How to propagate tree ferns

Pacific Horticulture | Propagating and Growing Tropical Tree Ferns on the California Coast

By: Josh Schechtel

Josh Schechtel is an avid gardener and has rarely met a plant that he didn’t like. He has worked as…

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Lush layers of tree ferns populate the Pacifica garden of Daniel Yansura. Photo: Josh Schechtel

Squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountain range that runs through San Mateo County, Pacifica is located about 20 miles south of San Francisco. With an average rainfall of about 30 inches per year and annual temperatures that range from 45 to 78 degrees, this isn’t a place that brings tropical plants to mind—especially in the summer months when this part of the coast is blanketed in thick fog. Daniel and Patricia Yansura moved to Pacifica in 1983 and Daniel, interested in paleobotany and primitive plants, started collecting and propagating tree ferns there shortly afterwards.

Growing some ferns in USDA Zone 10A (Sunset Zone 17) poses unique problems. While temperate ferns thrive in the fog, cool temperatures, and high humidity, many tropical and semi-tropical plants languish without heat. Through years of experimentation, Daniel has discovered that many tropical tree ferns can adapt to the cooler climate—provided they are acclimated properly.

An immediate challenge to cultivating ferns was a lack of shade on his property, so Daniel began by planting two tree fern species that can tolerate sun, Dicksonia antarctica and Cyathea cooperi, to provide shade for other species in his growing collection.

The fern propagation journey

Through research, Daniel discovered that while there are more than 600 tree fern species in the world, few of those he was interested in were commercially available. So he began to try propagating ferns from spores. Daniel joined several fern societies to obtain spores and share propagation techniques with other society members. He met fern enthusiasts from around the world and has travelled with some of them to collect spores in places as varied as New Zealand, Costa Rica, Australia, Hawaii, Japan, Singapore, Myanmar, and throughout the Caribbean.

Although his initial attempts to grow tree ferns from spores had poor yields, as his techniques improved, so did his results. Daniel now grows about 300 species of ferns and lycophytes (the division that includes clubmosses and spike mosses) in his collection.

This small pot shows the propagation cycle of spore to gametophyte to emerging sporophyte, or young fern. Photo: Josh Schechtel

Spores are very different from seeds. While seeds contain the full set of a plant’s chromosomes, spores contain half of the chromosomes of the parent fern—like eggs and sperm of animals. In fact, fern reproductive cells are called “sperm” rather than “pollen,” offering a clue that fern reproduction is very different from flowering plants. Spore viability varies from weeks to years, with chlorophyll-containing spores having the shortest viability.

To successfully propagate ferns, Daniel carefully applies fresh spores to the surface of a sterilized, peat-based substrate using a cotton swab. Once spores are placed on the medium, germination pots are kept in unique, insulated, temperature-controlled propagation boxes that Daniel designed and built out of all sorts of materials, including old aquariums. The boxes are lit by LED lights on a 12-hour light cycle. Heating pads and small fans keep the temperature perfect and circulate air to keep mold and other pathogens at bay.

Daniel’s propagation house is unique in another way. All of the power to heat, light, and humidify the propagation boxes comes from photovoltaic panels on the property. Even in the coastal fog, Daniel and Patricia use solar power to run all the electrical devices on their property. Everything from the tiny fans in the propagation boxes to the refrigerator in the kitchen is designed to be as energy efficient as possible.

The pots are monitored closely to make sure that the medium maintains the proper moisture content. If all goes well, the spores develop into gametophytes, an intermediate stage of development. Gametophytes look like liverwort, spreading out in a green film over the surface of the substrate. Like spores, the tiny gametophytes only have half the chromosomes of an adult fern. Dry-climate species, such as Cheilanthes, develop quickly, probably because of the demanding habitats where small gametophytes can dessicate quickly. Others mature very slowly, with gametophytes remaining in this state for several months.

