Most gardeners associate ferns with shade. Certainly, the vast majority do grow in the shade of forests and rocky outcrops. For gardens with shade issues, ferns come highly recommended. But not all gardeners have to deal with shade and yet, they would like to incorporate ferns into the landscape design. Are there any ferns that can tolerate significant sun? The answer is yes! However, some soil amendments are required to have success.
The key to growing ferns in sun is maintaining adequate soil moisture. Many ferns grow in shade simply because the soil stays moister there than in full sun. If your have a growing area where the soil stays moist, then ferns in sun is a distinct possibility. Highly organic soil will help ensure better soil moisture. Maybe you have a naturally occurring moist pocket or a stream running through your property. Perhaps you have a sprinkler system that helps maintain evenly moist soil. Some gardeners even have man-made bog gardens. Any of these situation can allow for ferns to be grown under full sun situations, especially in more northern gardens. In southern gardens, the midday sun is probably still too intense, but as long as the ferns are shaded midday, they can tolerate morning and late afternoon sun. While many ferns can handle considerable sun if the soil remains evenly moist, some are better than others. Here are some of the most sun-tolerant species.
The genus Osmunda only contains three species; the cinnamon fern, O. cinnamomea, interrupted fern, O. claytoniana and the royal fern, O. regalis. All of these ferns prefer moist to wet sites. Royal ferns are known to actually grow into the flowing water of streams. Due to their high moisture requirement, these species will not tolerate any drought however they will tolerate full sun. In fact, in my local area, cinnamon ferns typically grow in full sun. They are also very wind tolerant and will grow quite close to the ocean. Royal ferns also tolerate full afternoon sun and have the advantage of bronze-coloured spring growth. Interrupted fern seem to appreciate shade from midday sun but will certainly tolerate full morning sun. All of these species are deciduous and turn lovely shaded of yellow, copper to bronze in the fall. These are not small ferns; most reach at least 3 feet, but they are not runners, rather they form large vase-like clumps. They are hardy to at least zone 3.
Details of the cinnamon fern
Above left is the royal fern while to the right is the interrupted fern
Among the genus Athyrium, the best species for sun is the lady fern, A. filix-femina. There are many named cultivars of this fern, many which date back to the fern craze of the Victorian era (this was the most popular fern at the time). In warmer climates, a little protection from the hottest midday sun will go a long way to prevent browning of the frond edges. Again, locally, this fern often grows on open, exposed headlands near the ocean as well as exposed mountain tops. This is a mid-sized, deciduous clumping fern reaching about 2 feet and is hardy to zone 4. Perhaps in warmer climates you would be better to grow the southern lady-fern, A. asplenioides as it is better able to cope with sun and heat (again assuming the soil stays moist).
Above is the typical lady fern while below are some of the more interesting cultivars ‘Frizelliae’ and ‘Victoriae’
The common ostrich fern, Matteucia struthiopteris, is reputed to be very sun-tolerant. I grow mine in full sun but then I don’t have the excessive heat of more inland areas of North America. I expect that a little shade from the hottest time of the day might be advised in warm areas. Few ferns are as architectural. The tall ( to 5 feet), narrow, vase-like habit and bright green color is superb. At times this fern will run and produce new plants at varying distances from the parent so has the potential to be a bit of a pest, but generally it is easy to control. This zone 3 ferns is deciduous.
Ostrich fern earlier and later in the season
Both the male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, and the scaly (golden) male fern, D. affinis, are among the most sun-tolerant of the evergreen fern species. Both are clumpers and can achieve a considerable size with fronds reaching 4 to 5 feet. The fronds are quite leathery and deep green. There are many named selections of species. Like the lady fern, many of these selections date back to the Victorian times. Both species are hardy to zone 4.
Male fern (left), the cultivar ‘Cristata’ (middle) and scaly male fern (right)
In the south, an excellent fern for moist sun is the southern shield fern, Thelypteris kunthii. They not only tolerate sun but can easily cope with high heat and humidity. This slow to moderate running fern is deciduous, disappearing in winter. The fronds reach 2 to 4 feet. Over time, the spreading habit of this fern will lend itself to be a suitable groundcover. They are only hardy as far north as zone 7.
Another good sun-tolerant fern for southern climates is the southern wood fern or Florida shield fern, Dryopteris ludoviciana. This fern is semi-evergreen with fronds reaching to 4 feet. It slowly spreads to form a reasonable groundcover. It is a little hardier than the southern shield fern, being hardy to zone 6.
Southern wood fern (left) and southern shield fern (right)
Braken fern, Pteridium aquilinum, can certainly tolerate full sun and actually prefers sun to shade. It is with some reservation that I mention this species as it is very aggressive and rapid-spreading. From the rhizome arise large, individual, triangular-shaped fronds atop 2 to 5 feet stems. It is a deciduous species and can actually tolerate some drought. Use it in areas where its rambunctious nature will not out compete more timid neighbors. In fall, the fronds turn an attractive bronzy-brown. It is hardy through zone 3.
