Gardening With Ferns and Moss

Gardening With Ferns and Moss

Part of Ep. 1204 Great Gardens & Garden Greats

While many gardeners combat moss in their yards, Janesville's Rotary Gardens devote an entire garden to moss and ferns. Mark Dwyer explains why moss can actually be desirable and looks at some favorable ferns.

Premiere date: Sep 22, 2004

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We’re in the most peaceful and the newest section of Rotary Gardens in Janesville.  This is their fern and moss garden and it’s just lovely.  I’m with Landscape Manager, Mark Dwyer and we’re going to talk about putting in a moss garden.  You know, Mark, when I think of a moss garden, I think of all those products on the shelves at garden centers to kill moss.  Why would you put it in on purpose? 

Mark Dwyer:
Well, moss is actually the perfect ground cover and has been that way for about 400 million years.

Shelley:
That’s one good reason.

Dwyer:
It has a great history and it’s one of those things that’s not new to gardening, but I think more people are doing it.  They’re finding it grows very well in those hard spaces that other things don’t thrive.

Shelley:
What is the kind of space where this is happy. 

Dwyer:
Well the mosses do well in– They can do well in compacted soils under the drip lines of trees.  They can do well in those spots where other things just won’t establish.

Shelley:
So, if we see it, it’s probably a good idea to let it instead of trying to get rid of it because it means other things aren’t going to do well there anyhow.

Dwyer:
Right.  Exactly, it’s there for a reason and it’s one of those that can be quite vigorous and, again, crowd out weeds as it establishes.

Shelley:
Well, I like that.  What do we do to establish it?

Dwyer:
Well, actually it’s very easy to transplant.  They don’t have true roots.  Moss has something called risoids and it’s something that you can skim up and pat down gently and, yet, make sure there’s contact with the soil and just keep it watered as well.  It’s interesting to know, however, that it will photosynthesize year round as long as it’s being hit by sunlight.

Shelley:
So it’s green year round.

Dwyer:
Green year round.  The importance, also, is cleaning debris off of it, particularly in fall.

Shelley:
Ok.  No leaf cover and I assume, keeping it moist.

Dwyer:
Exactly.

Shelley:
What happens during a drought?

Dwyer:
During a drought, it can actually go dormant.  It will actually dry up and have the appearance of perhaps being—

Shelley:
—dead moss.

Dwyer:
Exactly and the key is, again, water.  Once it gets re-hydrated, it grows fine.

Shelley:
Ok, well I think it’s worth trying in a lot of spots.  Now, you’ve also got, what, 200 varieties or more of ferns in this garden.

Dwyer:
We have about 250 varieties of fern and they’re grouped by native habitat.  We’re approaching here, the North American section of our fern collection.

Shelley:
Just beautiful.  Here’s one that I’ve got in my own backyard, Maidenhair fern.  I just love the delicacy of this plant. 

Dwyer:
Oh, you bet.  Very delicate.  It has great dark purple, leaf petials here.  The actual pinuals here is very delicate.  It’s one of the lacier ones, great texture and can actually take quite a bit of sun, given adequate moisture.

Shelley:
So it’s one that’s not as delicate as it looks, then. 

Dwyer:
Very cold-hearted.

Shelley:
Well that’s good for Wisconsin, too.  Now what’s this?  This is really neat looking.

Dwyer:
This is actually a variety of our native ladyfern called Criss-cross Ladyfern.  The neat thing about it, it’s been developed because these overlapping pinwheels.  You can see where they tend to cross over each other as they develop.  So a wonderful texture from a distance, but as you get closer you’ll fully appreciate what it can do.  This will end up being two feet tall, two feet wide, but, again, great for – shady border.

Shelley:
Great texture.  You know, Mark, we’ve talked about texture, but when I think of ferns, especially deep in the woodland, I think of the big, tall massive clumps of fern.  Are you growing those here too?

Dwyer:
You bet.  In this collection there are quite a few natives that will achieve a heights of four or five feet. 

Shelley:
Now these are newly planted I assume.

Dwyer:
Newly planted, still babies in their second year.  This is the sensitive fern. 

Shelley:
I love the leaves on that.

