En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Possibility of hydrophobic soil in Austin, TX.
July 13, 2011 - I believe I have an area in my garden with “hydrophobic soil”: no matter how much or how slowly I water, it just beads up and rolls off and the soil beneath remains cement dry and powdery. In my readi...
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

Native plants beneficial to wildlife in Cincinnati, OH
April 25, 2008 - I live in Cincinnati, Ohio and I am looking for native plants to plant in a small area of trees behind my house. I would like the plants to be beneficial for wildlife, like maybe some wildflowers. T...
view the full question and answer

Will Habiturf thrive in Houston?
July 31, 2012 - Will Habiturf grow in partial sun? My lawn is surrounded by trees so that there is only about an hour each day with direct overhead sun. The rest of the day there is a light shade.
view the full question and answer

Clay hill with erosion problems in Reedsport OR
July 10, 2009 - We have a very steep 35-40' clay hill subject to erosion in the Oregon rainy season. How or what do we do to get some kind of vegetation/grass, etc to grow without washing away? We have had mudslides...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center