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Dividing Ferns In The Fall – How To Split, Repot & Overwinter Ferns Inside

Autumn is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to divide, replant and save those massive ferns that have been growing wild on your porch and patio!

All too often, the end of a growing season spells the end for ferns as well.

As early fall approaches, many ferns purchased back in the spring have grown to epic size.

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Although incredibly beautiful with their massive fronds and foliage, most unfortunately have begun to outgrow their container.

And that spells several problems for the fern and it’s owner.

The Demise Of Fall Ferns

First and foremost, it can make watering a difficult task. The overgrown, root-bound soil is unable to absorb hardly any moisture when watered.

Any water simply goes directly past the plant’s roots, and right through the bottom of the basket or container.

Secondly, the plants have grown to such an enormous size, it’s difficult to to find space to bring them inside to overwinter.

root bound plant
Once a fern becomes root bound, it can be difficult to water and maintain. Dividing the fern is an excellent way to create new and healthier plants.

Sadly, both result in most ferns being tossed away for good.

But fortunately, it doesn’t have to end that way at all. And the process to save them is easier than you might think!

Over-sized ferns can actually be split in early fall to create smaller plants. Plants that can then be brought indoors to overwinter and use again next year.

Not only is it a great way to keep your fern plant alive, but a perfect way to create even more ferns for next year’s porch and patio!

And it can all be done with the 3 simple steps listed below.

Dividing Ferns In The Fall – 3 Simple Steps To Success

Step 1 : Removing And Dividing The Fern

Although ferns can be divided almost any time during the growing season, fall division allows you to create manageable-sized plants to overwinter indoors.

Shearing back the foliage
Begin by shearing back the fern to about an inch or two from it’s base.

A day or two before dividing your ferns, stop watering your plant. This will allow the roots to shrink a bit and make cutting a little easier and less messy.

Begin by trimming the entire plant back to a few inches of growth. This will allow for new growth to form faster, and make transplanting easier.

As a side note, the cut fronds are great to add to a compost pile.

Next, remove the fern from the container. Usually at this point of the year, it is as simple as turning over and pulling out. Ferns are tough and can handle a bit of tugging if necessary.

Removing the fern
Remove the plant from the container. Most will pop out freely late in the season.

You many need to use a knife to cut free any roots that have grown through the bottom container holes to make removal easier.

Dividing The Fern

Using a sharp shovel or knife, (A Hori-Hori tool works wonders for dividing nearly any perennial plant), divide the root ball into equal portions to create new plants.

splitting the fern
Taking a sharp shovel or cutting knife like a Hori-Hori, slice down to split the plant.

Most potted ferns can be quartered or cut into 3 equal pieces to create nice-sized transplants.

Re-Potting The Fern

Now it’s time to re-pot the plant.

Ferns do not do well when there is too much space, so keeping the new pots from being too big is important.

new plants created
4 ferns created from dividing a single fern.

Plant your new divisions in containers that are a quarter to a third larger than the size of the plant’s root division for best results.

Fill the bottom of your container with a high quality potting mix and place the divided fern in the pot. Fill around the edges, gently firming the soil to the roots.

There is no need to fertilize ferns at this point. Ferns require little additional nutrients to thrive. And a good potting soil is contains more than enough to obtain good growth.

repotting the plant
Re-pot after dividing the ferns in a good quality potting soil. Keep new containers to 1/4 to 1/3rd larger than the roots of the new plant.

In fact, too many nutrients can cause more issues to ferns than not enough.

Bringing Indoors

If done early enough in the fall and if temperatures are not freezing at night, place the plant in a shady area outdoors. The warmer weather will help start the new growth before having to bring indoors.

You will usually see new growth in a few weeks.

As soon as the threat of frost is in the forecast, it’s time for bringing them indoors. Do not worry if growth has not occurred yet. It will still continue to do so indoors.

Ferns overwinter and grow best indoors in moderate, indirect lighting.

A cool basement with indirect lighting from a basement well widow will work well. As will the corner of room that receives a bit of natural light from a nearby window.

dividing ferns and bringing ferns indoors for winter
Ferns overwinter indoors best in cool conditions with indirect light.

Avoid southern facing windows, or placing the plant directly in the window. Fern’s tender foliage can easily be burned from the combination of the sun’s rays and heat coming through the glass.

Ferns suffer more from over-watering indoors than from not enough. Only water when the soil completely dries out. See : Bringing Ferns Indoors For Winter

As spring rolls back around, take the plants back outside as soon as the threat of frost has passed.

Here is to keeping those beautiful summer fern baskets around for a few more years!

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