OUT IN THE YARD — Ferns, a wonderful, ancient plant

Published 12:05 am Friday, December 6, 2019

This lovely fall weather we are experiencing is the perfect time to be cleaning up beds, putting in new shrubs and trees, and mulching for winter. It is also time to start planning your garden for next spring. If you don’t already have ferns in your garden, I encourage you to consider them.

I have always been drawn to ferns. From the upright Kimberly Queen to the fluffy Foxtail to the delicate Maidenhair and everything in between, I love them all!

Ferns were one of the first known plants on Earth, existing over a hundred million years before dinosaurs. Many ferns remain the same as their primeval ancestors. Botanists have identified eleven thousand different species. Lucky for us, growing ferns is easy in Southeast Texas. They love the tropical climate. All they need is partial shade and lots of moisture.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I have several hanging baskets of Boston fern around my patio. When I purchase a new one, I immediately transplant it into a wire basket with a coconut fiber liner. That way, the fern has plenty of room to grow. Too many times, I have watched ferns get so big that the roots break the original plastic container. With the wire basket, it can actually grow right out of the bottom, which gives you a lovely full plant as opposed to one that is only top heavy.

Ferns are the stuff of magical tales. Flowering plants did not appear until two hundred million years after ferns, so there was much mystery surrounding this feathery plant. European folktales claim that the fern actually does bloom, but only once a year on June 23rd St. John’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, supposedly the same time that John the Baptist was born. Ferns were used to keep away vampires, werewolves and other evil spirits. Shepherds in ancient Normandy used crosses made from ferns to protect themselves and their flocks. In Slavic countries, if someone wanted to swim, ferns were first woven in their hair to protect them from freshwater sirens that would drown a mortal if given the chance.

Ferns are self-procreating. They have no pollen, are not dependent on bees or birds, and are great at detoxifying the air. Ferns are a great choice as houseplants for just that purpose.

For more information, contact Micah Leigh, Jefferson County Master Gardener at mkleigh 64@gmail.com or call Texas A&M Agrilife Extension at 409-835-8461.