Dwyer:
Yeah, very bold.  It gets it’s name, sensitive, because even with a mild frost in early October, it turns yellow and just drops.  Yes, very sensitive to frost.  But something that’s interesting to note is reproduction.  Ferns don’t have flowers, they reproduce by spores particularly and in this case not on the back of the leaves here, that’s typically where you find them. 

Shelley:
So let’s try this one.

Dwyer:
There you go.

Shelley:
There’s the spores.

Dwyer:
That’s a Dixie Woodfern and you can see the spores and those will open up and with proper perfect conditions, adequate moisture, those will form new plants.  But in the case of this Sensitive Fern, these fronds don’t have the spores underneath.  The spores are carried on these modified structures here, come out right in the center. 

Shelley:
So you end up with two levels of interest because you’ve got the ferns and then fronds there too.

Dwyer:
Exactly.

Shelley:
Wow, when I think of– when I look at all these spores, I’m thinking invasive. 

Dwyer:
Well invasiveness is something that, particularly with some ferns needs to be considered before they’re even put in the ground and this is a good example.  This is the Ostrich Fern and it’s had a couple different name changes as far as it’s Latin name, but it’s a beautiful plant, I’ll say, first of all, but second of all, open-planted, it will run all over the place by risones – structures it just takes right off. 

Shelley:
So the spores aren’t the problem here, it’s underground and it’s just going wherever.

Dwyer:
Exactly.  And it’s very hard to get rid of once it’s established.  So if it has the proper siting or an area where it can be contained, a wonderful fern. 

Shelley:
Sure and it gets quite tall too, so it’s a good screen.

Dwyer:
With adequate moisture, four to five feet, which is wonderful for that lacy texture.

Shelley:
Well that’s one I remember from my grandparents backyard for years and years, but you’ve got a couple here that are really unusual.  Let’s go look at those.  Wow, Mark, these are gorgeous.  They almost look artificial, like somebody painted them. 

Dwyer:
Well it’s funny you mention that, because these are Japanese Painted Ferns.

Shelley:
Well look at– they look like some artist came by.

Dwyer:
Oh, there wonderful.  It’s interesting to note that these were named the perennial plant of the year. 

Shelley:
I can see why.

Dwyer:
Yeah.  Wonderful.  What you’re looking at there is Wildwood Twist, which not only has the purple venation and the silver to the fronts, adds a slight twisting aspect to it. 

Shelley:
Oh, I see, sure. 

Dwyer:
A little bit of a curve to it.  But if your looking for something that’s a little bit brighter, it’s also a Japanese Painted fern, we have the Silver Falls, which is another great variety. 

Shelley:
Oh look at how much more silver these are.

Dwyer:
Very silver.  With adequate moisture they can take parts on.

Shelley:
So a little more adaptable.

Dwyer:
A little more adaptable and ideally, however, you’d want a dark backdrop, where this brightness, this white-coloring, actually shows up quite a bit better. 

Shelley:
Well these would practically glow in the dark, if you have dark things behind it. 

Dwyer:
They sure would.

Shelley:
Now you’ve got a couple of other unusual ones.  Let’s talk about a few of them. 

Dwyer:
Okay, well some of my favorites, the crested Male Fern, is a wonderful one.  The neat thing about it is as the frond tips end, they separate out and they’ll actually divide doubly or even four times.

Shelley:
And that’s what makes that almost strange shape that they’ve got. 

Dwyer:
Well, that’s the interesting thing about it is it’s one of those you’re not sure what exactly it’s doing until you get close.  It’s definitely of interest.

Shelley:
Well, and one last one, this really small one that looks like it’s almost made out of lace.

Dwyer:
Well that’s one of my favorites.  That’s one– it’s called the Tatting Fern.  It’s a variety of our native Lady Fern.  The neat thing about it, is not only does it stay small, but it has this very interesting texture. 

Shelley:
Very delicate.

Dwyer:
Very delicate and that’s great in mass.  You can have lots of them together, just as a punctuation point of interest. 

Shelley:
These are great.  There’s choices for everybody from large and small.  Thanks Mark.

Dwyer:
My pleasure.

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