Fern fronds bring a soft, feathery texture and feel to gardens, whether as a woodland ground cover or as a potted specimen. Some tropical species make fine houseplants, too. The nature of growth on ferns dictates how you prune or trim a fern to tidy its look or promote rejuvenation. Once a frond is cut, it does not regrow. It may maintain itself below the pruning cut, but only new emerging fronds develop replacement-perfect leaves on the fern..
Ferns are primitive plants that neither flower nor set seed. Most, if not all, ferns grow as perennials, enduring for at least two growing seasons or years. They may develop an extensive root system that comprises thick, fleshy underground stems called rhizomes or tubers. Ferns grow naturally in tropical and temperate regions worldwide. They may be evergreen or die back and be temporarily deciduous when it's too cold or during seasonal droughts.
Trimming lush, growing fern plants can be a tedious process. Each fern leaf comprises dozens to hundreds of leaflets. It's not practical to trim off individual leaflets, but a sick-looking frond with lots of yellow or dead leaflets is more easily pruned off. Once the fern frond unfurls, it does not further lengthen. In other words, if you cut a frond back in half when trimming, it does not rejuvenate new leaflets or length from the tip. If you decide to remove a fern frond, it's best to trace the frond down to its lower stem and make the cut there where you can't see any leftover stubs.
Deciduous fern species that naturally die back every winter or during droughts may be trimmed back severely. Once leaves fully dry, cut back the dead debris to a height of 2 to 3 inches above the soil or above the visible rhizomes. New fronds emerge and unfurl -- usually called fiddleheads or crosiers -- when environmental conditions become hospitable for growth. Evergreen ferns may also be cut back to rejuvenate. Cut back these types at the start of the growing season, such as in spring or the start of the rainy season after a drought.
Improving Fern Frond Appearance
Once of the most common reasons for fern fronds to look withered, untidy or sickly is low humidity. Arid air of any temperature causes the tiny leaflets to dry and die. Misting plants or setting potted fern plants atop a pebble-filled basin or tray of water increases humidity. In addition to low humidity, improper watering also leads to dead fern fronds. Ferns require an evenly moist soil. Avoid soggy and bone-dry soils.
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