How to propagate ferns
Propagation of ferns should not be undertaken by those who like to see quick results. Generally at least twelve months will pass before a new plant is established and the plants will need constant attention over that period. They must not be allowed to dry out.
However, despite the time and patience required, vegetative propagation generally results in new plants faster than would be the case if growing new plants from spores.
There are several specialised requirements for new, young ferns, not least of which is the soil mix. The best mix is a combination of equal parts of peat moss, sphagnum moss, coarse river sand (or perlite), leaf mould and small pieces of charcoal. In addition to the soil mix, a well-lit location is required. This needs to be out of the direct sunlight. Ideally a glass house with some kind of bottom heat is needed.
The method of propagating ferns depends on the type of fern.
Those with multiple crowns can be divided. Doodia, Christella and some Asplenium species can be divided where they are using a sharp knife. Simply cut the crowns into several pieces. Fertilise each month with a liquid fertiliser. After three or more months, lift each piece of crown and pot individually. Keep well watered.
Creeping underground rhizomes
Species such as Pteris, Hypolepis and Pellaea have creeping underground rhizomes. Cut the rhizome between new areas of growth, leaving one or two new fronds on each. Transplant each section into a new pot. Any bulb-like growths appearing on the fern should be left attached. Fertilise with a liquid fertiliser. Be prepared to wait some months for these new plants to become established.
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Above ground creeping rhizomes
Those ferns with creeping rhizomes above ground such as Microsorium, Rumohra and Davallia species will propagate by cutting rhizome branches from the parent plant and pegging these down in the soil mix. In its natural state Pyrosia grows on bark or rock. Pieces can be cut and attached to similar surfaces.
Hen and chicken ferns
Some ferns produce small plants on the frond. These are often known as hen and chicken ferns. Once the new plant has reached a reasonable size, peg it down into a container of soil mix, leave till firmly establish then sever from the parent plant.
An alternative method is to allow the 'chickens' to grow till they are developing new fronds. Cut the stem 50mm below the new growth and plant. Polystichum and Asplenium can be propagated by this method.
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New plants on surface fronds
New plants develop on the surface of sterile fronds of elkhorns and staghorns. These can be severed and attached to a suitable surface. Place in a shady place and water daily. A healthy growth can be promoted by regular fertilising.
Angiopteris and Marattia ferns develop fleshy growths (auricles) at the base of the frond stalk. These can be removed and planted. Place the narrow end in the soil mix and fertilise occasionally with a weak solution.
Water ferns are quite easily propagated by removing the outer growing rhizomes. Place silty soil in the bottom of a waterproof container and plant the rhizome. Fill the container with water. Small sections of floating water ferns can be broken off and placed in containers of water.
Although propagating young ferns may be a long-term commitment, a successful outcome is sure to be very satisfying.