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How to Divide Ferns to Create a Woodland Garden for Free

Ferns are wonderful addition to a shade garden, and dividing bigger ones means free plants for you! I'll show you how to divide ferns correctly so they thrive in your woodland garden.

Did you know you can divide ferns to create free plants for your garden? These wonderful shade plants will fill in a woodland garden by separating a few larger ferns! | gardening | how to divide ferns | shade gardening
In the Pacific Northwest, ferns are everywhere! These ginormous plants look like they came straight out of the Jurassic era, thanks to the constant rainy weather. Our backyard has a few mature ferns that were neglected and overgrown. By taking the time to divide ferns correctly, I was able to turn one large plant into six smaller ones to fill in our woodland garden!

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I completely ignored our backyard garden this summer. We were way too busy, and it was way too hot! But these hardy ferns kept on growing, even with the longest Seattle dry spell on record (56 days!) Believe it or not, this mess is just one plant!

This huge fern was in need of some TLC! Find out how to divide ferns yourself!

I'm going for a woodland garden feel, which has the added benefit of being almost maintenance-free. We've already got the moss-covered trees and flowering rhododendrons. Now all we need are more ferns!

Instead of shelling out big bucks for a few scrawny plants at the nursery, I decided to divide ferns instead. This hard shield fern is the scruffiest of the bunch, so it became my first victim attempt.

When to Divide Ferns?

Spring and fall are the best times to divide ferns. I chose to tackle mine now so they'll get plenty of water during our rainy winter. If your area has a hard frost in the fall, you might want to wait until spring so the roots have time to adjust. Some species go dormant in summer, and should be left alone during this time.

Plan out your garden ahead of time and keep track of the best season for dividing and planting!

Step 1 - Trim Dead Fronds

Trim away any dead fronds from the fern with sharp pruning shears. This article will show you more about the various pruning tools and how to use them properly! Try to cut as close to the bottom as you can.

Trim away dead fronds before dividing ferns.

After a quick trim, it's already looking much better!

After trimming away the dead fronds, this fern was looking much better.

Step 2 - Find a Clear Center Line

Move the fronds around until you can find a clear center part, just like with your hair. 🙂 This should be pretty easy in an older plant where the middle has died out. Stick the point of a shovel into the part until it creates a divot in the root. This makes it easier to find the center line again when you dig up the fern and it starts flopping around.

Find a clear center part and start to separate the two halves with a shovel.

Step 3 - Dig up the Root Ball

Fern roots are very shallow, so it shouldn't take much effort to dig them up. Just work your way around the outside edge with the shovel and pop it up. I was surprised to find my huge fern left a hole only a couple inches deep!

Fern roots are very shallow, so they're easy to dig up.

Step 4 - Divide Fern into Smaller Plants

I wanted to get at least two plants out of this huge one, so I used a serrated garden trowel to cut the root ball down the middle. Don't worry, the fern can take some abuse!

Cut the root ball down the middle with a serrated trowel.

Here you can clearly see how this particular fern grows. The fronds grow in clumps with a central root, like a bunch of bananas. It gets more crowded as older fronds die off, leaving a scraggly plant instead of a lush fern.

When you divide ferns, keep individual clumps together for replanting.

Each little bundle comes away from the central plant pretty easily, and can be replanted by itself. Yay for free plants!

Each clump removed from the divided fern can be planted as a new plant!

I saved one half of the fern to go back into the hole it came from. Spread mulch around the base to help the newly divided fern retain water. You never would have guessed this is only half the plant!

I replanted half of the divided fern back into the ground and covered the surrounding ground with mulch.

The other half was divided into one larger plant and four smaller ones. These went into the ground along the back fence. Hopefully by next year, they'll fill in the empty space and help create a lush woodland garden.

My future garden . . . Photo by Jay Sifford Garden Design

Looking for more plants for your shade garden? These flowering varieties will bring a pop of color to an otherwise dark, monotone corner!

Forget the hostas and ferns! These beautiful flowers will give you the color you crave in your shade garden. - The Handyman's Daughter

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Did you know you can divide ferns to create free plants for your garden? These wonderful shade plants will fill in a woodland garden by separating a few larger ferns! | gardening | how to divide ferns | shade gardening



Wednesday 9th of May 2018

This is so cool! I have never known how to divide ferns. I'll have to try this with my asparagus fern plants. Thank you for linking up with us at the #HomeMattersParty this week.


Thursday 19th of October 2017

Thank you for this information, because I had hoped to replanted my ferms to another location of the yard, but did not get a chance to do so. I am happy I did not, because I would have removed them all so wrong. Thanks to you I know better. I hope to be able to do this next Spring. Since we are suppose to start having colder temps starting next week, I am afraid to remove them.


Thursday 19th of October 2017

I'm glad it helped! Your ferns will definitely be happier getting transplanted in the spring. Our winters are pretty mild, so we won't get a hard frost for a few more months.

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