Ferns aren’t as fickle as you fear | gardening tips

Jhere are some common horticultural misconceptions that are repeated so often that it might seem like they simply must be true. Like the idea that cacti are hard to kill, despite the fact that it’s actually incredibly easy to do – just give these desert dwellers too much water or too little light. The same goes for mint, which is certainly incredibly vigorous in deep, moist garden borders, but will quickly wear itself out if grown in a small terracotta pot without the cool, expansive roots it demands. .

While there is, of course, general truth in these statements, there is a risk of oversimplification which I think can often lead people to failure. Conversely, certain groups of plants have an undeserved reputation for being impossible to cultivate, although they are often quite hardy. It can cause people to miss the joy of growing them. And for me, at the top of that list are indoor ferns.

It is certainly true that many fine-leaved species, such as the maidenhair Adiantum fern, can struggle to thrive in the dry air of centrally heated living rooms, and can even defoliate altogether if you miss a single watering. . However, there is a huge collection of other candidates available that are incredibly difficult.

Ferns are an extremely diverse group of plants that over tens of millions of years have adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions. Although replicating the dizzying humidity of steep-sided pits that species like Adiantum tend to inhabit can be a real challenge in the average home, there is a huge range of species that have adapted to growing high on the branches of tropical trees. , where the falling water drains quickly. These epiphytic species responded by developing thicker, tougher leaves, covered with a layer of wax to seal in moisture. This means they are much more capable of handling both dry air and intermittent watering, making them much easier to maintain.

I love bird’s nest fern, Asplenium Nest, native to the jungles of Southeast Asia, whose glossy, tongue-shaped, apple-green leaves can quickly grow from 30cm rosettes and stretch to 1m if given a large enough pot. From a similar region comes the stag’s horn fern, Platycerium, with an incredible architecture made up of two types of leaves: fountains of antler-like fronds that hang from a nest, and shield-shaped ones.

‘From the jungles of Southeast Asia’: Asplenium nidus. Photograph: Olga Miltsova/Alamy

If you need other cool botanical animals, there’s the hare’s-foot fern, Davallia, with a crown of typical feather-like fern leaves resting on muddy, fuzzy, tawny colored rhizomes.

All three grow best if they dry out slightly between waterings, to mimic the excellent root-level airflow they get in their natural habitat. I grow some of mine tied to pieces of driftwood hanging from a south-facing window, to enjoy, just dipping them in a bucket once a week to water them. If you did that to a hairy fern, it would barely survive the afternoon. But don’t give up on this huge group of wonderful species just because one or two are on the tricky side.

Follow Jack on Twitter @Botanygeek

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