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by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing the Many Different Perennial Ferns"

Ferns are very graceful plants. They vary in shape and size, but all are beautiful additions to a shady garden. Their attractive fronds provide an array of interesting textures and colors.

Ferns are not flowering plants. They reproduce by means of spores. In some ferns the spores are produced on the undersides of the leaves. They appear as dark brown or black, small, round bumps that line the undersides of the leaves. In other ferns they are carried on fronds that are distinctly different from the rest of the plant. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

One of the most graceful ferns is maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). It bears delicate fronds on two-foot-tall, slender dark purple or black leaf stalks. The fronds are arranged in circular groups of five to 20 long segments atop its stems. Each segment has short leaflets arranged opposite one another. New fronds that emerge in spring are maroon-pink as they unfold. The fronds become medium green. It does well in shady areas that have bright, filtered light. It spreads to form a handsome clump a foot wide or so.

Japanese Painted FernA fern with very decorative and showy fronds is Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'). Unlike most ferns that have green fronds, this fern's fronds are silver tinged with red and maroon. The color combination is striking. The colors do not fade as the fronds age. New fronds emerge green then develop their coloration as they grow. The combination of new and old fronds on each plant is interesting. When the fronds are just emerging in spring, they are dark purple to nearly black. Japanese painted fern is a smaller fern, ideal for small, shady gardens. It only grows a foot to two feet tall and makes a tidy clump.

Lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina) is related to Japanese painted fern, but it does not have the colorations on its fronds. Instead, its fronds are medium green and have a lacy appearance. Lady fern is a larger fern. Its fronds are up to three feet long and nearly a foot wide. They stand upright. Its new spring growth is bright green and very attractive. It thrives in shady locations and prefers moist soil.

Male fern (Dryopteris felix-mas) has leathery fronds that are up to three feet long and under a foot wide. The fronds are deep green. In spring, its emerging fronds are covered with light brown hairs that give them a furry appearance. The variety 'Barnesii' has three-foot-wide fronds that are only four inches wide. The fronds stand stiffly upright. Male fern is tolerant of dry soil and is a good choice for planting beneath trees.

A large fern that stands tall among other plants is Goldie's fern (Dryopteris goldiana). It bears four-foot-tall fronds that are a foot wide or more. The fronds are widest in the middle and taper to a pointed tip. The fronds are bright, golden green. The color is most intense in spring while the fronds are still young. The leaflets on the fronds are deeply cut, almost to the center of the frond. The fronds tend to lean backward rather than stand upright.

Christmas fernChristmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) grows only about two feet tall. Its evergreen fronds are medium green with a classic fern shape. They are widest in the middle and taper to the tip. The leaflets have smooth edges and point downward on the bottom portion of each frond. Christmas fern combines nicely with other ferns in a shady garden and will tolerate some sun if the soil is kept moist.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Deadheading, Regular Fertilizing Keeps Petunias Flowering"

Q. How do I keep my petunias flowering? When I plant them in spring they are loaded with flowers and buds, but now they aren't flowering much and they are beginning to look a little ragged. What can I do to make them look good again? Thanks for your help.

A. Petunias are a popular annual bedding plant with a rainbow of colors from which to choose. Their low, somewhat spreading habit make them great to use along the edge of a flower bed or in containers where they can cascade over the edge. Their bright, bold colors combine well with other summer annuals.

Petunias are beautiful when in bloom, but they're notorious for not blooming after the main flush of bloom. I always recommend deadheading (removing faded blooms) often on all flowering plants, but with petunias, the best thing to do is to shear the plants back severely to get continued bloom into fall. This will encourage new shoots to emerge.

Petunias are also heavy feeders, so it's a good idea to fertilize regularly. I use Electra Plant Food and Electra Bloom Food and alternate between the two every three weeks throughout the whole season to keep my petunias flowering continuously right to frost.

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