How do I separate rather large ferns in a north-facing flower bed that, after several years, is overgrown with border flowers (coleus, impatiens, hosta, & begonias)?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, Terry in North Carolina: Hardy ferns are a must-have for any shade-loving garden. There are so many to choose from with a range of size and color options. In general, most ferns are slow-growing and can take several years to mature, as it sounds like yours have. As they mature they tend to die out in the middle, and this is when you know it is time to divide them. Ferns typically need dividing every three to five years. The best time to divide your ferns is after the first frost or in the early spring. Hopefully you can wait until later in the fall since it will be easier on you in terms of less foliage to deal with, and less stress on the plants. Later in September or early in October is the ideal time to divide since it still gives the plants about a month to get their roots settled in before the winter arrives. It is always a good idea to water the ferns really well a day before you dig them up to divide them. This makes it easier to lift them from the ground and prevents the roots from drying out before they get replanted. Preparing the new homes before division occurs is important. The less time the plants are out of the ground the better. Depending on the ferns you are growing, they are divided by rhizomes, clumps, or edge division. When it is time to divide your ferns, use a sharp spade and start digging about 6-8 inches out from the fern. Carefully lift the entire plant out of the ground and lay it on its side. Use your spade or a sharp knife to separate the fern into two or more plants. Get them back in the ground as soon as possible and treat them like you would any new addition to the garden.