House Fern Question(s)

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by Doug Swan, Feb 9, 2012.

  1. Doug Swan

    Doug Swan Member

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    The plant below is one that has been in my friend's family for over 35 years. Apparently planted and cultivated by his grandmother (who passed away about 18 years ago), then passed along to her. We don't know what it is, although we have found may pictures that look "somewhat" like it. I'm wondering the following:

    Anyone know what type of fern this is?

    The fern has a huge amount of dead plant material growing down the base that constantly sheds. In an effort to clean it up AND open the plant a little (it was pretty weak looking) I cut some (not all) of that brown dead underplant material off. He utterly freaked and said that I've killed the plant. It's three months later and it hasn't died and, in fact, there is plenty of new growth, but she continues to swear that I've ruined it (the side I cut does seem to be coming back slowly). Was this (cutting the under material) wrong to do? I know that the fern sends out little leafless stems that grab moisture from the air, but I didn't cut any of those (at least the fresh ones).

    Thanks for any info.... you might just save my long-standing friendship! ;)

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  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    WA USA (Z8)
    Probably a Nephrolepis. They should have started snipping off the dead fronds years ago. It may need to be re-potted.
  3. togata57

    togata57 Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Columbus, Ohio
    First, my congratulations on the impressive age of this plant! Small wonder that your friend is concerned for its welfare.

    Here's what I would do.

    Get the fern out of the pot and rid it of as much of the dead stuff as you can.
    Determine where new growth is coming up.

    Now here's the part where you must send your friend AWAY so as not to witness what MUST be done: surgery.
    I have successfully performed this maneuver on Nephrolepis several times over the years.

    Get a large knife---I use a serrated bread knife---one that will cut through those wiry bits. Then, slice. Cut away the dead stuff. Isolate the areas that show new growth.

    You will end up with wedges of dirt and fern, which you will repot into nice fresh well-draining soil. Suggest hanging pots, that will allow the fronds to drape gracefully.

    At first these new plants will look scraggly, but soon they will thank you for their vastly improved growing conditions by making new fronds. A lot of them.

    Point out to your cautious friend that, in the wild, these ferns do not accumulate years of dead leaves all over and underneath!!!

    I hang my big fern outside, on a semi-shady patio, in the summer. There it can be easily kept watered, and I can spray it vigorously to knock off the dried-up leaves. In winter, it hangs in a south window. I get it down and give it a shower once a week, mist daily. In fact, I will be repotting it this spring.

    Your plant looks as if it is trying its best, but would be much happier without all that unnecessary debris all over it.

    Good luck! (And be brave!)
  4. Peperomia

    Peperomia Active Member

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    Repot it because it's growing poorly. Mist often they like high humidity.
  5. Bluewing

    Bluewing Well-Known Member

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    Upstate NY
    I totally agree, cut ALL the brown dry dead stuff off, repot healthy green fronds and roots using fresh well draining soil in a pot that's an couple inches bigger then all the roots in the pot are. You'll no doubt break a few green ones, but it should spring back just fine. You'll be amazed at even more healthy growth you'll get!
    I have a old boston also, love it!
    You'll want to keep the soil on the moist (I water weekly) You can use a turkey baster if the pot is heavy to take out water in the saucer after watering. Bright indirect light is fine, a little sun is ok too. Also grows very well right up close to a decent size unobstucted north window.
    Shedding is normal sometimes, especally in the winter months with the heat going, find the coolest spot awat from direct heating if possible. "Tons" of shedding can mean the sooil is not moist enough. Don't keep the soil wet though.
    Feed weekly with very small amouts of soluable fertilzer (pinch) I use a gallon size.

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