En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Decline of Japanese ferns in Austin

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - June 16, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Ferns
Title: Decline of Japanese ferns in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I've enjoyed beautiful Japanese ferns in my shaded garden for about ten years. They are looking spent and straggly, despite fish emulsion, compost,and lots of mulch and soaker hose watering in the summer. Should I give up on these old friends, and replant fresh ferns? Plant something else? Please help a puzzled gardener.

ANSWER:

The first thing we had to sort out was which fern is the "Japanese fern" you're referring to. When we searched on "Japanese fern", we got these websites:

Kemper Center for Home Gardening Athyrium niponicum var. "Pictum"

Perennial Plant Association Athyrium niponicum var. "Pictum"

Hardy Fern Library Osmunda Japonica

Pictures of Osmunda Japonica

Pictures of Athyrium niponicum

When we searched on "Japanese painted fern" we found another called Anthurium niponicum var. "Pictum" on this Gardening Made Easy site Japanese painted fern. And when we looked at our own native ferns, the genus is Osmunda, as in Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern). It would appear that the Anthurium niponicum is the accepted scientific name for the Japanese painted fern; that is, until they change it again.

The pictures, descriptions and care instructions on these all looked really similar, and we finally concluded that some committee somewhere, in its infinite wisdom, changed the Genus name from Athyrium to Osmunda, or vice versa.

So, having performed this exercise of trying to find out what we're talking about, we found no real reason for your ferns, whatever they are, to be feeling out of sorts. As best we can tell, you are doing everything right in caring for them, moist soil, compost and mulch, and so forth. We could find nowhere any indication of a normal lifespan for a fern, except that the Japanese ferns were slow-growing, and you would infer from that they were also long-lived. Frankly, we would give them another year to recover before we gave up on them. Read all the information in the websites we have linked you to, looking for pests and diseases, etc. It has been a very harsh, hot, dry Spring in Austin, so perhaps a little more shade and a little more water might help them perk up. And, being trimmed back at the appropriate season helps most plants regenerate. Trim your ferns back hard in the Fall when they begin to close up for the Winter, and hopefully, they will rise again.

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Allelopathy of American elms from Dallas
March 24, 2013 - Are American elms at all allelopathic?
view the full question and answer

Use of cedar/juniper mulch in wildflower meadows
August 31, 2013 - What to do with freshly shredded cedar/juniper mulch? We have a pile of freshly ground cedar mulch that we can either keep in a large pile until it has composted(but the neighbors are complaining), or...
view the full question and answer

Feeding live oak and redbud trees from Fredericksburg TX
October 23, 2012 - Can you please tell me what to feed my live oak and texas redbud trees that survived the drought? We have granite soil.
view the full question and answer

Distance apart to plant Arizona ash trees in El Paso, TX
July 01, 2010 - How far apart can I plant two Arizona ash trees?
view the full question and answer

Garden problems from Centreville VA
July 23, 2011 - Plants die, trees won't grow. I've replaced the soil (6") twice. Replaced grass twice and planted new plants and tree. After two yrs, the tree is still the same size and the flowering bushes nea...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center