Tips On How To Transplant A Fern

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By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Ever wonder when and how to transplant ferns from one place to another? Well, you’re not alone. Read on to learn more.

Fern Transplant Info

Most ferns are easy to grow, especially when all their basic needs are met. Most varieties grow well in, and even prefer, shady areas with damp, fertile soil, though some types will thrive in full sun with moist soil.

Before taking on any type of fern transplant, you’ll want to be familiar with the particular species you have and its specific growing conditions. Ferns make wonderful additions to woodland gardens or shady borders and contrast well with hostas and other foliage plants.

When to Transplant Ferns

The best time to transplant ferns is in early spring, while still dormant but just as new growth begins to emerge. Potted ferns can usually be transplanted or repotted anytime but care should be taken if this is performed during its active growth.

Before you move them, you may want to have their new planting area well prepared with plenty of organic matter. It also helps to move a fern plant in the evening or when it’s cloudy, which will lessen the effects of transplant shock.

How to Transplant a Fern

When transplanting ferns, be sure to dig up the entire clump, getting as much soil with it as possible. Lift the clump from its bottom (or root area) rather than by the fronds, which can lead to breakage. Move it to the prepared location and cover the shallow roots with a couple of inches of soil.

Water well after planting and then add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture. It may also help to cut back all the foliage on larger ferns after planting. This will allow the fern to focus more energy on the root system, making it easier for the plant to establish itself in its new location.

Spring is also the ideal time to divide any large clumps of fern that you might have in the garden. After digging up the clump, cut the root ball or pull apart the fibrous roots and then replant elsewhere.

Note: In many areas, it may be illegal to transplant ferns that are found in the wild; therefore, you should only transplant them from your own property or those that have been purchased.

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Transplanting Wild Ferns

Check the soil condition, some like acidic soil and thrive in moist shady areas.

We bought alot of wild ferns from a dealer for our nursery. They are pretty hardy, but keep them shaded. They love good rich loamy soil and keep it moist. Cut them back after they die off and enjoy!

From my experience wild ferns are best left on the ground and in the shade. Ferns are a great plant and I have many varieties that are in my hosta beds. Good luck with them. If you are going to transplant, I would wait for a day when it is going to rain to transplant. Otherwise wait until fall if you want to take less of a chance.

Thanks, everyone, for your opinions and suggestions!

I never had luck with my wild ferns in baskets, I keep them in the ground but I bought a couple of Boston ferns that are in pots, on sale 2 for $8, I keep them in shade and well watered and fed and now have 7 or 8 pots after dividing. I put some in my shaded beds to fill in bare spots!

I'm like Liz, I bought some potted ferns in Florida and kept dividing them over the years. Finally had so many that I planted them across the whole back of my screen room. In NH, I move ferns from my wooded area to the shady area in my yard. Haven't tried them in baskets, but as long as you are putting them in similar areas/conditions they should be happy.

We live in Oregon where wild ferns abound everywhere and we've not had a lot of luck transplanting them. Every so often they'll take, but they're usually not a sure thing. For whatever reason, they like to grow where they started from! If you do try to transplant them, I'd do it when your're going to have some cool wet weather for awhile and make sure they are in the shade.

I recently (2 weeks back) transplanted some wild ferns,. We have had a very rainy summer so far and they appear to be doing well. Planted them under a large Bradford Pear. Will keep check to see how they do.

We transplants ferns all the time. They actually grow out of the bark of our palm tree.

I replanted a wild Cinnamon fern. Even though I live in S. Florida, I made sure I dug up plenty of dirt with the roots. It seemed to be very sandy, with a lot of moist natural compost from the woods.

I think I'll wait until next spring and then dig up some of the roadside ferns before they've unfurled. There are tons of them, so I suppose if a couple are put in baskets (and kept moist and in the shade) it won't be a total loss if they fail to thrive. Then I'd know for sure and only waste 2 ferns. Still, I always feel a little sad when I kill a plant.

@Judy I'd definitely give that a try. good luck. P.S. I have tons of wild ferns on the shady side of my house and I've given many away when they were still curled up (spring) and they were put back in some other people's yards, that worked just fine. Their roots are not that deep. Just go ahead and try one and then you'll know!

I moved my grandmother's ferns from WI to MI and put several in a shaded area. They lasted a few years and then I moved the last three to my berm. They are under my peony bushes and only get morning sun, then are shaded. I water them a lot and treasure them since grandma is gone now.

Never had any luck with wild ferns in baskets. There are so many types of ferns that I gave up trying with the wild ones. One of my favors is Japanese Painted Ferm. Look for it, and it comes back and can be divided once it gets some size on it.

