Venus Maidenhair ferns

soonergirl1968(7a OKC)July 6, 2009

I have several venus maidenhair ferns which (until last week) have done very well. They are in a "bog type" bed with ligularia, sweet flag, etc. They are in dappled shade under oak trees and kept consistently moist. We have recently had 100+ temperatures and the leaves on my MH ferns are all turning black. I'm assuming it's from the heat but maybe it's something else. Any ideas? How can I save them?

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Maidenhair ferns are kind of tricky to grow in a garden setting. Your Venus Maidenhair fern, also known as Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) thrives in the wild in conditions that are often somewhat difficult to replicate in a home garden environment.

Venus Maidenhair fern likes to grow in a limestone rock setting, kept moist by moving water, in shade. Limestone rock has an alkaline PH, and like many plants that live in limestone environments, your Venus maidenhair fern prefers alkaline conditions. If your Sweetflag is doing well, and the Venus maidenhair is not, it could mean your bog area has acidic conditions, because the Sweetflag prefers acidic conditions.

Your Venus maidenhair fern would thrive growing in a crack of a moist rock (preferably limestone) on the bank of a moving stream. It requires moisture throughout all the seasons of the year, or it will go dormant in the summer.

If you "google" the fern's Latin name Adiantum capillus-veneris, you'll be able to see a lot of photos of the Venus maidenhair fern growing in its natural environment.

Venus maidenhair fern could also do OK in a loose, moist sandy soil provided it has good drainage. I've never seen a Northern maidenhair fern in the wild in sand, only in rocks on stream banks, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen of course.

If you don't have a stream, I would try the loose, sandy soil method and see if that helps. The link below contains a recipe for Venus maidenhair soil that is:

2 parts peat moss
1 part loam
2 parts sand
With: 2 tablespoons of ground limestone (for every 6-inch pot) added to change the pH.

I wouldn't use beach sand, but a rocky, coarse sand like builder's sand. You could probably order crushed limestone, peat moss, and builder's sand on the net, or locate a landscaping supplies company near you that sells them. Some hardware stores carry builder's sand, or they may have all these items at one of the chain home supply stores.

If you don't want to replace the ground soil where the fern is growing, you could try growing the ferns in an attractive container (filled with this soil recipe) that sits at the edge of your bog. You could possibly even find a limestone gardening container on the web, but not sure how expensive one of these would be.

Hope this helps.

Here is a link that might be useful: John&Jacq's Garden: Delicate beauty of Adiantum capillus-veneris (Southern Maidenhair Fern)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 10:01PM
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soonergirl1968(7a OKC)

Thank you so much!! This information is extremely useful and I now have a much better idea of what I can do with my sad ferns. I don't have any running water (except for the chlorinated pool - which I'm SURE they wouldn't like) but I think I can change their soil as you described above, plant them in their own containers with limestone and replant them in the bog area with lots of gravel underneath them. Maybe I can simulate their natural environment and somewhat provide them with "moving" water. We'll see... :)

Thanks again for all your help. Maybe I can save the poor things :)

    Bookmark   July 8, 2009 at 9:47AM
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soonergirl1968(7a OKC)

I went to Lowe's and bought 3 of those wire hanging baskets with the woven material that line the bowl to use for my venus ferns' little "micro-environments." I put good sized rocks in the bottom for drainage and added the soil mixture you gave me. I planted the baskets in the garden and removed all the dead foliage. I see new fiddles coming out so I'm hoping they can thrive in their new homes. If not, I guess I'll have to find some other type of fern which likes alkaline, sandy, well-drained soil so I can make use of the $$ I spent on these guys :)

Thanks again!!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2009 at 12:19PM
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Glad I could be of some assistance...

If the woven material in your baskets is that coconut coir stuff, it has a pretty neutral PH, so that may help too.

The people on that web site "John&Jacq's Garden" seem to be growing their Venus maidenhair ferns in hanging baskets, so I think your ferns should be OK with hand-watering and will get by without a stream next to them.

I know some people use distilled water for watering PH-sensitive plants. If your tap water is hard water, it is probably alkaline, which would be fine for your Venus maidenhair fern. But if you have a water softener machine, or soft water in general, your tap water may be slightly acidic. There are exceptions to the hard water/soft water PH thing, but generally this is the PH of hard and soft waters as far as I know.

If you suspect you have soft water, you can pick up a few jugs of distilled water (which has a neutral PH) at the supermarket and water your ferns with those. You could also collect rainwater in a container and try watering your ferns with it. Unless the area you live in has acid rain...uhm, hopefully not!

Hopefully your ferns will revive. The new fiddleheads are a good sign. If not, yes, there are other alkaline-tolerant fern-like plants that like well-drained sandy soil, such as the Ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), that would probably like your baskets. Ebony spleenwort lives in places other than next to streams, so the lack of running water would be OK for it.

Good luck, and enjoy your bog garden!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2009 at 12:37AM
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soonergirl1968(7a OKC)

I wanted to thank you again for your advice. After repotting the ferns with your suggestions in mind, I thought I had lost them. However, I cut off all the dead foliage and am glad to say they are coming back beautifully! I'm hoping to have them back to their original size by the end of the season :)

Thanks again!!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 12:51PM
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So glad to hear your ferns are perking up! They are such a pretty fern. Good luck with them...

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 2:03PM
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