Growing Ferns in Containers – Gardening Practices

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Growing Ferns in Containers – Bring the Woodlands to Your Container Garden

Growing Ferns in Containers - Bring the Woodlands to Your Container Garden

Learn the Basics of Growing Ferns in Containers

Growing ferns in containers will add a new dimension to your plantings. While flowers are eye-catching, they come and go. It is ferns and foliage with their endless shapes, colors, and textures that are the real backbone of container gardens.

By examining ferns for the beauty of their leaves, interesting texture, and various colorings, you will find yourself drawn to this wonderful genre of plant life.

Many gardeners have heard that ferns are delicate and hard to grow. As a result, they totally ignore this entire class of plants. This is really sad, as ferns are one of the more interesting plant groups. There are over 12,000 varieties of ferns. They range from tiny plants to full-grown trees. Yes, some are delicate, but a lot of them are so hardy you couldn’t kill them if you tried. They have been around since the age of dinosaurs, which gives you an idea of their survival instincts.

If you haven’t yet considered growing ferns in containers, read on and see if this is something you’d like to try in the future. If you have a fern or two planted in your containers, check the listing of ferns for container gardens to see if there may be a new variety you’d like to consider for next season.

Using Ferns in Container Gardens

Although ferns can be incorporated in containers with other plants, most do best if planted in their own container. The exception is the asparagus fern, which is really not a true fern. The asparagus fern is actually a member of the lily family. It thrives in bright light and is a favorite of container gardeners and florists for adding interest to the design of a container.

Ferns are at their best when used as a backdrop for your container garden. They always look well and prop up fading bulbs and perennials. They give a lush, woodland look to your garden and seem to anchor your containers to the ground. By grouping them with containers of contrasting foliage, they will call attention to themselves without overwhelming your main planting.

Choosing Potting Mix for Your Ferns

A soil mixture for ferns must hold adequate moisture, contain a high proportion of organic matter such as peat, leaf mold, and ground sphagnum moss, and be well-aerated so it will drain very well and air can move through the soil. The nutrients magnesium and calcium should be available to the roots.

If you live near woodland, rotted leaf mold is easy to obtain and is a perfect addition to your potting soil since it is the main ingredient in soils where ferns naturally grow. Since many gardeners are nowhere near woodland, peat, and sphagnum moss are the next best choice for organic matter as they are easily available.

Commercial soilless potting mixtures are available and many gardeners find this works well when growing ferns in containers. Not all ferns are alike, just as all flowers are not the same, and cannot be lumped into one group. You may find you have to do some experimenting with your potting soil to obtain the best mix for your fern varieties. Research the Internet or check with your local Extension office for more information about your chosen fern species.

Planting Ferns in Containers

Since ferns typically grow on rocks or pebbles or in shallower soil than most other plants, most ferns develop shallow root systems. For this reason, shallow pots or pans, 3-6″ deep are the best choices for starting ferns when growing ferns in containers. Don’t use too large a pot. The fern should fit into the pot with about 1-2″ of allowable growth room around the edges of the pot. If the pot is too large, you will have a difficult time maintaining the proper moisture level for your fern.

Be sure to start with clean pots. Check to see if there are adequate drainage holes. Cover the holes with mesh screening or a coffee filter. Then, partially fill the pot with your potting soil mixture. Carefully pull the root ball apart so you can spread the roots outward to the edges of the pot.

Cover roots with soil to about an inch from the top of the pot. Be careful not to cover the crown of the plant (the top of the plant where leaves originate). Water thoroughly to moisten all the soil, be careful not to water the crown, and set your fern in a shady spot to give it time to acclimate to its new home.

Locating Your Ferns in Your Container Garden

Most ferns prefer a cool, moist, shady location. They grow best in temperatures between 70 – 80 degrees. They should be shaded by the hot summer sun.

If you have been growing ferns in containers indoors and you are moving them to an outdoor location for the summer, they require a hardening-off period the same as other house plants. For about 2 weeks, place your ferns in a cool, sheltered location and protect them from the heat and bright sun. If they start to whither, become droopy, or change color, move them to a slightly warmer location until they recover. Once they become acclimated to the outside, they will be a great addition to your container garden.

If you have just transplanted your fern, cover it with a clear plastic bag and place the pot on a tray of moist pebbles to help maintain some humidity around the plant. After a few days, remove the bag if the plant looks perky and healthy.

Watering Your Ferns

Correct watering when growing ferns in containers is most important. One of the most common reasons for failure with ferns is over or under-watering.

