Ferns are ancient plants. They are foliage plans that don’t produce flowers. Instead ferns reproduce via spores, which form on the underside of their fronds (the fern equivalent of a leaf).
Mature spores are scattered in the air, fall on moist surfaces and eventually form a baby plant. Some ferns also spread through the soil via rhizomes (root-like structures) while others produce small plantlets on their leaves. These ‘baby’ ferns can be detached and used to grow new plants.
Ferns evolved in the Devonian period and prospered becoming the dominant plant group on Earth in the Carboniferous period more than 300 million years ago.
Ferns come in all shapes and sizes and make a great garden plant or an indoor plant in a pot. Although old in evolutionary terms, ferns are popular today as houseplants. Most ferns thrive in shade, which makes them suited to life indoors. Maidenhair and Boston ferns are among the most popular indoor plants. Also consider silver lady, autumn, sickle or Duffi fern.
Most ferns also thrive outdoors in sheltered spots including courtyard or small, shaded gardens. Tree ferns – ferns with tall trunks – make handsome feature plants in groups in shaded parts of the garden. Consider planting other ferns underneath to give them protection from the sun and let the rain fall through. Look out for bird’s nest, chicken, hen or king ferns.
Another variety of outdoor ferns is the epiphyte ferns which grow naturally in trees and feed themselves on the leaf litter that falls through the trees. Consider elkhorn or staghorn in this group.
When looking at a fern to brighten up an indoor area or add a touch of class to a shady area outside, check out your hardware or garden centre who will have options and advice on plants to suit your local area.
Aspect Outdoors ferns prefer to grow in shade to part shade under the canopy of trees. Several species can tolerate a little sunlight. A tree fern called ‘Little Aussie Larrikin’ is the exception to the rule, growing in full sun with some summer watering.
Indoors ensure ferns get ample bright filtered light. Place indoor ferns a few metres away from a south or north-facing window so they don’t get burnt from direct sunlight or dry air from an open window.
Soil Outdoors ferns tolerate a wide range of soils but do best in soils that contain organic matter and retain moisture. Apply Seasol Super Compost to the soil before planting to aid healthy growth.
Indoors ferns can be grown in containers with good quality potting mix formulated for ferns such as Seasol Indoor Potting Mix. Ferns also suit terrariums.
Climate Ferns come from all climates so there are ferns for every climatic zone. Be guided in your selection by those that do well in your local climate.