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Originally published Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Q&A: Ferns, creeping buttercup

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris on fern maintenance and an infestation of creeping buttercup.


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation Sale and Winter Field Day: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1. Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, 16650 Highway 536, Mount Vernon; WWFRF members free, $15 nonmember, $30 family (www.wwfrf.org).

Seattle Rose Society Pruning Demonstration: Noon-3 p.m. Saturday, March 1. Woodland Park Rose Garden, 750 N. 50th St., Seattle; free (www.seattlerosesociety.org).

Meet the Expert: Ed Hume: 12:30-2 p.m. Saturday, March 1. Hume, of Ed Hume Seeds, will answer questions, help with seed selection, explain varietal differences and sign seed packets. Molbak’s, 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville; free (www.molbaks.com).

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Welcome old frond. (Sorry.) MORE

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In the Garden

Q: Is it really necessary to prune all of the fronds off of my ferns every spring?

A: The only reason for removing the old fronds from ferns is aesthetic. Over the winter, a majority of the fronds get beaten up and tattered and removing the ratty-looking ones makes the plant look much more fresh and attractive as soon as the spring crop of new fronds grows up to take their place.

You could remove only the fronds that look bad, but having tried that, I found that the vast majority are too beaten up to keep, so it’s actually much easier and faster to simply remove them all in one shot. This also allows the attractive new fiddleheads to show up.

The key is to get the job done by the end of February. Once new growth begins in March, it’s practically impossible to remove the old fronds without accidentally cutting off newly expanding fiddleheads.

If you want to increase your fern collection, late February is a good time to divide any healthy fern as well. Ferns rarely need to be divided, but it’s a good way to get new ones. Simply lift the clump and slice the plant in half with a digging spade. Keep the new sections well watered, and voilà: You now have two for the price of one.

Q: Help! My lawn is being taken over with buttercup. How can I get rid of it?

A: Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) is a perennial weed that has hairy, three-parted leaves with toothed edges. It’s hard to miss the glossy buttercup yellow flowers that occur at the end of long upright stems.

This weed thrives in damp conditions, and if your lawn has poor drainage, it’s practically impossible to eradicate. It spreads by seed and also roots practically anywhere a leaf touches the ground.

I don’t recommend using chemical weed-and-feed products to control buttercup. There are health hazards associated with these products, and at least three applications at six-month intervals may be required to achieve control; furthermore, weed killers will do nothing to prevent the gazillions of seeds that have accumulated in the soil from germinating.

You probably don’t want to hear this, but in my experience, the best way to rid your lawn of buttercup is to dig the plants out by hand. My tool of choice is a three-pronged hook weeder. You stick the hooked prongs deep in the ground right in front of the weed, straighten the pole, and it pops the weed right out of the ground.

Of course, with all of those seeds waiting to germinate, even pulling every weed won’t make much difference unless you can figure out a way to improve the damp soil conditions.

If the lawn is at the bottom of a hill, a French drain system to capture and remove the water coming down from above may suffice. If the soil is pure clay or drains poorly, however, the only solution may be to bring in topsoil and start over by planting a new lawn on a raised bed.

If the cost of doing all of this is prohibitive, there is one other option. Tear out the lawn and replant with blue-flowering perennials that bloom at the same time as the buttercups.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.



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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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