Looking for a way to save your beautiful ferns over the winter and keep them around to grow again next summer? Then today’s article is just for you!
Ferns are one of the most popular plants of all for summer decorating. With their gorgeous, bright green canopy of cascading foliage, they are perfect for bringing life to patios, porches – or any area where shade is more prevalent than pure sunlight.
Ferns truly are the ultimate multi-purpose plant. Not only do they look great in hanging baskets, they are right at home in containers or when planted directly into shaded flowerbeds. Even better, they are extremely low maintenance, requiring little care beyond water to thrive.
One of the most difficult things for gardeners to watch is their once beautiful fern dying off in late fall. Not only is it sad to watch, it can be quite expensive having to repurchase new ferns every spring. But here is the good news – it’s actually quite easy to save your ferns.
How To Save Ferns – The Simple Steps To Success
One thing is for sure, if you allow your fern to get hit by a hard frost, it’s usually too late to bring it back. The first key to saving ferns begins with getting them out of harms way before the bitter cold sets in.
Ferns can handle a bit of chill, and even a light frost for that matter, but not a hard frost or freeze. As temperatures begin to drop in mid to late fall, plants need to be covered or brought indoors on nights when a heavy frost or freeze is expected.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to start preparing your fern for life indoors long before that first blast of cold arrives. And that preparation begins with shaping up your fern for indoor life.
Cutting Back / Pruning
The first step to success in overwintering your fern indoors is pruning. Ferns can can certainly grow quite large through the warm summer months. So large, in fact, that at full size, they can be nearly impossible to find space for indoors.
If your plant is of moderate size, it can be pruned back and kept whole. However, if your fern has grown to massive proportions, you may need to divide it before bringing it inside. If that is the case, we have included instructions for dividing at the end of the article.
For plants you will not be dividing, begin by cutting back any large strands of foliage to create a more manageable plant indoors. Don’t be afraid to take off several inches of growth or more if needed. If indoor space is really limited, you can even cut the plant back entirely, it will still come back in full next spring with proper winter care.
Once pruning is complete, it’s time to give your plant a good washing off. The best way to do this is with a spray from your garden hose. Not only will this remove any clippings, it will also hose off any pests that might try to hitch a free ride into your home.
Be sure to lift the foliage and spray the plant down entirely. Beyond any pests that might be present, this can also help wash off the eggs of pests that may be lying in wait. Once the plant has dried off, you are ready to bring it indoors!
Bringing Indoors – How To Save Ferns
If your fern is good to go without splitting, allow it to thoroughly dry out before bringing indoors. We actually hang ours from our clothesline in the afternoon sun to help dry them out completely.
Now it’s time to find the best location for overwintering indoors. For best results, you need to find a location that is cool, but protected from freezing conditions. For many, a basement works great, but a garage, or even a corner in a cool room in the house works well too.
Ferns do not require full sun or bright light to survive through the winter months. In fact, too much light through a window can actually burn the plant’s foliage. That is why it is important to keep them away from southern facing windows, as the rays can still provide too much light.
Ferns survive with ease with simple occasional ambient light from a garage window, or even a basement well window. Less light is always better than too much.
Winter Care – How To Save Ferns Indoors
Ferns do not require much at all to survive the winter indoors. There is no need for fertilizing – really all that is needed is an occasional watering. Check the soil every 5 to 7 days, and water only when the soil has completely dried out.
It is important to remember at this point you are not trying to grow a beautiful plant indoors. Instead, you are simply overwintering and saving the fern until it can once again thrive in the warm summer months.
Knowing this, realize the plant will not look it’s best. The leaves will indeed turn more pale until spring arrives one again. Some will also fall off to the ground. The fern at this point is really in more of a hibernation state than anything – but it will survive.
As warm temperatures return, it’ time to get your fern back outside to regain it’s strength, vigor, and color. Once again, be sure to protect it from spring freeze and frosts too. The more it can be outside, the faster it will come out of its resting state and begin to grow new foliage.
Repotting & Dividing Large Ferns In The Fall – How To Save Ferns & Keep Them Over The Winter
If your ferns are exceptionally large or have outgrown their pots, early Autumn is the best time for dividing and replanting. If you would like to keep the same size fern for next year, a good rule of thumb is to split the fern to a third of its size from its current container.
When splitting and dividing plants, it is best to cut all of the foliage off down to within an inch or two of the base of the plant. Once split, repot into a container, filling in the sides with a regular potting soil mix.
You can also repot the other divisions at this time as well for even more plants. The ferns will regrow a bit overwinter from the cuttings, but will return in full once they are outdoors.
For complete instructions on dividing, check out our article on our sister site This Is My Garden : How To Divide Overgrown Ferns. Here is to keeping those ferns around for another season, and to saving on that gardening budget too! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.