When I married in 1985, I inherited a family heirloom- a fern. My mom gave me a piece of her fern she received at her bridal shower in 1957. It was a gift from my great-grandma, Alice Gustafson Eldred. How do you take care of an heirloom fern?
After all these years, she has fern care down to a tee and has given countless pieces of it away to friends and family. I’m not sure how many are still out there, but ours are going strong.
This was not the case a few years ago. I’m not sure how long ago I divided the fern or even moved it to another container. I do know it had been at least 13 years, as I’ve lived in this house that long and have never touched it. Below is the before picture. I knew I needed to up my fern care game to keep this alive.
Decisions to be made
It was so overgrown and unhealthy I was concerned that it would die if I didn’t do something soon. It took a long time for me to get up the courage to repot it. I finally did knowing Mom had her fern I could get a piece of. There are no “during surgery” pictures but I wish I had taken some.
Repotting the Fern
Using a large serrated knife, I cut it into many pieces. The roots only filled 1/2 of the container and the top 1/2 were brown dead stems and frond pieces. I didn’t know how it was even alive at this point as there wasn’t much salvageable fern left. All of the green, living parts of the fern were growing on top of old, brown growth. I took slices of the root ball and buried all the brown parts with some roots attached. I transplanted it into a green ceramic pot and below is the “after-surgery” picture.
It almost died
It looked sad, more of the fronds died after this picture, and I was sure I had killed it. I started thinking that returning it to such a large pot might not have been such a good idea. I watered it sparingly and used Superthrive in the water with some Jack’s Classic 20-20-20 mixed in for good measure. There were a couple of prayers thrown in, as well.
I was pleasantly surprised when new fronds started appearing. It did great and here is a picture below in September of 2011. (Apologies for the bad quality of the pictures)
As you can see, the interesting thing about this fern is the fact that it has fronds with regular Boston fern leaflets and also ones with very finely cut leaflets. Quite often, they are on the same frond. It’s very unusual and I’m not sure of the cultivar name.
It is a beautiful fern and I’m so glad to have something that has been in our family for so long. The picture below is circa 2012 and it is still doing great today.
The picture below was taken in May of 2015. It is still going strong, but I think this spring, I will re-pot it again and give it some fresh potting medium.
How can it be so old?
Many people wonder how I have kept a fern alive for almost 36 years and now I have mom’s fern too, which is 64 years old. First, these ferns are inside and always have been.
When plants live outside for the summer, they pout when brought inside. Boston ferns are one of the plants that are unhappy when brought in. They drop leaflets like it’s their job and it usually doesn’t end well. That isn’t to say that I don’t lose leaflets and sometimes whole fronds. I do, but am willing to put up with the messiness because these plants are heirlooms.
I keep the dead fronds clipped and ensure they are moist all the time (they have dried out a time or two…). They receive fertilizer a few times in the summer and both are doing great. I gave my daughter a piece of my mom’s at her bridal shower in 2018, to keep the heirloom going.
Do you have an heirloom plant? Tell me about it in the comments.
Have a great week, plant friends!
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