Long before there were flowers, the world was green. Around 360 million years ago, ferns rose up with a newly-evolved vascular system that helped them ferry water to their extremities and gain height over the mosses and liverworts.
I have some Kimberly ferns they are bold and beautiful. These ferns (also called sword fern because the fronds are straight and narrow) are easy to grow. The dark green fronds are perfect for adding tropical texture to shaded decks, patios, and other outdoor living areas. They are particularly striking in large containers as a specimen plant.
My beauties have been wintered over for the last four years. They are currently in large plastic pots, since the clay had become too heavy for me to move up the steps into the workshop. Kimberly queen ferns don’t tolerate frosty temperatures. We are way too cold here, so you’ll need to treat this plant as an annual or move it indoors when the temperature drops in late fall.
Of course they can stay inside year-round. Inside, they like medium light with abundant humidity. Try grouping your ferns with other houseplants and place a small humidifier near it to increase the amount of moisture in the air. When the humidity is too low, the fern develops brown, crispy fronds. While the Kimberly queen fern thrives in shade, they can also tolerate partially sunny spots if kept evenly moist. Another plus: Ferns are a natural air purifier when
Ferns prevailed as the dinosaurs fell, through extinction after extinction, and most are unchanged, according to the fossil record. Ferns are still surviving today, even though the 1960s fern bars are long gone.
Oliver Sacks said, “Gazing on a fern is to realize that you are in the presence of an immense span of time. Ferns are the elders of our world — primordial holdouts against whose history ours is no more than the curl at the top of the frond.”
Ferns first appear in the fossil record in the Carboniferous period. Living in vast coastal swamps, they completely dominated plant life of the era. But as the weather grew warmer and drier, ferns began to die out.
Though they no longer dominate the plant kingdom, they continue to be successful today. There are over 12,000 varieties worldwide. They range in size from about an inch high to 12-foot tree ferns. They live in deserts and rain forests, at sea level, and near the timberline. Their spores have been found at airline-cruising altitudes. Most ferns today are confined to wet areas, but a few have adapted to drier conditions, and some have even become completely xerophytic (New word for me meaning survived over time adjusting to less and less water).
Although ferns come in many shapes, sizes and textures, their care requirements are similar across the board. If planted in the right conditions, ferns can be a lush addition to landscaping. I also have wood ferns crawling along a shady path close to the farm pond each year their number multiplies above the moss-lined bank. These native ferns go dormant in the winter, then return each spring, softening the bank and adding texture to the fallen moss-covered trees.
Ferns prefer a dappled shade canopy. Dense shade or bright sun will stress ferns beyond their comfort level. If nature doesn’t furnish an inch of rain weekly, watering will be necessary, especially during the first growing season after transplanting.
Ferns sink their thirsty roots into deep, loose soil, which is rich in organic matter. Heavy clay soils are not hospitable unless amended with compost. A neutral or slightly acidic soil is preferable for most ferns; aim for a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If you are growing them in a container, potting soil is perfect.
Beyond compost added to the soil, ferns do not need fertilizer. Know what to expect when planting ferns in your yard. Different varieties of ferns can reach different sizes and are hardy in different zones, so read the tag before bringing a fern home. The optimal time to transplant ferns is from late-spring through the end of summer (but not during a drought). Ferns are wonderfully trouble-free. They rarely succumb to diseases and are deer-resistant.
Standing outside admiring my beautiful ferns, my youngest daughter said, “Mom, your ferns are glorious; they make mine look silly.”
I hugged her and then my hubris took over as I replied, “Oh, honey, my ferns make everyone’s look silly.”
Before there were flowers, the world was green. Today, ferns are giving me hope. They are indifferent to our current pandemic and are adjusting to the added stress of extreme heat due to climate change, reassuring us that, as envoys from a deep time ago, they have steadfastly weathered it all.
Gayle Fisher is a master gardener for the state of Tennessee, as well as an accredited National Flower Show judge. A student consultant for landscape design, she has served as an officer in District IV Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs and is a member of the American Horticultural Society. She gardens with her husband, Dan, in Niota. She can be reached at email@example.com