Choosing Ferns for the Garden Pond

Although in nature ferns flourish in shady positions this has more to do with moisture conservation and ferns will do well in positions exposed to full sunlight, provided that sufficient moisture can be guaranteed. Contrary to popular belief they do not require a very warm climate, and there are a large number of hardy ferns which provide a bewildering variety of foliage pattern and colour. Ferns look good when planted in massed displays containing several different varieties and can also provide a backcloth against which the smaller moisture-loving plants can be displayed.

Caring for ferns

Although many hardy varieties can do well without direct sunlight they should be in a position where they get plenty of air and light without which they become thin and weak. A part shady and sheltered position is best, preferably away from breezes which quickly dry the soil and leaves. The soil should be constantly moist, and the foliage too needs to be kept moist. This makes a sheltered spot essential for best results.

bird's nest fern Asplenium If your climate makes the natural provision of moisture difficult, then excellent fern-growing conditions can be provided by mist propagation. Mist sprays and ‘foggers’ use very little water and can be operated continually without causing problems of waterlogging. Humidifying spray heads can be obtained from commercial nursery suppliers as they are more normally used in greenhouse cultivation. The use of humidifying sprays has a secondary but no less important function. They help to cool the air moving through them and thus can be usefully employed near patios and other areas used for sitting out on sunny days. When used on the windward side of trellis work or vine-covered pergolas they are even more effective.

A deep loam formed from a mixture of peat, coarse sand and leafmould is the best growing medium and this mixture should cover a drainage layer comprising 6 inches of coarse gravel. In this way, a well drained medium is provided and mist sprays can be used very effectively without fear of overwatering. A layer of gravel chippings over the soil surface will help to conserve moisture.


If you examine a fern frond you will observe, generally on the underside, a large number of small capsules termed sporangia. These capsules contain a fine, brown dust-like powder – the spores from which new ferns can be grown. With care, these spores can be sown in the same way as seeds and little plants raised.

The compost for raising ferns from spores should comprise equal parts of sand, leaf-mould, loam and peat and this should first be sterilized by pouring boiling water over it until thoroughly saturated. After cooling the compost can be planted with spores. The compost needs to be kept constantly damp or the spores will not germinate. The best way to achieve this is to keep the seed tray partly embedded in a tray containing damp sand, and the top covered with a sheet of glass. When the small plants are large enough to handle they should be potted singly into very small pots. A propagating frame with plastic domed lid can be used providing a constant damp soil condition can be maintained. A humid atmosphere such as can be maintained in this type of frame is conducive to rooting and can also be used for encouraging growth on new stock obtained from root division.

When propagating by root division, the fern clump should be lifted carefully, endeavouring to keep the root ball as intact as possible. The root can then be divided into as many separate crowns as possible and each crown replanted on its own. Some ferns send out a great many trailing roots and these can be severed and replanted where required.

In their natural habitat ferns die down and unfurl with regular monotony, their brown fronds serving to protect the root from frosts. In your fern garden you should seek to imitate this natural protection afforded by the dying fronds and resist the temptation to clear these fronds away. A much more natural looking area is created by the mixture of browns and greens that normally form in the fern’s life cycle. Natural enemies of ferns are thrips, aphids, slugs and woodlice, which should be carefully controlled.

11. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Ferns, Garden Ponds, Water Garden Plants | Tags: , | Comments Off on Choosing Ferns for the Garden Pond


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