If you would forego the beauty, color, and fragrance of flowering plants to pursue a fascinating hobby under glass, consider ferns. The filmy, feathery, or leathery leaves or fronds are so interesting they could command your complete attention. Kinds are numerous, all are unusual, even the names are intriguing.
Most ferns grow best at temperatures above 50 F; they are about evenly divided between the intermediate range of 50-55 F and the warm range of 65-70 F, but there are several that grow nicely in a cool greenhouse at 45-50 F. All prefer humus-rich soil that retains moisture but drains well. Use a mix of loam, a little well-rotted manure, and leafmold or peatmoss, plus some horticultural charcoal or coarse sand, even broken crock or granite chips, to assure good drainage. The atmosphere in the greenhouse must be warm and humid, with filtered sunlight or complete shading. Pay close attention to ventilation, for ferns resent drafts. A monthly feeding of fish emulsion promotes rich, lush green foliage. Keep evenly moist except when resting. Ferns may be grown in pots, but when planted in hanging baskets they are not only shown off to best advantage, but lend a decorative, ethereal air to your greenhouse garden.
Following are brief descriptions of a few ferns you will enjoy in the greenhouse: Adiantum tenerum, maidenhair-fern, 60-65 F. This popular plant with lacy fronds and compact growth habit prefers to be grown out of direct sun and in high humidity. The humusy soil should never be allowed to dry out.
Asparagus plumosus, asparagus-fern, 50-55 F. A dark green fluffy, needled fern popular for use in bouquets. A. Sprengeri is a little coarser and has small white flowers followed by red berries.
Asplenium bulbiferum, mother-fern, 50-55 F. Particularly beautiful in hanging baskets; fuzzy brown stems and dark green, gracefully curving fronds. Tiny plantlets are produced on upper surfaces of fronds. These soon produce fronds of their own, and when several have developed they may be separated from the mother plant and placed in a closed container (glass-covered casserole, pot covered with plastic bag, anything that will maintain a moist, humid atmosphere) until large erjough to be potted.
Asplenium Nidus (formerly called A. Nidus-Avis), bird's-nest-fern, 50-55 F. Fronds are broad and glossy green, growing in a rosette resembling the nest of a bird. Never allow soil to dry.
Davallia Mariesii (formerly D. bullata), a squirrel's-foot-fern, 50-65 F. The rhizome of this interesting fern is fuzzy, brown, and creeping in character. Fine lacy fronds grow from the woolly rhizome.
Platycerium bifurcatum, staghorn-fern, 50-55 F. Interesting, quite different from the general run of ferns with its long forked foliage resembling the flat branching horns of a stag, it lends itself well to hanging baskets, especially those made of redwood slats filled with osmunda fiber or sphagnum moss mixed with charcoal for drainage. P. Stemaria, triangle staghorn-fern.
Polystichum adiantiforme, leather-fern, 50-55 F. While the fronds have the general graceful feathery shape associated with most ferns, they are actually thick, glossy, and leathery and produce a bushy plant from brown furry rhizomes.
Pteris ensiformis Victoriae, sword brake-fern, 50-65 F. Short graceful fronds of silver and green. In spring, cut off all dead fronds and repot.