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Growing ferns

Published on July 6th 2020
A close up of a flower
Ferns are flowerless plants with the most incredible fronds and are one of the oldest and also most diverse living plant groups.
In almost every country in the world, there are native ferns to be found and due to the diversity of ferns they are actually rather easy to grow and cultivate but many a gardener are intimidated by them. Hopefully, after reading this article, you plan to visit your nearest garden centre for your first, or one of many ferns.
A close up of a plant
Rumohra adiantiformis

The in’s and outs

In their natural habitat, ferns can be found either growing in the ground or attached to a tree or stump in the air. They don’t produce flowers but rather show off with the most incredible selection of fronds you have ever seen - from dainty and fine little leaves to large, robust, and leather-like leaves. They reproduce from the spores found underneath or on the back of their leaves and flourish in moist conditions with enough light.
A close up of a plant
Blechnum gibbum

Indoors or Outdoors?

Ferns are not only diverse in species but are also able to adapt to many different environments and can thus be grown indoors or outdoors. Caring principles are the same for ferns whether indoors or outdoors which makes them an ideal group of plants to get invested in ;)
A close up of a plant
Tree fern
Indoors, ferns have been around for many years in a pot, displayed on a plant stand, and they recently made quite a come-back with the increasing trend of indoor plants. Read this article for more information about a few indoor ferns on sale from Plantify.
Outdoors they create a lush, tropical feel to a moist, semi-shade corner of your garden. With the incredible variety of indigenous and exotic ferns available, you will be able to pack quite a few species into one small area playing with the height, spread, and character of the different plants.
Adiantum capillus-veneris and Selaginella kraussiana

Growing ferns

This is the single most important aspect of growing ferns successfully! Any plant for that matter. The position of a plant in a garden or indoors in a house plays such a big role in the overall health and happiness of a plant.
Outside, a covered patio or the shade of a south-facing wall would work well or a garden bed with semi-shade or dappled sun. Next to a stream or water pond is also ideal! Avoid full sun, harsh afternoon sun, or deep shade.
Indoors, most of the same would apply for harsh afternoon sun or direct sunlight the entire day. Choose a spot where your fern will receive some morning sunlight or otherwise enough indirect light.
Have a look at this collection of ferns for indoor use.
A plant in a pot
Water and Humidity
Naturally, ferns come from a very moist habitat and thus require a moist environment with regular watering. A fern will flourish in moist conditions with enough humidity and light.
Group ferns together indoors or outdoors in a garden bed. This will increase the humidity around them as moisture transpires from the plants. Consider putting a tray of wet pebbles with some water in the tray beneath a pot. Mist them with lukewarm water in a spray bottle to provide extra humidity. A bathroom with enough light is a very happy place for a fern!
Top tip:
Although they like water, they prefer not to live inside water. Ensure your soil always has good drainage.
A close up of a nest
Soil and Much
Whether indoors or outdoors, all ferns need well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Add ample amounts of compost, organic matter, or manure to your soil. This will also add to the acidity of your soil, which ferns prefer.
When spring comes it is important that you add a good layer of mulch to help keep the soil moist and cool. Read the article below if you are new to mulching.
A close up of a flower

Mulching 101


Naturally, ferns grow between trees, underneath other plants or on the forest floor, protected in all these cases. Make sure that when you decide to plant ferns, the position of planting is protected from elements like wind, extreme heat, and extremely cold weather.
Top tip:
If you do find yourself in an area where you get frost in the winter, carefully wrap your fern in hessian to protect it from the frost.
A close up of a bottle
Outdoors you can continue to add mulch and humus to the soil. Indoors you can give some additional feeding to your ferns in the active growing season. Seagro or Kelpak is always a good option.
Top tip:
If your ferns look a bit sad indoors, dunk them in a solution of Epsom salts, water, and tea which will combat dehydration!
A group of palm trees
Blechnum tabulare

Choose wisely

There are most certainly a few species that are very difficult to grow so our advice would be to start with a few easy ones and then grow into the more difficult ones. There is also a wide range of ferns to choose from in nurseries, both indigenous and exotic. Have a look below for a few easy starters together with species that are indigenous and exotic, later on.
Easy ferns
A very familiar and firm favourite for many. Read more about caring for a Staghorn Fern in this article:
Indigenous ferns
We have the most beautiful selection of indigenous ferns in South Africa. They aren't always available, but if you keep you looking, you might just be lucky!
Exotic ferns
There are a number of exotic ferns which are very commonly seen in our garden in South Africa. Some are more readibly available than others, and the staghorn fern is amongst the most famous.

Share your ferns with us in a post, and remember to use include #Ferns !

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