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Ferns - Guide
Ferns are beautiful on their own or in any other setting and it should not prove difficult to find a fern of your liking, seeing you get to choose from over 10 000 (or 250 indigenous) species, ranging in size, form, colour variations, leaf texture and hardiness. Ferns fall into one of four types: (a) Crown-shaped ferns. Ferns that have their fronds emerge from fleshy roots in a crown-shape. (b) Epiphytic ferns are non-parasitic plants that grow attached to other plants like trees, and feed from soil and organic matter lodged around their root systems and get water through rain. (c) Rhizomous-rooted ferns have rhizomes from which non-crown-forming fronds arise. (d) Spleenworts grow ideally horizontally.
Ferns are of the oldest plants on earth and have been incorporated into indoor decorating schemes for centuries. They also make great fillers to other plants, indoors or outdoors, hence their popularity with florists.
Potting mediums and growing requirements:
Given a damp and shady spot to grow in, ferns are mostly very easy to grow and can be left to their own devises. Outdoors ferns need little to thrive and cutting dead fronds off and supplying topdressing annually should proved enough. That is if planting preparations were thorough. The planting area's soil should be dug deeply and mixed with organic matter, ensuring a light and fertile growing medium. Add to planting holes a little bone-meal fertilizer before planting. Follow with a generous amount of organic mulch after planting and top this up when needed.
You could mix your own potting medium or alternatively buy a commercial medium. Ferns will benefit from foliar feeds or a liquid fertilizer once a month. They also need a fertile, moist potting mixture and ideally it should contain:
1 part river sand, 1 part peat moss, 1 part leaf mould and 3 parts fibrous loam. After mixing this, add (to each barrow-load) 2 cups each of blood and bone meal and granular fertilizer.
Always make sure your ferns get enough water and provide shade, humidity and frost-protection to those species that need it.
Ferns are usually propagated from spores, but most people will get more success from dividing creeping rhizomes, splitting up rooted sections or layering. In its natural environment ferns propagate from spores which are wind-borne, falling in moist, fertile soil and germination takes place.
Painless Spore Propagation:
Collect spores from perfect specimens after removing a mature frond and placing it, in a warm place, between sheets of blotting paper. The 'dust' you should see after a couple of days, are spores after the coverings of the sporangia burst. Collect this 'dust' and sow as soon as possible in a tray filled with a sterilized, moisture-retaining medium (like peat moss or sphagnum). Sow by scattering thinly over the surface and cover with glass or a plastic sheeting. Place this tray in bright light (out of direct sunlight) in another tray of water.
After 1 ½ - 2 months the first stage of germination would've taken place and a tiny green leaf-like shape will appear. This is called the prothallus and isn't a true fern yet. The true fern will take several months to develop from this prothallus.
Wait for the tiny true plants to grow to manageable and strong sizes before planting out.