Let it grow: Ferns are staple plant for front porches

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ferns are among the staple plants that adorn the front porches of most southerners each season. I am no different when it comes to ferns though my ferns are on my back porch because it faces the north.

The first rule on caring for your fern baskets is to place them away from a western exposure. Northern exposures are the best for most ferns.

The Boston Massii (most common in the garden centers) is a compact, fast growing fern with long showy fronds. As the plant matures it will send down vine-like runners with baby ferns attached. Feel free to remove these and plant them in the ground or in other containers.

Boston ferns can quickly outgrow their containers if they are properly maintained. To divide your hanging basket fern, remove it from the pot and place, upside down, on a cool wooden surface such as a kitchen cutting board. Use a large serrated-edged knife to cut the root ball in halves or quarters and pull apart.

Now plant your new ferns in new containers using a good quality potting medium. Ferns enjoy growing in well drained potting medium with a high peat moss content.

You won’t do much, if any harm to your ferns by dividing them this way.

Boston ferns grow best when they are fairly cool and in medium-high humidity. Here in Shelby County, it’s sometimes difficult to provide the cool part of that equation. These ferns are very resilient, though.

Few pests attack Boston ferns, though the ones that do can be a problem.

Mealy bugs and a couple of varieties scale are the most common. Both of these pests have piercing/sucking mouthparts and can be easily eliminated with an insecticidal soap or ultra fine oil. Do not apply these pesticides during the heat of the day. I prefer applying them when the temperatures are below 78&161; at dusk. I will rinse off the pesticide the next morning to prevent burning my plants. Remember: because of the type pests you are treating, your pesticide must cover the bugs in order to smother them.

Water as necessary. Each day, make it a point to walk along all of your hanging baskets and give them a gentle lift from below. If the pots are light, water them well. If they are heavy, wait a while to water. One sign that you can look for in a Boston fern that is a sure sign of a thirsty plant is fronds looking faded green.

That brings us to fertilization. If your ferns are very well watered and they still show signs of fading or chlorosis, perhaps they aren’t getting enough nutrients. Be sure to fertilize your ferns on a regular basis using a balanced water soluble fertilizer. 20-20-20 is fine. Be sure that your fertilizer contains the minor elements. I fertilize my ferns weekly during the summer. If you want to do the same then follow my rule of thumb.

If you water your ferns daily, fertilize them weekly using a 1/4 formula of your fertilizer’s recommended mixture for potted plants. Read the label…read the label…READ THE LABEL, please