Oak Fern Information: How To Care For Oak Fern Plants


By: Liz Baessler

Oak fern plants are perfect for spots in the garden that are hard to fill in. Keep reading to learn more oak fern information, including oak fern cultivation and tips for caring for oak ferns.

What are Oak Ferns?

Oak fern plants (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) are very low growing, usually topping out at between 6 and 12 inches (15 to 30.5 cm.) in height. Instead of growing up, these fern plants grow out, creeping along the ground through rhizomes.

In spite of their common name, oak ferns do not grow on or near oak trees, nor do they resemble them in any way, so how it derived this name is a mystery. The triangular fronds are pale to bright green in color, which makes for an excellent contrast in deep shade where the shadows can make everything look dark and gloomy.

Oak ferns are hardy in USDA zones 2 through 8, which means they are extremely cold tolerant. They are deciduous, so they won’t keep their greenery through the winter, but they should come back every spring even after very harsh weather.

Oak Fern Cultivation in Gardens

Caring for oak ferns is extremely easy. The plants prefer deep shade, but they will do well in partial shade. They like neutral to slightly acidic soil that is sandy or loamy. They need good drainage but lots of moisture and prefer rich, leafy, or compost heavy soil.

Oak fern plants can be propagated by spores or division. Collect the spores from the undersides of the fronds in late summer or fall and plant them in the spring, or simply divide the rhizomes in the spring.

Because of its ease and success at transplanting, oak fern is a desirable plant to have in the garden. While moving established ferns to a new location is simple, they will also spread out naturally through spores and rhizomes if you leave them alone.

As long as you provide the plants with their basic lighting and soil needs, little else is necessary to keep them growing in the garden. Oak ferns also make great companions to other ferns and woodland plants like trillium, jack in the pulpit, Jacob’s ladder, and Virginia bluebells.

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Gardening for a Busy Life

I have been gardening all my life. My father was a landscaper who bought a garden center and my siblings and I were raised in it. My mother was a Woodstock hippie who was making kambucha in her linen closet back in the early 80’s and was organic gardening since I was a baby. Unlike the rest of my siblings, I’m the only one who stayed in the nursery business and to this day I still get a sense of pride growing an heirloom bumble tomato or designing a new garden.

Gardening for the modern-day life is a time-challenge for most of us, if not all. Yet gardening is, in part, instinctive in humans. Imagine if you will when our ancestors realized they could eat all winter because they had grown enough food to feed themselves through those long, cold months. They would not starve if they couldn’t trap game or catch enough fish.

Now, centuries later, so many people have lost touch with that primal side in an age of supermarket food, online delivery and a cell phone chiming ever 38 seconds. Gardening, whether it is a container garden on an urban patio, a veggie garden in a suburban backyard, a front yard landscape or a sustainable farm, gets us back to our core selves. It brings a sense of pride, a oneness with nature, and clarity of mind. It is a great shame that so many people no longer get to feel that calmness to balance their busy work life. I hope that I can help get you back in tune with nature, your inner nurturer, without having to alter your lifestyle for more than an hour or two a week. Gardening is physically and mentally healthy – get a feel for it and embrace the instinctive part of yourself.

For centuries, gardening skills have been handed down from generation to generation but with our technology distractions we have lost those skills. So how can we get them back. It’s actually quite simple. Just getting to know your plants, your soil, and your surroundings will make you a better gardener. So part one and two of this blog will help you understand what a plant is, how it grows, and what it needs to thrive and prosper. Each of these blogs will take you through what you need to know to focus your limited time on successful gardening. As person who runs several businesses and has a family, I cherish my limited time in the garden and hopefully you will too. One thing I promise you is that once you see your first seedling flower, first flower bed bloom, or taste your first home grown salad you will be hooked for life.

So you’re reading this and saying “yes, yes, yes, but I have a family, work, pets and I just don’t have time. Give me the basics.” Well it might surprise you how much like us plants are. We both have blood which flows through veins. Plant “blood” just has a different name called “sap”. Plants breathe, have a nervous system and just like us are ruled by their hormones. They reproduce and they even move (scary right?). Not really, I mean we all would prefer the company of a palm tree with our cocktail than you know who down the block. So in case you forgot your high school botany here is a quick reminder of what makes up a plant. You do want to know what you’re buying or putting in your yard right?

Roots – There are two types of roots. The big ones that take up the inside of the pot or anchor it to the ground is called a tap root. Think of this as the feet of the plant or like the foundation your home sits on. These big roots don’t absorb water and some branch out while others go straight down but, like your basement, it’s where the plant stores the things it will needs later. Those thin roots that look like hairs are the mouth of the plant. They drink all the water and eat all the food (nutrients absorbed in the water kind of like a mineral soup.)

thick tap root and root hairs

Stems – Stems hold the plant up. Think of your trainer at the gym telling you we need to tighten your core. The stem is the core and it holds leaves, flowers, and fruits. The stems have another purpose which is to carry that water and nutrients from the roots to rest of the plant and it does this through a special tissue called xylem (carries water and minerals) and phloem (carries starches and other things usually to the tap roots to be stored).

Stem of the plant.

Next blog – What is a Plant 2 – Flowers and Seeds


Watch the video: Webinar: How to Grow Ferns in Your Garden


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