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How to propagate perennial ferns

Updated February 21, 2019

Perennial ferns, including sword fern, maidenhair fern, wood fern or painted fern are hardy plants that can make a dramatic statement. Indoors, perennial ferns can be planted in areas with low light. Outdoors, ferns can create a lush, green atmosphere in shade or semi-shade where most plants won't grow. Propagating ferns is an interesting project, as ferns are grown from spores, which look like tiny spots on the underside of a leaf. Watch for spores to develop on mature ferns during the summer.

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  1. Remove a leaf from a healthy fern. Place the fern leaf in a paper sack and allow the leaf to dry until the powdery spores easily fall from the leaf.

  2. Place several expandable peat pellets in a pan filled with distilled water. Allow the peat pellets to remain in the water until the pellets expand, usually two to three hours.

  3. Place the expanded pellets in a clean, shallow tray with a small amount of distilled water on the bottom.

  4. Close any windows that can create a breeze, then remove the dry fern leaf from the paper sack. Hold the leaf over a paper plate and tap the leaf to remove the spores. Hold the paper plate over the damp peat pellets and carefully scatter the pores evenly over the damp peat pellets.

  5. Cover the peat pellets with clear plastic. Place the tray in a sunny spot where the temperature will be between 18.3 and 21.1 degrees C. Alternatively, place the tray 6 inches below a grow light or a fluorescent light, then leave the light on for 16 hours every day.

  6. Keep a small amount of distilled water in the bottom of the tray. Never allow the peat to dry out, and never water the peat pellets from the top.

  7. Watch for a slimy, green growth to grow on top of the peat pellets. The green growth is the beginning of the new ferns, and may develop in a week or after several months. The green growth will eventually develop into tiny fern fronds.

  8. Remove the plastic and transplant the clumps of fern fronds into small plastic containers when the fronds are an inch 1 inch tall. The containers should be filled with any good quality commercial potting soil.

  9. Separate the clumps into individual fern plants when the fronds are 2 to 3 inches tall. Plant each fern plant in an individual 4- to 6-inch pot.

  10. Water the ferns regularly and keep the soil consistently moist. Fertilise the ferns every four to six weeks, using a liquid houseplant fertiliser. Apply the fertiliser according to the manufacturer's directions, but dilute the solution to half strength.

  11. Tip

    Wash your hands and ensure that your tools and equipment are clean, as contamination can prevent the spores from developing. Always water the developing spores with distilled water.

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Things You'll Need

  • Paper sack
  • Peat pellets
  • Distilled water
  • Pan
  • Shallow tray
  • Paper plate
  • Clear plastic
  • Small planting containers
  • Commercial potting mixture
  • 4- to 6-inch pots
  • Liquid houseplant fertiliser

About the Author

M.H. Dyer

M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.

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