Did You Know? Successfully Transplanting Ferns

Today’s post was inspired by a stroll around the yard last week. I think I was actually helping my daughter, Maddie, to steer her John Deere Gator. She’s 3 and hasn’t quite got the swing of driving yet. Anyway, as we were leaving the backyard and entering the front I looked down under the dogwood and saw a baby lady fern. It was probably 4″ tall and had three or four fronds. Here’s a picture:

transplanting ferns

I was reminded of a few years back when I plucked out one of these baby ladies from the “lawn” and stuck it in my border. It has performed beautifully ever since with no attention. There are winters where I don’t even bother to remove the foliage. Yes, I know that’s lazy.

Here’s a picture of the adult lady fern:

transplanting ferns

Successfully transplanting ferns isn’t hard to accomplish if you keep a few things in mind. Before I go any further, let me put out a disclaimer: I don’t advocate digging up any wildflowers, even ferns, from the wild and planting them in your garden. With that being said, I don’t think that the “lawn” area under my dogwood qualifies. So what should you keep in mind when it comes to transplanting ferns?

  1. TIMING – I’ve successfully transplanted ferns in spring and fall but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in the summer. That takes us to our next point.
  2. WATER – As with most plants, if you transplant them in fall your watering woes decrease dramatically. It usually rains in the fall here in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region so God will take care of the water. Here’s a post that I did on Fall Is For Planting for more info. If you decide to move your ferns in the spring, be prepared to water regularly throughout the first summer. The roots of your transplanted ferns have to establish themselves in their new home and you’ll need to help them along at first.
  3. SOIL – Transplanting ferns is much easier if the soil in their new home is similar to the soil in their old home. Perhaps that’s why my lady ferns have done so well. The 20′ commute from the dogwood to the border means that the soil is virtually the same. If you are getting your ferns from a gardening friend that has awesome soil and your soil is so-so, help the new ferns along by keeping them well-watered and topdressing with compost. I don’t recommend amending the soil in the planting hole. It creates a bath tub effect and can create some negative conditions in the soil. I’ll do a post about that at a later time.


So what do you do if you have ferns that you want to divide and transplant around your garden? Just dig up the whole clump, take a shovel or knife (my choice) to divide them and then plant them. I think a lot of people are intimidated at the thought of dividing perennials but you really shoudn’t be. Most perennials are extremely tough and amazingly resilient. So if you see any baby ferns popping up under your dogwood tree, pluck them out of the “lawn” and plant them in your garden. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results. Have you successfully transplanted ferns in your garden? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


June 11, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Reader Question: Shade Perennials

Today’s Reader Question comes from Monica in Bethesda, MD:

I recently read your article about shrubs for shady gardens and it made me wonder if you have suggestions for shade perennials. I have hosta and pachysandra but I’d like to expand my area for shade perennials.

Monica, there are so many wonderful choices when it comes to shade perennials. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Ferns – there are ferns that can fit just about condition that you can throw at them. There are short ones like rainbow moss fern that spread like a groundcover, tall majestic evergreen creatures like autumn fern and delicate ones with apple green foliage like lady fern.
  2. Coral Bells – the latin name for these is Heuchera and you can find them in all sorts of foliage colors. The foliage can range from green to chartreuse to purple to marbled. Coral bells are generally grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage but some of them, like ‘Autumn Bride’, provide a nice display of flowers too.

    shade perennials

    Coral bells are often grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage

  3. Astilbe – also known as False Spiraea, these perennials can vary in size from dwarf (like Hennie Graafland) to quite tall (like ‘Bridal Veil’). They come in a variety of colors that can be worked into virtually any shady garden.
  4. Bleeding Hearts – also known as Dicentra spectabilis, these ephemeral beauties begin blooming in April and all but disappear by midsummer. Their gorgeous blooms can either be pink or white and will provide a beautiful show of color.
  5. Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a favorite in my own personal garden. I love perennials that are no fuss and take care of themselves once established. Solomon’s Seal will form a small colony over the years and is easily propagated to use in other shady areas or to share with your friends.
  6. Dwarf Crested Iris – Iris cristata is a delightful little spring bloomer that is attractive even when it’s not in bloom. The straight species’ blooms are blue but it is also available in white. This is another shade perennial that will colonize over the years and it is not invasive.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas of shady perennials that will be great performers in your garden. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ is another great choice and you can use it to fill in the bare spots that are left in the winter by hostas.

I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers about their favorite shady perennials. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!