July 1, 2012 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Isn’t it funny how you can have absolutely no interest in an entire group of plants and then you look at one of them one day and suddenly your interest is sparked? In my case, it happened with ferns..
There have been some ferns growing on the east side of my garage since we moved here 21 years ago and I never paid any attention to them except to dig a few up the last few springs to give to friends. It wasn’t until a week ago that I even made the effort to identify what kind of ferns they are.
What triggered my recent interest was noticing that there are several kinds of ferns growing in the woods alongside the northern part of the Wiouwash Trail in Outagamie County. I’ve been walking that trail for years and never paid attention to the ferns, always focusing on the wildflowers.
In my research, I discovered that Wisconsin has at least 18 species of native ferns. The fronds range from just 1/16th inch long up to several feet and may be delicately feathery in texture or very rough and coarse.
In home landscaping, ferns are used as backgrounds, fillers and blenders and sometimes as focal points. They are especially pretty next to ponds or water gardens.
Ferns grow best in dappled shade in moist, rich, slightly acidic soil. Some do well in sun if the soil is kept moist. In general, the larger the fern, the more sunlight it will withstand.
Like other perennial plants, ferns can be purchased either bare-root or potted. Before planting, loosen the soil 6-8” deep and add 3-4” of peat moss, ground pine bark or shredded leaves to acidify the soil.
If you mail-order bare-root plants, open them immediately and wrap the roots in wet newspaper until you are ready to plant. To plant bare root ferns, dig a hole, spread out the rhizomes (roots) and place the crown about 1 inch below the soil surface.
Potted ferns should be planted at the same depth that they were growing in the container. If roots are circling inside the container, use your fingers to loosen and spread them before planting. Cut off any damaged or dead fronds. They will not come back to life.
Ferns need lots of water and should be watered deeply several times a week during extended dry spells. An organic mulch of shredded bark or pine needles will help keep the soil moist and cut down on watering.
Ferns should be dug and divided every few years in spring to keep them vigorous.
In fall, the fronds will die at the first frost. Leave them on the bed over the winter to protect the crowns. By spring, the dead fronds will probably have disappeared, but if they are still there, crumble them with your hands and leave them in the bed. They will decay and serve as fertilizer for the plants. No additional fertilizer is necessary.


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