Regardless of what you’ve heard, ferns do not like to have wet roots. Some of them, such as the Boston fern and Birds nest Fern, actually like to be slightly dry between waterings. Check the directions for the type of fern you are growing to learn its moisture level preference. Most ferns will do well if they are placed on a tray of moist pebbles.

The humidity from the moist pebbles is what is helpful to keep your fern green and growing ferns in healthy conditions. Do not allow the pot to sit directly in the water. It’s extremely important not to let your fern sit in water or you run the risk of your rotting your plant.

Water the soil, not the plant. Never water your fern in the center of your plant, particularly Birds Nest ferns.

You can tell if your plant is not watered correctly because there will be a shedding of leaflets if your fern is over or under-watered. If this is happening, you can check your plant’s root system. The roots should be a healthy light beige color. If you are over-watering, your fern roots will have an unhealthy black color.

To mist or not to mist, that is the question. There is much disagreement on this subject. Some horticulturalists insist this is an unnecessary procedure while others will tell you it is essential to the healthy growth of your fern. Since it does no harm, mist if you’d like. If you don’t want to be bothered, forget it. If you’re a gardener who enjoys experimenting with different techniques, try both ways and see if there really is a difference in plant health one way or the other.

Fertilizing Your Ferns

When growing ferns in containers, it is important that you follow a feeding schedule:

Since ferns are grown in a mix that drains well and they are watered often, nutrients are washed out of the soil. Ferns need to be fed more in spring and summer which is their natural growing season. During growth seasons, ferns should be fed monthly. Use a formula of roughly 15-5-15 or 20-10-20. Check the label to see if the ammonia and nitrogen levels are equal.

During the winter, you can slow down the feeding schedule to once every 2-3 months. Be aware that over-fertilizing is as bad as no fertilizing at all. Never feed a dormant fern.

A home remedy that works well is to mix 2 tbsp Epsom salt with 1 gallon of water to keep your fern green and healthy. Use twice a month. Your plant will grow stronger and greener because of the minerals in the Epsom salt.

In the winter, it is also recommended that distilled water be used once a month to water your ferns to help flush out any salts that may have built up in the soil.

Transplanting and Propagating Your Ferns

When growing ferns in containers, you will find that some varieties grow quite quickly and need to be repotted often. When your ferns become too large and outgrow their allotted space, it’s time to divide them and make more plants. Remove the fern from its pot and examine it. You will most likely see several crowns in the plant. Separate the plants and re-pot them.

Some plants will grow little plantlets on long stringy runners. When the plantlet has 2 -3 fronds and some roots, separate it from the parenting plant and plant it in moist potting soil. Be careful not to bury the crown. This plantlet will grow into a plant that’s ready to be re-potted within 6-8 weeks.

Growing Ferns in Pots – Tips and Tricks

Ferns are fragile and delicate plants that require a lot of attention. However, if you provide them with proper light and water, they can grow into beautiful plants that will make your garden feel like it’s alive. The following is a list of the best tips and tricks for growing ferns in pots:

  • Fill the pot with potting soil and keep the soil damp to prevent the growth of roots.
  • Use a mix of peat moss and coarse sand or bark to ensure that your plant has plenty of nutrients.
  • Sprinkle dry fertilizer over the soil now and then as this will give your plant all the nutrients it needs.
  • Always water your fern often enough as this is one way to prevent root rot from happening.

Ferns for Container Gardens – A Listing of Most Popular Ferns for Growing in Containers

Ferns for container gardens are fun to grow and readily available. Below is a listing of the most popular ferns for growing in containers.

I haven’t gone into great detail as this list is only meant as a quick reference. For more information on how to tend to your plants.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but is only meant as suggestions to get you started growing ferns in container gardens. I’m sure I’ve missed someone’s favorite and if you would like to have your favorite included in this listing, feel free to contact us and I’ll be happy to add it to this listing.

Most Differentes Types of Ferns Plants To Growing in Containers:

1. Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 7-9

Plant Height: 24-36 inches

Comments: Although the asparagus fern is listed in the fern category, it is not a true fern because it does not produce spores.

The Asparagus Fern, also known as Asparagus densiflorus, is a popular houseplant that is prized for its delicate, feathery foliage and easy-to-grow nature. It is not actually a true fern, but rather a member of the asparagus family.

The plant typically grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) and produces long, arching stems that are lined with small, needle-like leaves. The leaves are a bright green color and are arranged in clusters along the stem, giving the plant a full, bushy appearance.

In addition to its attractive foliage, the Asparagus Fern also produces small, white flowers that bloom in late summer or early fall. These blooms are followed by small, round, bright red berries that add another splash of color to the plant.

