Thursday, February 11, 2010

Japanese Holly Fern

As I cleared all the tons of leaves from my back garden, and fought with roots emanating from where? I did delight in having found a low growing very tropical looking plant that seemed to be thriving.   No bugs, no brown burned up spots, no rotting looking, no keeled over in a sun laden death knell.   I had a lot of them too - 7 distinct frond bottoms (I'm sure there's a word for these I don't know but thats what I'm calling them).  They are about 8 inches tall to maybe a foot and half.  But the combined seven of them are about 8 feet wide by 3 or 4 feet deep.  Thats a lot of ferns.

A quick look through my favorite gardening book of all times (so far) Easy Gardens For The South, by Cotton, Crawford and Pleasant, and I had identified it at a Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum).    From everything I read in my books and on the internet these plants like shade and moisture.   I'm here to tell you they are growing in 8b (humid all the time, with an occasional freeze) in crappy non nutrient rich soil, which holds absolutely no water and they get a few hours of blazing sun between about 12-2, and they are thriving.  So my gut feeling is that this is one of those plants that can be grown outside of its 'recommended values'.

Because these things looked so insanely healthy, and they were pretty, and because they were better looking and fuller than most pictures I saw on the internet of them, I had the dilemma of what to do with these.  Given that my gardening space isn't endless, having 30 sq feet of holly fern just doesn't make sense.    So I had to get rid of a few, and I decided about 2 weeks ago that I would give the butterfly bush (aka 2 straggly sticks and a dream from my moms garden) I had moved in October a better shot at life.  I dug up the 2 closest to the bush, and boy oh boy was it a job.

They were all closely planted together, and though they don't have large roots, they have many many many deep roots.    I'm sure I cut half of their roots off in the process, and some of the roots of the neighbor plants too.    But, I took the two of them and threw them in some medium sized pots with a little potting soil and hoped for the best.   Sure, the pots were way too small, but I wasn't about to give away one of my prized monster pots that would have been appropriate.    It worked!

This has been in this smaller pot for 2 weeks now and is looking just as healthy as he did in the ground. First transplanting mission accomplished.   And maybe of interest to any of you that live a little farther north than me, the plants in the pots survived several below freezing nights and didn't even sniff.   The well established ones I inherited made it through 13 days, nearly all in the hard freeze area without a brown leaf to be seen.   I bet these would probably make it in at least zones 7 as an evergreen.  I believe at some point they get more deciduous in nature in zone 7, but even if it loses its leaves it comes back.

Here's my new clump, looking a little smaller.  They are none the worse for wear either:


Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
USDA Hardiness Zone 7-10
Pests: Rare
Water: Medium (whatever, mine seem fine in drought, flood)
Soil: Fertile well drained (again, my soil is far from fertile)
Light: Shade, morning sun okay (mine is in part shade)
Growth: Slow
Propagation: Division
Fertilization: Medium (has been fine for 5+ years here with no fertilization)


  1. Plants survive well both in pots and on the ground. I suppose in the long run, they love ground better.. ~bangchik

  2. I think I need some of these. Excellent post.

  3. So glad you liked it! I figure if I can keep them alive and well, anyone at all can!

  4. they look like they are adapting well to your environment and add some interesting texture to your garden :)

  5. Yep, that is a holly fern. I have them, many in plain black pots still from the wholesale house from last fall, and they skipped through the freezes we had- down to 19F degrees for hours on end- about 4 days when the highest temp was 34 degrees. We have clay- yukky, black gumbo that is wet, wet, wet now and has been since last September. They just keep on keeping on.

    They also went through our drought last summer, with no damage. They do like shade tho, and will often turn belly up in the sun. I figure that if that is their only demand, let them have it!

    This is a great plant!