Details of the braken fern
There are a host of small semi-desert, evergreen ferns that are specifically adapted to sun and drought. These are the lip ferns, Cheilanthes spp. and cloak ferns, Notholaena spp. and Astrolepis spp. These are small tufted ferns with somewhat fuzzy, grey-green foliage. Cheilanthes have narrow fronds while Notholaena and Astrolepis are triangular in outline. All are generally under 30 cm. In the wild, Arizona is the place to see these ferns. In the garden, grow them in rock garden settings or xeriscapes. Most are hardy to zone 6 but require a rather dry climate (especially in winter) to thrive.
Examples of the semi-desert ferns include Cheilanthes tomentosa, C. lindheimeri and Astrolepis sinuata
As you can see, ferns are far more versatile than you would think. With their lovely foliage and forms, they can be used as a garden contrast in a wide variety of situations. Keep them moist and they will reward you in shade or sun.
- Hardy evergreen ground ferns
- List of UK evergreen ferns
- 10 ferns to grow
- A Shopper’s Guide to Buying Outdoor Ferns
- Taking Care Of Outdoor Ferns: How To Take Care Of Ferns In The Garden
- Types of Hardy Garden Ferns
- How to Take Care of Ferns
- Cold Hardy Fern Plants: Tips On Growing Ferns In Zone 5
- Cold Hardy Fern Plants
- Cultural Information
- Choosing the Right Fern for Your Site
- Tree Fern Care
Hardy evergreen ground ferns
List of UK evergreen ferns
Giant Chain fern in mid winter with sub zero temperatures.
Whilst not an exhaustive list this is probably the largest list of evergreen ferns that are available in the UK. They vary in their requirements from deep shade to full sun tolerant and many can even grow in dry ground, great for those dry shady areas in your garden.
venustum – Himalayan Maidenhair
x tracyii – Tracy’s Western Hybrid Maidenhair
davalliaeformis – Shiny Bristle Fern
simplicior ‘Variegata’ – Variegated Holly Fern
platyneuron scolopendrium – Hart’s Tongue Fern
scolopendrium ‘Crispum Group’ – Crisped hart’s-tongue Fern
scolopendrium ‘Laceratum Kaye’ – Lacerate Hart’s Tongue Fern
scolopendrium ‘Marginatum’ – Narrow Hart’s Tongue Fern
scolopendrium ‘Undulatum’ – Undulate Hart’s Tongue Fern
trichomanes – Maidenhair Spleenwort
appendiculatum – Hammock Fern
chilense – Chilean Hard Fern
penna-marina – Alpine Water Fern
penna-marina subsp. alpinum
penna-marina subsp. alpinum Paradise Form
spicant ‘Redwoods Giant’ – Redwoods Deer Fern
wattsii – Hard Water Fern
caryotideum – Dwarf Holly Fern
falcatum – holly Fern
fortunei – Hardy Japanese Holly Fern
fortunei var. clivicola – Arching Japanese Holly Fern
macrophyllum – Big-leaf Holly Fern
affinis ‘Crispa’ – Golden Scaled Male Fern
bissetiana – Beaded Wood Fern
celsa – Log Fern
championii – Champion’s Wood Fern
crassirhizoma – Thick Stemmed Wood Fern
cycadina – Shaggy Wood Fern
cystolepidota – Manta Winged Autumn Fern
dickinsii ‘Crispa’ – Crisped Shaggy Wood Fern
dilatata ‘Crispa Whiteside’ – Crisped Broad Buckler Fern
dilatata ‘Jimmy Dyce’ – Upright Broad Buckler Fern
dilatata ‘Lepidota Cristata’ – Lacy Crested Broad Buckler Fern
dilatata – Broad Buckler Fern
erythrosora – Autumn Fern
erythrosora var. prolifica – Prolific Autumn Fern
erythrosora var. prolifica ‘Whirly Top’ – Dwarf Prolific Autumn Fern
formosana – Limelight Wood Fern
formosana – Formosan Wood Fern
indusiata – Indusiate Wood Fern
lepidopoda – Sunset Fern
marginalis – Marginal Wood Fern
polylepis – Scaly Wood Fern
pseudofilix-mas – Mexican Male Fern
pycnopteroides – Japanese Wood Fern
remota – Scaly Buckler Fern
scottii – Scott’s Wood Fern
sieboldii – Siebolds Wood Fern
stewartii – Stewart’s Wood Fern
sublacera – Textured Wood Fern
uniformis – Uniform Wood Fern
uniformis ‘Cristata’ – Crested Uniform Wood Fern
wallichiana – Wallich’s Wood Fern
wallichiana subsp. nepalensis ‘Molten Lava’ – Orange Croziered Wallich’s Wood Fern
x australis – Dixie Wood Fern
x separabilis – Separate Wood Fern
quadripinnata – Chilean Ground Fern
glycyrrhiza – Licorice Fern
polpodioides – Resurrection Fern
vulgare ‘Bifidomultifidum’ – Crested Polypody
vulgare – Common Polypody
acrostichoides – Christmas Fern
aculeatum – Hard Shield Fern
andersonii – Anderson’s Sword Fern
braunii – Braun’s Holly Fern
makinoi – Makinoi’s Holly Fern
munitum – Western Sword Fern
neolobatum – Long-eared Holly Fern
polyblepharum – Tassel Fern
rigens – Prickly Holly Fern
