
Temperature: Average warmth – cool but not cold night are desirable. The best temperature range is 60°F – 70°F.
Light: Despite popular opinion, ferns are not shade lovers indoors as most varieties originated in the dappled brightness of tropical woodland. Good indirect light is the proper location – an east- or north-facing windowsill is ideal.
Water: Compost must be kept moist at all times and never allowed to dry out. This does not mean constantly soggy compost – waterlogging will lead to rotting. Reduce watering in winter.
Delta Maidenhair fern