The mature gametophyte produces gametes—the eggs and sperm—and then a miraculous event occurs. The tiny sperm migrate across the surface of the gametophyte, swimming through a film of water that collects on the surface of the living tissue. Without this water film, the sperm could not migrate to the egg and fertilize it. Once fertilization takes place, the full complement of chromosomes is present and a small fern, called a sporophyte, begins to grow. The sporophyte has the recognizable petioles and leaflets of a typical fern frond. Dozens of sporophytes can grow in a four-inch pot, so Daniel thins them out and repots them individually, which quickly fills a greenhouse with young ferns.

As the sporophytes grow Daniel pots them up into individual pots. Photo: Josh Schechtel

While some species grow with little care at this point, many others require exacting conditions, and Daniel has lots of stories to tell about all the things that can—and do—go wrong. Despite setbacks, he has mastered the art of propagating many ferns. His greenhouse is filled with one- to three-year-old plants in four-inch pots. Once their roots are strong enough, they are moved into gallon pots where they continue to grow for another one to two years. Only at this point are they strong enough to move out of the greenhouse and into the garden where they are hardened off.

Establishing ferns in the garden

The more promising ferns are planted in the ground and monitored carefully for at least a year to determine if they can thrive throughout the seasons. Some plants cannot take winter cold and have to be brought back into the greenhouse. Some ferns can take the winter chill as long as they are protected from too much moisture, which causes them to rot. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California are accustomed to succulents rotting from a combination of cold and damp, but we don’t usually think of this as a problem for ferns. Other ferns, even some from tropical parts of the world, adapt well to the local climate as long as they are moved outdoors in mild weather and allowed to adapt slowly to the cooler months.

A mature fern with spore-producing sori on the underside of the frond. Photo: Anca Mosoiu via Wikimedia

When the ferns mature, they produce more spores. Spores form in sori, creating the familiar patterns that we see on the undersides of fern fronds. The cycle then repeats, and if conditions are good, another generation of gametophytes will grow in situ. Daniel monitors his garden closely to make sure that gametophytes aren’t forming in a manner that indicates a plant may be invasive.

To maintain his garden in the drier months, Daniel has tanks that store 1700 gallons of rainwater. His garden uses about 100 gallons of city water and about 40 gallons of rainwater every week. He also uses gray water from the shower and laundry to irrigate parts of the garden. Reclaiming water, spreading a thick mulch, and strategically placing rocks pays off—the garden thrived during the recent five-year drought and Daniel’s household water usage was average for the Bay Area.

The crown of a mature tree fern. Photo: Josh Schechtel

Spreading the fern love

All of his time and hard work has paid off. Daniel propagates many species of rare tree ferns and generously gives away plants to other fern enthusiasts. He is a volunteer fern propagator for the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. With other volunteers and the staff, he has added more than 40 species of plants to the Ancient Plant Garden, renewing his interest in paleobotany.

Daniel regularly donates rare ferns to local botanic gardens, both for their collections and to sell for fundraising. Some of his more unusual plants are sold at rare plant auctions, raising even more money for local public gardens. Looking at the thriving ferns in his collection, it is difficult to believe that some of them hail from as far away as New Caledonia and Lord Howe Island. In the coastal mists of Pacifica, they seem completely at home.

Tending Hi-Tech 

Daniel runs a DNA sequencing laboratory in his garden shed! Using cast-off lab equipment from his former career in biotechnology, Daniel can sequence the DNA of a chloroplast (the photosynthesis engine in a plant) to identify unknown fern species. Since many of his plants come from spores that are collected in the wild, and there are at least 9000 species of ferns in the world, it is often difficult to identify a fern by appearance alone.

He compares DNA he sequences to a library of ferns at the National Center for Biotechnology Information to identify the plant he is growing. This high-tech plant ID approach has enabled him to identify ferns from his collection as well as plants from other fern propagators.

Ferns: How to propagate ferns

Ferns are useful plants for a wide range of situations, including shade. You can propagate ferns by several methods, including by division, taking leaf clippings, and propagating from spores.

If you want to gradually increase your stock, the easiest way to propagate ferns is by dividing plants in the garden in spring. The potted divisions should be secured in a shaded cold frame until fern roots have developed.

