Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
March, 2006
Regional Report

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These bright orange dots on the back of a fern frond are ripe spores, ready to sow.

Grow Your Own Ferns!

Have you ever considered growing your own ferns from spores? It's actually quite an accomplishment to brag about to your friends. The two things you will need to start with are a fern with ripe spores and patience.

Ferns do not have flowers. When plant is mature, it produces reproductive structures called sporangia. These are miniature sacks that produce the dust-like spores by which ferns are propagated. The sporangia are borne on the backsides of fern fronds, usually in very symmetrical patterns, although the patterns vary greatly depending on the type of fern. They look like small little bumps (make sure they are not scale insects, which also look like little bumps).

Collecting Spores
Ferns drop millions, often billions, of spores during their lifetime, but very few ever land in a spot suitable for growth. You can change that. Start by placing a portion of a mature frond on a piece of paper in a dry place where it will not be disturbed by breezes.

When the spores are ripe, they will drop onto the paper and appear as black, brown, or yellow powder. Carefully lift and discard the frond and then gently fold the paper in half to collect the spores.

Germination Time
Next, sparsely sprinkle the spores on a sterile planting surface. A good choice of growing medium is milled sphagnum moss, which is sterile and will give the new young plants protection from fungi. You can purchase this at any garden center. Fill a pot or flat with the moss and water it well. Sprinkle the spores on top and leave them uncovered, exposed to light.

The best environment for germination is about 70 to 79 degrees F with high moisture. Once your spores are sown, mist them lightly and then cover the flat or pot with a sheet of clear plastic or glass. Put it in a spot where it will remain around 75 degrees and receive indirect light to imitate the shady conditions of the fern's natural habitat.

Spores take from two to six weeks to germinate, so check them periodically. Be patient. You may start to see small parts of the first stage of fern growth in one to three weeks. Germinating spores appear as a mossy growth.

This initial phase must proceed through a second phase before the actual fern begins growing. The second phase may take three to six months. Occasionally lift the glass lid to give the small plants fresh air. Once you have tiny new ferns that are showing fronds, you can transplant them into pots.

Potting Up
Ferns need a potting mix with high organic matter, whether you are growing them in pots indoors or outside (hardy ferns). Pot them in a coarse-textured organic potting soil that drains well. Use only pots with drainage holes, even if you set the draining pot inside a decorative pot with no holes.

Most ferns perform best in partial to full shade, both indoors and out, with plenty of moisture. Water them regularly and set them in a location with high humidity, if possible. This can be accomplished by setting the pot on a bed of pebbles or shells that are kept wet. As your new young ferns are developing, keep them away from direct light.

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