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Saving Ferns – How To Overwinter Your Ferns To Use Again Next Year!

You might be surprised to find out just how easy it is to save and overwinter your hanging basket and container ferns to use again next year!

Ferns are one of the best choices for decorating patios, porches and the shadier portions of outdoor landscapes. Unlike most exterior plants, they not only prefer the shade, they thrive in it.

overwintering ferns
Nothing can compliment a shady patio or porch like a few fern plants. Especially when they can be used year after year.

Unfortunately, it can certainly get costly having to re-purchase and redecorate with new ferns each and every year. But the good news is – you don’t have to!

As it turns out, ferns are one of the easiest plants of all to overwinter. All it takes is a little fall prep work to the fern, and a cool but protected space indoors to keep them going.

Saving ferns
This container plant can easily be saved for life again on the porch next year.

And best of all, not only can you save money by reusing them, you can also create additional plants from them as well!

How To Save Ferns – The Simple Secrets To Success

Avoiding A Hard Frost or Freeze

The key to saving ferns begins with getting them out of harms way before the bitter cold sets in. Ferns can handle a bit of chill, and even a light frost for that matter, but not a hard frost or freeze.

As temperatures begin to drop in mid to late fall, plants need to be covered or brought indoors on nights when a heavy frost or freeze is expected.

frost on plants
Common ferns like this Boston Fern will not survive a hard frost or freeze.

Unfortunately, once a fern has been hit by a hard frost or freeze, it’s too late to save it. With that in mind, it is a good idea to prepare your fern for overwintering before too many cold nights settle in.

Cutting Back / Pruning

The first step in preparing for overwintering indoors is pruning. Anyone who has grown a fern knows they can certainly grow quite large through the warm summer months.

Begin by cutting back any large strands of foliage to create a more manageable plant indoors. Don’t be afraid to take off several inches of growth or more if needed. It will indeed grow back with time.

Next, it’s time to give your plant a good wash off with a spray from your garden hose. Not only will this remove any clippings, it will also hose off any pests that might be hunkering down in the plant.

bringing ferns indoors
Trim back plants to keep them manageable indoors through the winter months.

Lift the foliage and spray the plant down entirely. After all, no one wants to give a new home to any outdoor insects!

At this time, you are ready to bring your plant indoors – unless of course, it has grown too big and needs divided. For that issue, we have included how-to instruction near the end of the article.

Bringing Indoors – Saving Ferns

If your fern is good to go without splitting, allow it to thoroughly dry out before bringing indoors. We actually hang ours from our clothesline in the sun for an afternoon to dry them out completely.

Next, it’s time to find the best location for overwintering indoors. The space needs to be cool, but protected from freezing conditions. For many, a basement works great, but a garage, or even a corner in a cool room in the house works well too.

hanging plants from a clothesline
We hang our ferns on our clothesline to dry out before bringing indoors.

Ferns do not require full sun or bright light to survive through the winter months. In fact, too much light through a window can actually burn the plant’s foliage.

With this in mind, keep them away from southern facing windows. They will survive with ease with simple occasional ambient light from a garage window, or even a basement well window.

Winter Care

There is no need for fertilizing, or for much care at all for that matter beyond an occasional watering. Check the soil every 5 to 7 days, and water only when the soil has completely dried out.

splitting ferns
If your ferns have grown too large, they can be split. See below for more on that process!

It is important to remember at this point you are not trying to grow a beautiful plant indoors. Instead, you are simply overwintering and saving the fern until it can once again thrive in the warm summer months.

Knowing this, realize the plant will not look it’s best. The leaves will indeed turn more pale until spring arrives one again. Some will also fall off to the ground. It’s all good!

As warm temperatures return, allow your plant to go back outside to regain it’s strength, vigor, and color. Once again, be sure to protect it from spring freeze and frosts too. Now on to those oversized ferns…

Saving Ferns – Repotting & Dividing

If your ferns are exceptionally large, or have outgrown their pots, Fall is the perfect time for dividing and replanting. If you would like to keep the same size fern for next year, a good rule of thumb is to split the fern to a third of its size for its current container.

When splitting and dividing plants, it is best to cut all of the foliage off down to within an or two of it’s base. You can then repot the fern using a good potting soil to fill in around the container. (See: How To Make Great Homemade Potting Soil)

cutting back ferns
If you will be dividing your fern, begin by cutting the foliage back.

You can also repot the other divisions at this time as well for even more plants. The ferns will regrow a bit overwinter from the cuttings, but will return in full once outdoors.

For complete instructions on dividing, check out our article on our sister site This Is My Garden. See: Dividing Ferns In The Fall

Here is to saving your ferns to use again next year – and saving on that gardening budget too! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.

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