Ferns In A South Window

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Ferns seem to me to be in the neglected bracket, at least when considered as house plants. These few words, with the pictures, will, I hope, serve to remove them from this class.

Window FernPin

Ferns Are Adaptable

While these plants have no bloom, make no mistake about the color added to any home where a fern is grown. Any type of architecture, any period of decor, or any color scheme has a fern to meet its requirements. Our house is a mixture of furnishings as well as temperaments, but each member has a leaning toward at least one of the 23 varieties housed here.

Guests are most often curious about the bird’s nest, Asplenium nidus, and: the staghorn, Platycerium bifurcatum, and find it hard to believe they are members of the fern family. I like what I call “Knightia,” Polypodium subauriculatum Knightia, best, although I must admit that a large house is needed.

The one in the picture has a frond measuring 49 inches from soil to tip. I have been told that the maximum growth in its natural habitat is five feet. However, I can always build on an addition just for “Knightia.”

Sun Or Shade

Despite all the best rules of keeping ferns well shaded and in a moist atmosphere, mine are grown in the south windows and a hot-air heated house. No concession is made for the sun, but I do keep pans of water in the registers. In the case of a bird’s nest, it stands upon stones, and the window boxes have sphagnum moss around the pots.

Some may say that this Winter just past would need no shade from the sun; however, these plants are grown in the same spot every Winter, rain or shine.

Repotting The Plants

In the late Summer, I repot and divide all of those needing it, using fibrous potting soil. We do have a slight advantage here in New Hampshire because we have an ample supply of leaf mold available. In the bottom of each pot, I place several pieces of charcoal along with the shards. 

Care must be taken not to over pot ferns since this tends to cause souring of the soil even with the charcoal in the pot. Once the plants are settled, I move them to the porch and then to the house while the windows are still open for a part of each day to acclimate them to the house.

Watering is done according to each need; since in the Fall most ferns are for the most part at least semi-dormant, overwatering may bring on serious difficulties, particularly in the members of the adiantum group.

The Problem of Feeding

I am against feeding during the dark months, although this is a subject open to debate. If the potting soil used in the Fall is fortified with plenty of compost and well-rotted…manure, it should last the plant until the first of March. At this time the addition of superphosphate or some comparable commercial fertilizer is in order; use according to the manufacturer’s directions.

With the coming of Spring and increased growth, more water is required; a sufficient amount should be given at each watering to allow it to run out of the hole in the bottom of the pot. When the earth is again dry on the top, repeat the process; this may be every day if the location is as sunny as mine is.

Outdoors In Summer

By the end of May, the ferns are again out of doors, either hanging in the lath-house or sunk in the ground up to the pot rim under the maple trees in the garden. Some advocates of Spring propagation may take issue with the Fall division idea, but I have found that after a Summer under the trees the little off-shoots are rooted in the soil.

A simple scissors snip severs them from the parent, and permits the lifting of the small new fern with no trouble at all.

Plants Get Saturday Bath

The subject of fern troubles and pests is one that I am not bothered with; when Saturday rolls around, like good Yankees, into the bathtub they go for a good shower bath. Clean foliage and good soil make for healthy plants and no troubles. Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule.

At present, I am growing the following kinds of ferns.

  • Adiantum ennalum, delta maidenhair
  • Adiantum hispidulum, venus’ hair
  • Asplenium bulbiferum, mother spleenwort, or carrot fern
  • Asplenium nidus, bird’s nest
  • Davallia canariensis, rabbit’s foot
  • Polypodium glaucoma, often called bear’s foot Polypodium subauriculatum Knightia
  • Platycerium, staghorn
  • Cyrtomium falcatum, holly
  • Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis compacta, compact Boston
  • Nephrolepis scotii
  • Nephrolepis wilaoni
  • Nephrolepis whitmani, King and Queen Nephrolepis Verona
  • Nephrolepis elegantissima compacta, lace Polystichum viviparum, English hedge
  • Asparagus sprengeri
  • Asparagus plumosus nana, florists’ fern
  • Pteris cretica
  • Pteris serrulata, table fern

44659 by Winifred A. Harding