setiferum – Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Barfod’s dwarf’ – Proliferous Dwarf Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Congestum’ – Dwarf Congested Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Congestum Cristatum’ – Dwarf Crested Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Divisilobum type’ – Divided Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Fairy’s Feather’ – Dwarf Setose Divisilobe
setiferum ‘Plumoso-multilobum’ – Plumose Soft Shield Fern
setiferum ‘Plumosum Densum’
setiferum ‘Rotundatum cristatum’ – Crested Soft Shield Fern
sp.(alpine form of neolobatum) – Spiny Holly Fern
tsus-simense – Tsu Shima Holly Fern
xiphophyllum – Sword Leaved Holly Fern
bigelovii – Bigelow’s Spikemoss
borealis var. compressa – Twiggy Spikemoss
moellendorffii – Gemmiferous Spikemoss
wallacei – Wallace’s Spikemoss
fimbriata – Giant Chain Fern
orientalis – Oriental Chain Fern
radicans – European Chain Fern
unigemmata – Jewelled Chain Fern
Ferns are emerging from the shady corners of damp gardens and basking in the limelight. The M&G Garden 2015 at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show included many ferns, and visitors were delighted to find out that whatever garden situation they have, anyone can grow superb specimens.
The M&G Garden 2015 fern favourites
When planning The M&G Garden at this year’s show, award-winning designer Jo Thompson used some fern favourites, popular with gardeners around the world.
Many people have tried cultivating Matteuccia struthiopteris or ostrich fern. Its need for a semi or fully shaded position in moist soil makes it perfect for softening the edges around a pool or natural swimming pond.
Growing to about 1.5 metres high, it’s an impressive plant to fill gaps and provide colour throughout spring and summer.
Other ferns in The M&G Garden 2015 included:
• Asplenium scolopendrium or hart’s tongue fern: an evergreen fern, forming rosettes of arching strap-shaped fronds often with wavy margins. With an eventual height of around 75cm, it’s a fern for shade or semi-shade.
Sometimes you will see the same plant labelled up as Phyllitis scolopendrium. It is quite happy when the shade is dry, but to get the plant established make sure you water well in the first year of growth.
• Asplenium trichomanes or maidenhair spleenwort is a super little fern. It’s compact, and forms rosettes of blackish- stemmed fronds, each made up of rounded segments.
Fern ground: ferns need to be planted shallowly, with the crown flush to the soil level
It needs a humus-rich soil that is moist yet doesn’t get waterlogged. The fern is also happy growing in the cracks of walls where any rain will keep it watered.
Shade is best, partial shade perfectly acceptable; if the plants are exposed to strong sun they will turn yellow and may die. Plants will grow to about 5m high and wide in around five years.
Sunny side up
Think of a fern and you probably imagine moist, cool, dark conditions helping bright green crozier-like fronds unfurling in spring. But what about the others? What about ferns for sunny positions?
The royal fern or Osmunda regalis doesn’t care where it grows: it is happy in full sun or equally robust in shade. It is a graceful fern with fronds growing to 2.5 metres high, with rusty-brown, spore- bearing pinnae at the tips.
In spring and summer, the fronds are green, but in autumn they turn a stunning red-brown. All they ask for is plenty of water.
Other ferns that thrive in a sunny position include:
• Cheilanthes tomentosa or lip fern: this has grey-green woolly fronds that are tender in colder parts of the UK. It grows to about 30cm, needs great drainage, and with a little care is evergreen in a sunny position.
• Polypodium cambricum or Welsh polypody: plants grow to around 25cm high, thrive in full sun, and are best in alkaline soil.
• Dryopteris affinis or soft- shield fern: this semi- evergreen fern loses leaves in harsh winters or the colder parts of the UK. It produces rosettes of erect fronds around 1.2m high.
Keep an eye: if fronds develop black spots, cut them off to remove the infection
They are initially bright yellow, darkening to a rich green with age, and are happy in the sun if given plenty of moisture.
Growing more ferns
Dividing up large clumps of ferns will achieve two goals: you will create more plants for your garden, and maintain the youthful energy of the parent plant.