Ferns are most readily propagated in larger numbers using spores. Spores are produced on the undersides of the fern fronds in small capsules called sporangia.

When ripe, the sporangia shed thousands of spores that are dispersed by the wind. If they have landed in a suitable position, the spores will then form a heart-shaped structure called a prothallus, which will then go on to produce a fern. This process will only be successful in continuous dampness, in both natural and controlled environments.

The time to complete this cycle varies. Adiantums for example, may be ready for pricking out in as little as six weeks, while others may take a few months. It is not uncommon to find rogue plants as spores waft about on the slightest breath, and it is therefore important to keep everything sterile.

Discover exactly how to propagate ferns below.

Matthew Reese preparing a fern leaf © Jason Ingram

How to propagate ferns from spores

For the gardener, the most general means of propagating ferns is by spores. These spores (fine, dust-like particles similar in some ways to pollen but able to generate a new plant) are contained in small capsules – called sporangia – on the underside of the fronds, as you can see in the Asplenium scolopendrium above. Provided you can supply heat, ferns can be propagated year-round, otherwise, March and July are the best months.

© Jason Ingram

Periodically examine the fern carefully and when these small capsules turn brown (but before they have burst) cut the frond and wrap it up in smooth, white paper.

© Jason Ingram

After a day or two, unwrap the frond, being mindful not to spill any of the fine brown dust, which is composed of millions of minute spores.

© Jason Ingram

For fern compost, I use a 50/50 mix of John Innes seed compost and a peat alternative. Place in a sterilised container or pot and firm level. Cover the compost with a paper towel and scald with boiling water to sterilise the soil. Once the compost has cooled, remove the towel and sow the spores immediately. The spores can be sown in the same way as seeds, thinly over the surface of the compost.

© Jason Ingram

Quickly cover with a lid or plastic bag to prevent contamination. It is essential to keep the compost moist for germination to occur, but do not water from above. Instead, stand pots in a saucer of water. Place in a shady position.

How to propagate ferns from clippings

Some ferns, including some cultivars of Polystichum setiferum, Asplenium x lucrosum and the Dryopteris wallichiana, make miniature replicas on the fronds of the parent plants (bulbils), which can be rooted easily in the right conditions.

© Jason Ingram

  • Fronds can be bowed over and pegged down on the surface of a tray positioned next to the mother plant, then detached once rooted.
  • Fern fronds can also be removed then placed and pegged to encourage rooting (facing upwards) on the surface of a tray of compost.
  • Use a moisture-retentive, sandy, or coir-based compost.
  • Place in a moist, humid atmosphere in a cool and shady spot in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.
  • Over time the frond will wither and small ferns will develop. It is generally best to overwinter the rooted ferns in trays and pot on into 9cm pots in spring when signs of growth appear.
  • Keep the young plants in a similar humid atmosphere until they have established a good root system and are large enough for planting out.

Tree peony: four ways to propagate

The cost of seedlings of this luxurious shrub is usually quite affordable. But many amateur gardeners strive to grow a tree-like peony on their own, the reproduction of which in practice turns out to be interesting, but very difficult. There are several ways to propagate tree peonies, but none of them guarantees a 100% and quick result.

Propagation by seeds

Propagation by seeds in tree peonies is rather laborious and not always crowned with success, since the percentage of germination is low. This is a method for very patient flower growers: the seeds germinate for a long time (up to several years), they are subjected to temperature stratification before planting, and flowering occurs approximately in the fifth or sixth year after germination. This method is practiced by breeders; for ordinary fans, propagation by seeds, although cheap, is too difficult, inefficient and unexciting.

Dividing a tree peony bush

The easiest way for lovers of tree peonies is to propagate by dividing a bush. True, it happens at the cost of the life of the mother plant. The formed bush at the age of 4 - 6 years is carefully dug up, the earth is washed off from the roots or thoroughly shaken off. For tree peonies older than eight years, reproduction by division is not recommended. It is advisable to choose a tree peony for division, on which there are at least seven independent stems. Before digging, they are cut off, leaving a length of 10 - 15 centimeters. The rhizome is cut in such a way that the length of the delenka root is at least 10 centimeters, and there are 3-5 buds on the stem. Too old or rotten rhizomes are removed, the lower part of the stem is cleaned of rot. Sections on the roots are treated with potassium permanganate and sprinkled with charcoal, it is possible in a 1: 1 mixture with colloidal sulfur. The resulting planting material is immediately planted in the ground in a permanent place. The tree-like peony, which was propagated by dividing the bush, blooms in a couple of years.