As a houseplant, the Asparagus Fern is relatively low-maintenance and can thrive in a variety of lighting conditions, from bright, indirect light to low light. It prefers well-draining soil and should be watered regularly, but not overwatered, as this can lead to root rot. With proper care, the Asparagus Fern can live for several years and make a beautiful addition to any home or office.

2. Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 5-9

Plant Height: 20-24″ inches

Comments: The name of this fern comes from the fact that new fronds are coppery-red when they start.

The Autumn Fern, also known as Dryopteris erythrosora, is a beautiful fern that is named for its striking autumnal foliage. It is a deciduous fern, which means that it sheds its leaves in the fall and goes dormant over the winter before regrowing in the spring.

The plant typically grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) and produces fronds that are 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) long. The fronds are a vibrant coppery-orange color when they first emerge in the spring, gradually darkening to a rich green as they mature. In the fall, the fronds turn a beautiful shade of bronze or copper, adding a splash of color to gardens and landscapes.

Autumn Ferns prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. They can tolerate some sun in cooler climates, but too much sun can scorch their delicate leaves. The plant is also relatively low-maintenance and has few pest or disease problems.

The Autumn Fern can be grown as a specimen plant or used to add texture and color to mixed borders, woodland gardens, or shady areas. It pairs well with other ferns, hostas, and shade-loving perennials. With proper care, the Autumn Fern can live for many years and provide a stunning display of color throughout the growing season.

3. Boston Fern

Boston Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 9-11

Plant Height: 24 inches

Comments: The number one fern grew in containers in the USA.

The Boston Fern, also known as Nephrolepis exaltata, is a popular houseplant that is prized for its lush, feathery fronds. It is a member of the fern family and is native to tropical regions of the Americas.

The plant typically grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) and produces fronds that are 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) long and 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) wide. The fronds are a bright green color and have a delicate, lacy appearance.

Boston Ferns prefer moist, well-drained soil and indirect light. They thrive in humid conditions and benefit from regular misting or a humidifier. The plant is also relatively low-maintenance and has few pest or disease problems, making it a popular choice for indoor gardening.

3. Dwarf Birds Nest Fern

Dwarf Birds Nest Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 8-10

Plant Height: 12 inches

Comments: This fern is a little smaller and harder than the regular species of Bird’s Nest Fern.

The Dwarf Birds Nest Fern, also known as Asplenium antiquum ‘Leslie’, is a compact fern that is prized for its ornamental value and ease of care. It is a member of the fern family and is native to tropical regions of Southeast Asia.

The plant typically grows to a height of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) and produces rosettes of fronds that are 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long and 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) wide. The fronds are a deep green color and have a wavy, ruffled appearance.

Dwarf Birds Nest Ferns prefer moist, well-drained soil and indirect light. They thrive in humid conditions and benefit from regular misting or a humidifier. The plant is also relatively low-maintenance and has few pest or disease problems, making it a popular choice for indoor gardening.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Dwarf Birds Nest Fern is also known for its air-purifying properties. It has been shown to remove pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene from the air, making it a great choice for improving indoor air quality.

The Dwarf Birds Nest Fern can be grown in small pots or as part of mixed indoor plant displays. It is a great choice for those who want the beauty of a fern without the size of a larger plant. With proper care, the Dwarf Birds Nest Fern can live for many years and provide a beautiful, green accent to any interior space.

4. Eastern Maidenhair Fern

Eastern Maidenhair Fern

Light: Deep Shade

Zones: 5-8

Plant height: 1-2 feet

Comments: The most graceful and delicate of all North American native ferns.

The Eastern Maidenhair Fern, also known as Adiantum pedatum, is a delicate, graceful fern that is native to eastern North America. It is a deciduous fern, which means that it sheds its leaves in the fall and goes dormant over the winter before regrowing in the spring.

The plant typically grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) and produces fronds that are 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) long and 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) wide. The fronds are a bright green color and have a fan-like appearance, with each frond branching into multiple delicate leaflets.

Eastern Maidenhair Ferns prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. They can tolerate some sun in cooler climates, but too much sun can scorch their delicate leaves. The plant is also relatively low-maintenance and has few pest or disease problems.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Eastern Maidenhair Fern is also used in traditional medicine for its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and skin conditions.

The Eastern Maidenhair Fern can be grown in shady borders, woodland gardens, or rock gardens. It pairs well with other ferns, hostas, and shade-loving perennials. With proper care, the Eastern Maidenhair Fern can live for many years and provide a beautiful, airy texture to any garden or landscape.

5. Hart’s Tongue Fern

Hart's Tongue Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 6-8

Plant Height: 12 inches

Comments: These glossy, leathery fronds which are about 3″ wide, will last for weeks in floral arrangements.

An evergreen fern that does not do well in hot, humid weather.

