The Ferns are Unfurling… | Elf | – The Keene Sentinel

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I’m a huge fan of ferns. Ferns of all types. Their fronds are substantial yet so delicate at the same time. Every year I put Boston Ferns in my two iron urns on the back porch and the two big concrete urns at two of the front corners of my house. Their beautiful drape and the way they gently nod and sway in a slight breeze is just lovely and I think they add just a touch of gentility. Kind of a mix of southern and tropical style all at once. I actually managed to winter over last years’ Boston Ferns. Two big ones got plopped in large nursery pots last fall and were brought into the house. All winter long they added a lush warmth to my study… as well as a thick carpet of leaf petals all over the floor. They hate the dry heat of our indoor space. Another huge fern I divided up into five small pots and two of the more robust ones are now taking hold in the iron urns.Boston Ferns are tropical and have to be given non-freezing shelter in the wintertime. However, we’ve got a ton of native ferns here in New Hampshire and some of the loveliest features of your gardens might not cost you a penny. Shortly after moving to Dublin ten years ago, partner, Joe, and I decided to have most of the wooded lot surrounding the house cleared saving a few select oak trees. On the forest floor I’d noticed some gorgeous clumps of ostrich ferns so I decided to give transplanting a few clumps a whirl. Most ferns prefer a dappled shade as well as rich organic matter so I put two clumps on the north side of the house in the foundation bed. It worked like a charm. The next year, they pushed their fiddleheads right up through the bark mulch and began to thrive. A success on the first try and they didn’t even cost me a dime!

According to “Ferns Tell a Lot About a Forest” by Emily Lord at, there are an estimated 12,000 species of ferns across the world. Many are endangered but the native fern population in New England is fairly stable. Interestingly, ferns hail from prehistoric times, long before flowering plants appeared on the earth. So, unlike flowering plants that reproduce via pollination and the release of seeds, ferns reproduce by releasing thousands, sometimes millions of spores according to “Something Wild: The Beauty of the Ancient Fern” by multiple authors at The spores are released from the sporangia… which are encased in those little brown dots you see on the underside of a fern frond. Tossed to the wind, the spores land on a patch of moist earth and germinate and develop into a gametophyte or gamete. Each gamete contains both eggs and sperm, allowing it to self-fertilize and send its first roots down into the ground. It’s a beautifully simple reproductive process unlike the very complicated reproduction cycle of a flowering plant. Ok, biology lesson over!Some care should be taken when transplanting ferns. First of all, if you’re admiring a wild fern that doesn’t happen to be on your land, leave it be unless you can get permission from the land owner. Plants should never be removed from state or national parks for individual use. There’s plenty of ferns to be found so move along when you’re tempted to scoop of that gorgeous maidenhair while hiking Mt. Monadnock. If you’re lucky enough to have plentiful wild ferns on your property or have been granted permission on someone else’s, first take a look at the fern and its surroundings. If it’s the only one of its type in your field of site, again, leave it alone. It could be the beginning of a new colony. If there’s many, what’s the terrain and sun exposure like. If it seems to be flourishing in that spot, try to relocate it in a very similar environment in your gardens. Dappled sun? Put it amongst trees and shrubs that will reproduce the same effect. Most ferns thrive best with plenty of moisture and rich, organic soil loaded with beneficial microbes. If you spot some ferns at the edge of a field, there’s a good chance they can tolerate full sun.The best time of year to transplant a fern is either in spring just as the fiddleheads are starting to appear or after the first frost or two has knocked their glorious fronds down. A fully unfurled fern will survive but those delicate swaths of green will be shocked and probably wilt or dry up completely. Be sure to grab a good amount of the soil surrounding the root ball, too. Keep it nicely watered and you’re good to go! Ferns are dramatically beautiful plants that can enhance any garden or foundation planting and they can often be had for nothing except a little sweat.

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