March 1, 2024


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Gardeners’ Dirt: Refreshing green ferns offer calming effect | Home And Garden

Editor’s note: Victoria County Master Gardeners will feature “A Color for the Month” as part of a 2021 series. January is green. Watch the colors change in Gardeners’ Dirt each month.

The calming effect of green ferns keeps coming into my mind, prompting me to use “green” for my inspiration word each and every day in 2021. Now I need to bring some greenery into our home and get some benefits from adding a green, garden-like feel inside. Plus, with ferns indoors you get the added benefit of purifying the air and restoring moisture naturally to the air.

When I graduated from college in the ’70s, I had very little knowledge of gardening in the landscape, and I quickly learned that ferns were easy, provided greenery in the landscape and worked wonderfully in hanging baskets and containers on the porch. I fell in love with ferns. I guess you could say I was fond of their fronds.

In the ’70s, I started out with Boston ferns in containers on the porch and have been able to keep part of that original plant even growing in our flower beds today. I recently dug some of that up to put in a container to bring inside. Ferns are easily propagated by digging a few spreading rhizomes with a few good fronds. Boston ferns can take dryer conditions than other ferns.

Remember when we made macramé hangers for house ferns? One of my master gardener friends reminded me that there were actually upscale fern bars in the 70s. Now fern bars are making a come-back. Ferns and other houseplants make a place feel more like home.

Just the sight of a pretty Victorian fern stand inspires me.

Bird's nest fern

Bird’s nest fern is one fern that does quite well when moved indoors for the winter.  It has a vase-like shape and the new fronds come up in the middle with the appearance of a bird’s nest. Placed around the tub and mirror are Boston fern, autumn fern and a plumosa fern, which is not a true fern.

Many of our plants have a story. In 2002, a dear friend gave me a start of river fern. Now, we enjoy it planted under a special rose bush. If I cut flowers to bring inside and they need a little filler, I cut a few fronds of the river fern to go with it.

You can also propagate river fern to grow inside, but it does just fine through winters in Victoria County. If it freezes, you just trim off the brown parts in spring and the new fronds curl their way up, resurrecting to new life. River fern likes moist, mulchy areas in part-shade under shrubs or trees.

Ferns are nonflowering vascular plants and do not produce seeds, but reproduce by spores. There are approximately 10,500 species of ferns, compared to angiosperms (flowering plants) with 300,000 species, and gymnosperms (bear fruit in cones) with 1,000 species.

Basic fern parts are a leaf called a frond, a stem underground called a rhizome, and roots. Ferns can either be spreading or clumping. Ferns basically do best in shady areas that stay evenly moist. Indoors, ferns need indirect light and a moist environment. Sometimes it helps to set them in a tray of pebbles or to mist them. Temperatures should not be too hot for them.

Holly fern

Holly fern is a great plant for under oak trees with a mixture of leaves and mulch to hold moisture. This evergreen, clumping fern with holly-shaped leaf parts can grow to 2-to-3 feet high by 3-to-4 feet wide.

Other great fern choices include the autumn, holly, staghorn and bird’s nest ferns.

Autumn fern

If you’re looking for a beautiful, more colorful fern, the autumn fern is a great choice and most nurseries in our area have it for sale. It has a pretty, bronzy tint at different times of the year.

Holly fern

My favorite clumping fern is the holly fern, which has large leaf-parts and grows to about 2-to-3 feet by 3-to-4 feet. The holly fern makes an excellent evergreen plant outdoors for shady, mulched areas.

Staghorn fern

Another wonderful fern is the staghorn fern which is excellent as a hanging plant under a tree. It has a rather masculine feel to it, as the fronds resemble the horns of a deer. They are basically epiphytic and can be wired to pieces of bark to start them growing. A massive staghorn in our neighborhood hanging under a tree is at least 3 feet by 3 feet. They can take a bit of misting in the summer and even dunking in a tub of water for a good soak.

River fern

River fern likes moist, mulchy areas in part-shade under shrubs or trees. Here, one is growing under a Cramoisi supérieur rose. Fronds can be added to vases of cut roses for inside. If river fern spreads too vigorously, you can easily pull it up. 

Bird’s nest fern

Bird’s nest fern has an unusual feature as it is shaped rather like a vase. The new fronds come up through the middle, making it excellent for containers. This fern grows well inside and adds bright green to your home. Do protect bird’s nest ferns during winter freezes.

In a recent Gardeners’ Dirt article, I wrote about stumperies in the landscape. If your stumpery is in a shady, woodland area, it is beneficial to plant ferns. I have potted those ferns from the stumpery we created and brought them inside our home to brighten the master bath.

I read that green stands for balance, nature, spring and rebirth. Green is the symbol of prosperity, freshness and progress. I find green very comforting. As you start this new year, I hope you too can get some inspiration by adding some green indoors. Brighten up your home. Refresh your office. Inspire your spirit, soul, heart and mind. Find a fern (or two or three) that appeal to you.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at