Activities

Growing Baby Ferns

It’s easier than you think to collect spores from your potted ferns to propagate new ones. All you need are some common household items and a little patience. Get your kids to help – they’re sure to be amused by growing “fern cupcakes” at the same time that they learn something about these lovely plants.

Materals

  • fern spores
  • foil cupcake liners
  • 8-ounce clear plastic cups
  • peat pellets
  • water

Steps

  1. Collect spores. Ferns grow from spores, not seeds. The spores are located on sporangia (clusters of round bumps) on the underside of fern fronds. They most likely appear on houseplant ferns from spring through summer. Mature spores are dark colored, look firm and slightly fuzzy, and rub off easily onto your fingers. Snip fronds with ripe spores and wrap them in a folded paper towel. Store in a dry location for 1 to 2 weeks.

    If you don’t have a household fern, ask a neighbor, friend, or even a local garden center if you can collect spores from theirs.
  2. Soak Pellets. After the 1- to 2-week wait for the spores, soak peat pellets in warm water, cut the top netting and place the expanded pellets in foil cupcake liners. Place the liners in plastic trays. Remove the fronds from the paper towel and gently tap some of the spores into each peat pellet.
  3. Water and Cover. Water the peat pellets carefully so the spores don’t run off the pellet. Cover each peat pellet with an 8-ounce clear plastic cup to create a humid environment. Keep the tray in a warm spot with indirect light.
  4. Thin Young Sprouts. In 2 to 4 weeks you should see small moss-like growths on the peat pellets. This is the first stage of fern growth. Thin the sprouts to 2 or 3 ferns. Moisten the pellet if necessary.
  5. Transplant. In another 6 to 8 weeks the true fern fronds will appear. Once the true fronds are ¾ inches tall transplant them into pots filled with moistened potting soil. Keep moist and place them in a room with bright light.

Tips

  • Spores of most fern species are viable for a year or more. Store them in a refrigerator.
  • To avoid the buildup of chemicals harmful to spore growth use distilled water on young ferns.

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