The Q&A Archives: Care of Tassel Fern

Question: I purchased two "Tassel Ferns" for my shade garden (planted under a Colorado Blue Spruce, cut very high to allow light & sun). They have done very well this summer in Michigan. We have had unusual weather - dry & then very wet. I have new growth. Do I need to protect them this winter? Would a mulch suffice? Should I cut them down this fall? Are they perennial? The tag says temps of 60 - 85F/fertilize monthly/light: partial to shade. Any info you can give will be greatly appreciated.

Answer: The Latin name for tassel fern is Polystichum polyblepharum. It is native to Asia and fairly hardy to cold, but you are on the borderline for its cold tolerance, so I'd protect them. I wouldn't cut them down. Most ferns will return year after year if they survive the cold. Polystichum ferns like a rich organic soil.

Here's some pointers on overwintering from "Perennials for Dummies" by Marcia Tatroe and NGA.

1. Cut back on watering as temps. cool. This signals plants that it's time to go into dormancy and helps "harden" them off.

2. If you had any insect problems, remove any plant debris and mulch from that area so eggs and disease won't overwinter.

3. Place a fresh 4-6 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants.

4. If your temps. are regularly below 0 degrees Farenheit, don't cut back the perennials until late winter or early spring. The dead foliage helps protect them from cold.

5. After the ground freezes, cover the whole bed with a loose layer of straw or hay. Leave it until early spring and then gradually remove it as temps. warm. Don't remove it all at once.

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