Deer resistant.

6. Hay-scented fern

Hay-scented fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 3-8

Plant Height: -15-30″ inches

Comments: This fern gets its name from the scent of the plant which smells like fresh hay when you brush up against it or bruise the fronds.

This fern is easy to grow and will tolerate drought conditions, but never let it dry out completely.

Easy to grow in almost any condition.

Deer resistant.

Deciduous (shedding fronds annually).

7. Holly Fern

Holly Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 7-10

Plant Height: -22″ inches

Comments: This fern has shiny leathery foliage.

It is very long-lived.

Moisture-loving but will tolerate some drought.

Excellent for growing in containers or grown as house plants.

Evergreen.

8. Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 5-8

Plant Height: -12-20 inches

Plant Width: 2-3 feet wide

Comments: Japanese-painted fern has become a very popular fern in the last decade.

Its wide range of colors from silvery-gray to purple, red to burgundy, and shades of green, account for its popularity with container gardeners.

This was a PPA (Perennial Plant Association) “Plant of the Year” pick in 2004.

Colors become more vibrant each year as it matures.

Check the label to be sure of the color if you are looking for a specific color choice.

Tolerant of heat and humidity.

9. Kimberly Queen Fern

Kimberly Queen Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 9-11

Plant Height: 24-36 inches

Comments: The Kimberly queen fern is perfect to be grown as a potted plant indoors, or outside in your containers.

They are an easy-care fern that is a favorite with new gardeners.

Kimberly queen ferns have been shown to have detoxification properties and will help clean up indoor air.

10. Maidenhair Spleenwort

Maidenhair Spleenwort

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 4-8

Plant Height: 3-6″ inches

Comments: This tiny, miniature fern has a place in any container garden.

This is a good choice for terrarium gardens.

It loves growing in crevasses and rocks.

Prefers shady, stony areas.

Deer resistant.

11. Mini Holly Fern

Mini Holly Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 8-10

Plant Height: 8″ inches

Comments: Lacquered brilliant green holly foliage decorates this compact evergreen fern.

In colder areas, it’s an easy and excellent choice for an indoor plant as it tolerates low light, smoke, and drought.

Deer resistant.

Drought resistant.

12. Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit's Foot Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 2-9

Plant Height: 24 inches

Comments: This fern gets its name from spider-like rhizomes, more popularly called rabbitâs feet, that grow over the edge of the pot.

This easy-to-grow fern loves the shade and doesn’t mind if you forget to water it occasionally.

It also will tolerate occasional cold down to freezing temperatures.

Ferns can be propagated by breaking off about 6″ of the foot and pinning it to moist potting soil or sphagnum moss.

Evergreen and extremely long-lived.

13. Sunset Fern

Sunset Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 5-9

Plant Height: 20-24″ inches

Comments: New fronds emerge with brilliant pink to orangey-red foliage.

Ferns slowly change to an olive-green color with a sheen as they mature.

Semi-evergreen, erect arching crown.

A beautiful fern that is easy to grow.

14. Western Maidenhair Fern

Western Maidenhair Fern

Light: Part Sun, Shade

Zones: 3-8

Plant Height: 12″ inches

Comments: A popular fern species that is elegant, graceful, and delicate.

The Western Maidenhair Fern, also known as Adiantum aleuticum, is a graceful fern native to western North America. It is a deciduous fern, which means that it sheds its leaves in the fall and goes dormant over the winter before regrowing in the spring.

The plant typically grows to a height of 1 to 3 feet (30 to 90 cm) and produces fronds that are 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) long and 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) wide. The fronds are a light, bright green color and have a fan-like appearance, with each frond branching into multiple delicate leaflets.

Western Maidenhair Ferns prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. They can tolerate some sun in cooler climates, but too much sun can scorch their delicate leaves. The plant is also relatively low-maintenance and has few pest or disease problems.

In addition to its ornamental valuethe Western Maidenhair Fern has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes by indigenous peoples of North America. The plant has been used to treat respiratory ailments, digestive issues, and skin conditions.

The Western Maidenhair Fern can be grown in shady borders, woodland gardens, or rock gardens. It pairs well with other ferns, hostas, and shade-loving perennials. With proper care, the Western Maidenhair Fern can live for many years and provide a beautiful, airy texture to any garden or landscape.

Conclusion

In conclusion, growing different types of ferns in containers offers a rewarding and versatile gardening experience. The unique beauty and delicate foliage of ferns make them an excellent choice for enhancing any indoor or outdoor space. By following proper gardening practices, one can successfully cultivate these enchanting plants and create an oasis of greenery.

Read More: Exploring the World of Flowers Shade Perennials

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