Thanks. I'm going to stop being such a cheapskate and go buy some ferns in baskets. :-)

I have been trying to weed my ferns but they break off when I try to pull them out. They are taking over my shade garden. Any ideas?

When I weed I wait until it rains so that it is easier to pull out weeds. What ferns do you have? Wild ones? You may want to dig most of the ferns up and transplant them or put an ad to barter for other shade plants this fall. Once a plant takes over, I have found that the only way to remedy the situation is to take the plants out and put something similar back in (I love Japanese painted ferns which spread but can easily be controlled and divided). If you love the ferns then I would suggest leave a certain number of the plants in and dig out the rest and every so often go in an dig/pull out the extras.

How to Successfully Transplant a Fern From the Ground to a Pot

Related Articles

Ferns are a favorite landscape staple for the shady, moist locations in the garden. They possess interesting foliage and an ability to withstand conditions other plants won't tolerate. Several species of ferns are commonly found throughout landscapes and nurseries, and some may have unique requirements. That being said, most ferns thrive in the same types of conditions. The potting media is one of the most important factors when transplanting ferns, followed closely by making sure the fern doesn't get too much water.

Choose a shallow pot with drainage holes that allows approximately 1 inch of soil beyond the size of the root system of the fern. Do not put the fern in a pot that allows too much room on the sides of the root system, because the fern will most likely drown in the excess water held by the additional soil. Most ferns are shallow-rooted plants and do not require the deeper pots commonly associated with container gardening. If you cannot find a shallower pot, a standard pot will work if you water judiciously.

Create a potting media by mixing equal parts peat, sand and garden soil to fill your pot. Bake the potting media mix in a closed baking container, either one with an oven-save lid or an open baking pan covered with foil, for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit to pasteurize it. Allow the media to cool.

Scoop the potting media mix into the pot, leaving enough room for the root system of the fern to meet the top of the pot or stick slightly above the rim. Water the media to make it moist.

Dig up the fern with your trowel, breaking up the soil from the fern's root ball when you remove it from the ground. Gently shake the root system with your fingers to loosen the roots and remove excess soil.

Place the fern in the potting media. Gently cover the root ball with the remaining potting media.

Water the fern, soaking the soil to make the entire soil mix moist and until water drains out the bottom of the pot. Place the fern in a low-light area, preferably a mostly shaded, dappled-sunlight location.

How to transplant a large tree fern

A Property24 reader asks:

Transplanting a Cyathea australis or tree fern is a task best suited for a cool day, and it is a good idea to thoroughly water the plant the day before the move.

How do I transplant a large tree fern?

Julie Lovemore, co-owner of Karibu, advises:

Transplanting a Cyathea australis or tree fern is a task best suited for a cool day, and it is a good idea to thoroughly water the plant the day before the move.

As you water your fern, carefully look at it and decide if it has an obvious ‘front’ or ‘best side’.

Trim off any tired, dead or broken fronds. If there aren’t any, remove a couple of the bottom fronds anyway to reduce transpiration later.

Prepare a hole in your new location. Tree Ferns tend to be quite shallow rooted so a square hole about 50cm deep and 60cm wide should suffice. Keep the excavated soil in a pile close by.

Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and add a few forkfuls of compost and a generous handful of bone meal and mix well. Fill the hole with water and leave it to soak.

Now return to your tree fern and dig it out. Using the stem as the centre, mark out a 30cm square around the plant. Using a sharp spade, cut along the lines of the square and be sure to cut straight downward to the depth of your spade as this will make a clean cut through any roots that extend beyond the square. Your aim at this point is to keep as much soil as possible in tact around the roots, so proceed gently.

Use your fork and gently push the prongs down the side of the square and then horizontally under the plant. Do this on all four sides and you will see the plant begin to move and come loose. Now use the spade to complete the cut horizontally under the plant.

Lift the plant out of the ground, with the spade underneath it to keep the soil in place and carry it to its new location. Take a moment to remind yourself which is the ‘front’ of the plant (you do not want the best side facing the wall after all) and line the plant up accordingly next to the new hole.

It is important to ensure that the surface of the soil around the trunk is level with the surface of the surrounding soil in the new location – so adjust the depth of the new hole by adding more compost or moving some aside to deepen it before you gently lower your fern into its new home. It is really useful at this point to have someone else hold the plant still and straight while you work.

Mix more compost and bone meal into the pile of soil you’ve set aside while digging the hole, and use this to backfill the hole, firming down the soil with your feet as you go.

A couple of stakes may be necessary for insurance. If so, hammer them into the firm soil beyond the hole you’ve dug and make sure your ties are fastened tightly to the stake but loosely enough around the trunk of the fern to allow both growth and gentle movement. Water gently and add a layer of compost or mulch.

Visit your tree fern regularly to check on its progress and water requirements.

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