Magazine article Sunset

Some like It Dry

Magazine article Sunset

Some like It Dry

Article excerpt

These four luxuriant ferns don't need to drink a lot to be happy. BY JANET KINOSIAN

FERNS ARE THE TILOA SWINTON of the plant world - graceful, cool, yet full of contradictions.

Graphic, flower-free fronds make them seem modern, but they're among the most ancient plants around. They can be both evergreen and deciduous, depending on where they're planted. They're often pictured in humid rain forests, yet a few can grow happily in (moist) desert canyons. Their lush foliage makes them look thirsty, but some can survive summer heat with almost no water.

The ferns shown here can thrive on little water once they're established, as long as you plant them against a shaded wall or in a woodland setting beneath tall trees. They're especially pretty among blue hydrangeas, or beside dry creekbeds with sweet woodruff or baby's tears scrambling around them.

KEEPING FERNS GREEN

Buy potted ferns at nurseries this month and set the pots in shaded spots among groundcoversthat take the same conditions. In mild climates, after temperatures cool next month, you can plant them in the ground. (Plant in late spring in the coldest climates.)

Choose a sheltered site that's protected from wind and gets partial to full shade-east and north of a house or wall or beneath tall trees.

The soil should be rich, well-drained, and acidic. If the soil is too heavy, work compost or peat moss into the top 10 or 15 inches before planting.

Space plants 2 to 4 feet apart, allowing them to reach their mature size without crowding. To reduce water loss, apply a i- to 3-inch thick mulch of fine bark or decomposed leaves.

Water regularly for the first year or two after planting to establish the roots; check often to make sure roots stay damp. Once established, occasional deep soakings during hot spells will keep these ferns looking their best. In Southern California and the desert, avoid frequent sprinklings that wet only the leaves and the soil surface; this contributes to salt buildup. …

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