In The Garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12


The most common fern is the sword fern (nephrolepis).  It spreads so easily that it can become a nuisance, but it is easily uprooted.  Sword ferns are well worth growing but make sure that old fronds are cut off at ground level from time to time.  The new fronds that replace them will be far more attractive.   It will happily grow in sun or shade and seems to have no diseases or pests.  A yellow  cultivar of the sword fern needs shade.  There is a similar giant fern that grows up to 2 metres tall and is very useful in front of a garden wall.  Another tall fern has blue-grey leaves, a striking contrast in a flower border.  Again the old leaves should be cut off at ground level when they …well … look old!


Of all ferns, perhaps my favourite is the maidenhair fern or adiantum raddianum.  It is often grown as a pot plant but in moist shade does well in the garden.  When caring for a pot plant, remember that maidenhair ferns are most often killed by overwatering.  They should never get completely dry but do not get carried away and water an already wet soil.  Simply touch the soil surface to check how moist it is before adding water.  If the maidenhair does get too dry, the fronds will curl up and die, but all is not lost.  Cut them all down to ground level and new fronds will start to grow.  Eventually the plant will fill the pot and become “potbound” i.e. there is no room for new roots to grow.  The fern must then be divided and re-planted.  This graceful and delicate fern is well worth growing.


The majestic staghorn fern (platycerium bifurcatum) can be a major feature especially hanging from the branch of a tree.  I have seen these ferns growing on trees on Fraser Island in their native Australia.  They grow perched high up where the main tree trunk forks.  If you decide to grow one in the fork of a tree choose the spot carefully. Although the overhead sun in Zambia is usually to the north it does move to the south in October – February.  Plants that are usually in shade can then be hit by sunlight from a new angle – and at the hottest time of the year. A staghorn in this situation will be burnt by the sun. There is also a danger that the tree will rot underneath the fern if it is kept too wet.   For these reasons, staghorns are often grown attached to a piece of wood or in a wire hanging- basket. Line the basket with shade cloth and fill with leaf mould, small pieces of charcoal and/or cork to retain moisture without getting soggy; a little coarse compost may also be used.  Tie the fern firmly onto its support and hang it beneath the branch of a large tree. Spray it with water on alternate days and add a little foliar fertiliser once a fortnight. In time, the fern will completely conceal the basket with its large brown base pads and its long fronds will look magnificent.


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