Airy green ferns are a lovely accompaniment to most Southern California landscapes: They work well with a wide variety of garden styles, from Southwestern to English country, and, with a little luck and some skillful watering, they almost grow like weeds.
The Los Angeles International Fern Society is sponsoring its annual show and sale today, Sunday and Monday at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia. Hundreds of ferns will be available for viewing and purchase; you'll also find a variety of seminars on the care and feeding of these versatile and easy-to-grow plants.
The tree fern, with its sturdy, hairy trunk and gracefully unfurling new growth, is a staple in many yards.
"Tree ferns are very spectacular here," says Barbara Joe Hoshizaki, a pteridologist (fern specialist) who is active in the Los Angeles International Fern Society. "Allow enough headroom for them when you plant--they can grow as tall as a house."
Hoshizaki says tree ferns like some shade. They aren't particular about soil and will grow fine in most gardens; they thrive in the same type of light, well-drained earth that azaleas love.
"They're beautiful companions, because their shade gives azaleas just the dappled sun they need," she says. The tree fern also does well paired with camellias and begonias, both of which need lacy shade.
Tree ferns also get thirsty at about the same rate as azaleas. They need a good, deep drink about once a week after they're established, more when they're small.
"Tree ferns really have no natural enemies, except getting too little water," Hoshizaki says.
She cautions that some people are bothered by the rusty-colored dust from the tree's spores, but says there's not much you can do to avoid it. "Also, be careful when you're trimming the old fronds. The scale that comes off can really hurt your eyes," she says.
You don't have to give a tree fern much in the way of fertilizer. If you do feed it, give it a mixture high in nitrogen and lower in potassium and phosphorus.
That old standby, the Boston fern, is a good choice for many inside locations--give it a bright location out of direct sunlight and keep it misted well.
"Boston ferns need good drainage--people tend to overwater them," Hoshizaki says. "Water just when the soil starts to get dry."
The tuber-sword fern is a much tougher cousin of the Boston fern and is well-suited for outdoors.
"It's a great ground cover for places where people don't have to walk and in shaded areas," Hoshizaki says. "It can take a little sun, but not a full day's worth."
She suggests a watering schedule much like the tree fern's--a once-a-week deep drenching after the plants are well established.
Start With Big Containers
Hoshizaki advises neophyte fern growers to buy plants in one-gallon sizes. Much smaller than that and it takes too much care to get a fern going.
"Five-gallon cans are even better if you're a careless gardener," she says.
The fern society's show will also feature such exotica as Staghorn ferns from Thailand. Several seminars--at 3 p.m. today, Sunday and Monday--will focus on this dramatic plant. Other sessions include growing plants from spore (at 1 p.m. today), using ferns to put designs on T-shirts (at 11 a.m. Sunday), and landscaping with ferns (Monday at 11 a.m.).
The arboretum is at 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia 91007; call (818) 446-8251 if you need any details about this weekend's show. Admission to the show is free; admission to the arboretum is $3 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and students with ID and 75 cents for children 5-12. Younger children are free.