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Why Do My Ferns Keep Dying?

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Why do my ferns keep dying? This was a question asked by a follower this past week. I've heard it for years. My father, who was was an Agriculture Extension Agent for Clemson University, worked with a fellow who had an Animal Science Degree that called every plant, " a fern." So hopefully your botanical identification powers are higher than that, first off.

Why It's Dead, Dead, Dead!

The reason most plants die is because of failure to think about the environment the plant needs. For example, ferns are understory plants in the wild. They live under trees in shade so if you place them in full sun, guess what? They will burn up and die! Second, ferns live in areas that are fairly moist. Have you ever hiked in the mountains? Mostly you see ferns under trees near streams. We don't usually find them in the dessert in full sun. So what is your patio like, a North Carolina mountain forest or a Nevada dessert?

How to Grow Annual Ferns

If you want to grow ferns as annuals in hanging baskets as most people do, first choose an area that is shady and/or receives morning sun only. Select areas on the northern and eastern exposure of your home under the eaves of a porch. Second, make sure you pour water to your ferns, never let them get dry! Water them with a hose rose attachment wetting the entire plant down. You also want to make sure you water them well in the morning and in the depth of the summer they may need watering morning and evening. If your fern is in direct sun don't water its leaves as this can scald the plant. I also recommend feeding them with a water soluble fertilizer, like Miracle-Gro every two weeks. Another thing you want to do is rotate them a half turn once a week so the growth stays even.

Your Patio

Anytime you want to have a plant outside or indoors, ask yourself first, where does that plant live in the wild or look it up. Thankfully when we buy a plant at a local box store most of that work has been done for us on the tag. Look to see the requirements for light first, does the plant like full sun, part sun or shade. Then, look to see its water requirements. Another big thing to look for is the hardiness of the plant. What is the minimum temperature the plant can endure. This is especially important when considering perennials or plants that come back every year.

Remember that gardening is experimentation! You have to find the plants that work best for your microclimate and your home. Also, if 90% of new plants do well I consider that a success. If you can't grow ferns, look for other options that may suit your climate.

For more information on microclimate take a look at this blog about my Great-grandmother's petunias



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