Propagation by cuttings and layering

This method of propagation of tree peonies is quite easy, but not the most productive. In summer, the semi-lignified parts of the shoot with a bud and a leaf are cut off and, after standing for several hours in a root solution, they are planted in a greenhouse at an angle of 45 degrees. The kidneys are completely buried. In the spring, the resulting peonies can be transplanted into the ground, but such a plant will develop slowly and bloom in about the fifth year. Another option for propagating tree-like peonies is the instillation of layering. This method is simple, but very inefficient. It is usually carried out in May, before flowering. A shoot is selected, located as low as possible to the ground, and an incision is made on it from below, which must be treated with a root or other growth substance. Then the incised shoot is firmly pinned to the ground; if the stem is thick enough, you can insert a spacer into it. Then it must be covered with a layer of earth of at least 10 centimeters. It is necessary to constantly ensure that the earth is moist. If the layering is successfully rooted, then in September it is cut off from the mother plant and transplanted to a permanent place. Most often, when propagating a tree-like peony by layering, roots, if they appear, are very weak and it is better not to rush to separate them - this can be done in a year or two. Inexperienced owners of a tree peony can try propagation by air layering - it's quite simple, but it is rarely possible to succeed. With this method of propagation of tree-like peonies, the incised shoot is not dug in, but turns into wet moss and a film. Theoretically, roots can appear by September, but in practice this happens extremely rarely.

Propagation of the tree peony by grafting

This is a labor-intensive method that requires experience and skill, which is usually used in industrial breeding. The roots of a herbaceous peony serve as a rootstock, and the green shoots of a tree-like peony serve as a scion. The graft is sharpened under the wedge, the corresponding groove is cut into the stock. An easier way to propagate tree peonies is side grafting, when the stock and scion are cut at a slight angle. With both methods of such reproduction of tree-like pions, the sections should be combined and fixed. You can use polyethylene or insulating tape for this, which is wound with a sticky layer outward. Cover with garden pitch on top. It is necessary to ensure that the plants are constantly moistened, and the easiest way to do this is by placing them in wet sawdust. Fusion occurs within a month, then the plant is grown in a greenhouse for two years.

Self-propagation of a tree peony is a very troublesome business and not always successful, and one has to wait several years for the first flowering. In the Yaskrava Klumba online store, you can buy three-year-old seedlings of popular varieties very inexpensively and order their delivery to Lviv, Kharkov, Kyiv or any other city in Ukraine. The probability of their flowering in the first year after planting is 50 percent.

photo, care and propagation of plants at home

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Content ) is a perennial fern that forms beautiful spreading bushes of bright green color. They can decorate both a flower bed and a window sill or a winter garden. The plant has a rather difficult character, demanding care, so in order to grow it at home, you need to know a few simple rules. In return, the fern will please the eye with rapid development and violent growth.

Belongs to the family Derbyankovye . Numerous genus blehnum has approximately 200 plant species.

Gardening professionals sometimes call this plant "derbyanka". The fern is quite widespread in western Europe, eastern Asia, and North America. It is believed that the birthplace of the plant is South Africa.

Evergreen ornamental tree fern similar to palm. In nature, it grows up to 3 m, in rooms - no more than 0.5-0.7 m.

The plant has a short dense stem, which is covered with thick leaves. The leaves are pinnately cut, light green, leathery. Over time, the stem becomes ossified and acquires a light brown color. The stem of the plant is transformed into a root system, which extends over the entire surface of the soil and takes part in the process of creating a peat layer.

