Propagating Ferns

Jn addition to the promise of quantities of new plants, propagating ferns especially from spores offers to me precious moments, hours and days actually, of relaxation (horticultural uppers), mixed with the joyous anticipation of creating new life and perhaps new-to-U.S.-cultivation species to enrich gardens and knowledge. My original propagating "facility" was a table in the basement with an overhead fluorescent light. That was rapidly outgrown and now all of my propagating is done in a 12-by-18-ft. (3.6-by-5.4-m) "plant room" housing shelves with pairs of 4-ft. (1.2-m), cool white, 40-watt fluorescent tubes. The room, which is attached to the house, is surrounded on three sides with windows that catch winter sun filtered by shade cloth (on rollers like regular window shades), but with the protective shade of an overstory of Japanese maple trees, not the intense rays of summer. The ceiling and walls are painted white for optimum light distribution and, only somewhat by design, the clothes dryer vents into the area giving it a periodic boost of humidity. A ceiling fan runs 24 hours a day.

Greenhouses, while extremely efficient as well as wonderfully ambient work sites, are more labor intensive, as seasonal adjustments are required for a proper light-to-shade balance and in cold winter areas precautions must be in place for snow loads. At the other extreme, a workspace as small and convenient as a north-facing kitchen window can handle several cultures and be under the watchful eye of the propagator. It is a practical and totally expense-free option for getting started. Whether you choose a minimum arrangement or a full-blown propagation facility, I hope you too can find the special pleasure and reward in being up to your elbows in soil, watching and tending your progeny, and eventually bringing new ferns into your life and garden.

To create large numbers of young ferns, spore propagation is generally the option of choice. To duplicate existing ferns, building up numbers somewhat slowly but surely, vegetative methods are practical, faster, and definitely more consistent and reliable.

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