Blehnum silver lady (V. silver lady), spiky and other types of derbyanka

In room conditions, the following types of blekhnum are most often grown: B. silver lady (V. silver lady),

B. Brazilsky (V. Brasiliense),

B. Gorbaty (V. Gibbum),

B. Indian (B. Indicum),

B. Kolosisty (V. Spicant),

B. Japanese or Nippon (B. Nipponicum),

B. River (B. Fluviatile),

9000 9000

b. cirro-marine (V. penna-marina).

Brazilian blechnum stands out with an olive shade of growth on rather wide leaves. Fern creates a spreading, but not very tall bush. The young leaves are orange-pink in color and form into a small rosette in the middle of the plant, which adds to its attractiveness.

Blehnum silver lady - fern, with pronounced silvery leaves, with lanceolate, narrowed lobes. Spreading bushes of the plant reach a diameter of up to 60 cm.

Humpback blechnum is considered one of the most famous species, grows up to 60 cm high. The leaves are colored light green, almost without petioles, densely sitting on a short trunk. The leaves are oblong, broader at the beginning, and pointed closer to the edge. The span of the frond reaches 40-60 cm. The maximum height of the plant reaches almost 50 cm.

Derbyanka spiky is a fairly compact shrub that loves warmth and does not tolerate drafts. It has narrow, glossy leaves, dark green or light green in color with black petioles. It has a rather short height, about 30 cm.

Japanese Blechnum is a cold-resistant fern of rather small size, no more than 40 cm, which has narrow green leaves.

Derbyanka river has a spherical crown and oval leaf blades. The height of the plant is about 35 cm, the leaf span reaches 40 cm. . Has deep green leaves


Care and reproduction of blechnum at home

To grow blechnum at home, you need to ensure proper care of the bush. Blechnum is a photophilous plant, but does not tolerate direct sun. The temperature in winter is 8-16 ° C, in summer it is not higher than + 25 ° C, otherwise the leaves will begin to dry and stop growing. The place where the fern grows should be quiet, without drafts.
Does not need to be sprayed as this can cause leaf spoilage. It is necessary to maintain high humidity. Blehnum categorically does not tolerate very cold window sills, sudden temperature changes, hot air from batteries and air conditioners.
Transplantation is done as needed, when the root system completely covers the pot, it is advisable to carry out the procedure in early spring (March - April). The optimal substrate is clay-turf and leafy soil, peat, humus, sand (1: 1: 1. 5: 1: 0.5). The soil should be light, with weak or neutral acidity.
During the entire growing season, monthly, in winter once every 2 months, top dressing is carried out. The fern is usually fed with mineral fertilizers, which are intended for non-flowering plants. If the bush has a healthy appearance, you do not need to make a lot of fertilizer, half the serving will be enough. From its overabundance, the fern will start to hurt. Blehnum rarely succumbs to diseases or attacks of various types of pests.
Problems in the care of blechnum may be associated with incorrect fern content. He needs to ensure regular watering with water without lime, plentiful in summer. Water for irrigation must be of high quality. If there is no way to filter it, then you need to at least defend it. It should be slightly warm and without chlorine impurities. Poor quality water can cause rot on the roots, and even the death of the plant itself.
Neither overmoistening nor overdrying of the soil should be allowed. If the room is too hot, then brown spots begin to appear on the leaves. Under the influence of too dry air, the leaves turn yellow, and the bush practically does not grow. The fern loves fresh air very much, so it needs regular airing. Yellow leaves may also indicate a lack of fertilizer.
Sometimes the lower middle-aged fern leaves drop and dry, which spoils the appearance of the plant. They do not fall off by themselves, so the plant needs systematic pruning. The leaves are cut as low as possible at the base of the stem so that no stumps remain.
Derbyanka reproduces quite successfully by root shoots and spores. The most simple way is the propagation of ferns by root shoots. To do this, in the spring they dig up an adult plant and cut its root in half. The place of cuts is treated with crushed charcoal and buried in the ground. New shoots should appear in a few weeks.
Experienced flower growers propagate ferns with spores without much effort. To do this, a large sheet is cut off and the spores are carefully scraped into the container.

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