Division is best done in spring, just as the plant comes into growth, and can be performed every two or three years once the plant is established.
Before planting a fern it is vital to do a little bit of soil preparation. Leaf mould or partially rotted leaves must be added to the soil and dug in.
Ferns need to be planted shallowly, with the crown of the plant flush with the soil level. Keep soil, debris or subsequent mulch away from the crown to avoid rotting.
When establishing a young fern, water the soil around the crown, not the fronds. Every spring, apply a thick mulch of leaf mould around the plants (avoid swamping the crown) and you will have years of beauty.
You can plant ferns all year round, but the most popular times are spring and autumn as the soil is warm and moist.
Essential work: every spring, apply a thick mulch of leaf mould around a fern
Pruning and TLC
The time-saving aspect to growing ferns cannot be understated. Once happy in your soil they will grow, thrive and delight with few demands. Slugs may have a chomp at new shoots, but deal with these as you would elsewhere in the garden.
If any fronds develop black or brown spots, check if your plant is merely producing spores; if not, cut out the offending fronds to remove the infection, boost air movement and reduce the risk of further trouble.
If any ferns die off – this is natural and no reason to panic – simply cut them off at their base. Pests and diseases don’t bother the most outdoor ferns, leaving you to enjoy the spectacle.
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10 ferns to grow
This evergreen Himalayan maidenhair fern, Adiantum venustum, does well in shade or dappled shade; its delicate, light green fronds darken with age. Protect from wind. Height: 22-38cm
Delicate fronds of the Himalayan maidenhair fern 2
You often see British native Asplenium scolopendrium growing wild – if you spot it in your local area, it will probably grow well in your garden. It’s evergreen, and needs very little care – just a little tidying in spring. Height: 45-60cm
Glossy, strong leaves of Asplenium scolopendrium 3
Asplenium scolopendrium Crispum Group
A cultivar of Asplenium scolopendrium, Crispum Group is an eye-catching evergreen that has distinctive wavy edges that become more pronounced as the plant matures. Height: 30-60cm
Crinkley-edged leaves of Asplenium scolopendrium, Crispum Group 4
Deciduous painted Japanese fern Athyrium niponicum is flushed with silver and burgundy, making it an unusual, eye-catching choice. It’s growth is more prostrate than upright; it likes moisture. There are several pretty cultivars. Height: 30-38cm
Delicate, silver and burgundy leaves of the painted Japanese fern 5
Known as the autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora is an unusual fern has red new growth in spring, which eventually turns bronze and then green. It’s evergreen and just needs a little tidying up in early spring. Height: 60cm
Bronze fronds of the autumn fern 6
In spring, deciduous fern Dryopteris wallichiana unfurls to produce striking fronds that are 90cm high. If you have the space, it looks particularly effective planted in a group. Height: 90cm
Tall fronds of Dryopteris wallichiana 7
The shuttlecock fern, or ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris is not a British native, but has naturalised in parts of Britain. It sends up bright green ‘shuttlecocks’ in early spring and develops into a handsome plant. It prefers a moist soil. Height: 1-1.5m
Bright-green fronds of the shuttlecock or ostrich fern 8
This delicate fern, Onychium japonicum, is known as the carrot fern, as its foliage resembles that of a carrot top. It hails from Japan, Thailand and India so isn’t fully hardy in the UK, although it should come through the winter in an unheated greenhouse. Height: 10-45cm
Fine fronds of the carrot top fern 9
Also known as the royal fern, Osmunda regalis is a deciduous fern with a stately look, that can reach quite a size. Its foliage turns bronze in autumn. It likes a damp spot. Height: 1.5m
Advertisement Pale-green fronds of the royal fern 10
Polystichum polybelpharum is an easy-to-grow evergreen, also known as the Japanese tassel fern. The tips of the fronds are covered in golden hairs which give it an alternative name of the golden tassel fern. Height: 45-60cm
Golden tassel fern fronds
I have spent a lifetime acquiring plants from nurseries and gardens and then growing, or trying to grow them. I constantly reassure my two daughters that I’d be a wealthy woman if it weren’t for plants. They were dragged to enough nurseries and gardens in their childhood to nod knowingly in agreement.
It’s not surprising then that I know the names of lots of plants. One of my more recent passions is the hardy fern, particularly those with wintergreen foliage. They’re restful on the eye and their reassuring presence reminds me, when all else is in retreat, that the garden will return like a hibernating animal.
I buy them regularly; I plant them regularly. Once planted, I assumed the fern names would stick, as other plant names have done, but they’re as slippery as Teflon. They slide down the memory bank and disappear into a black void.
So I now have a collection of 50 or so ferns and I love them dearly, despite the fact that I can’t name them accurately even though I grow mostly five distinctive species – dryopteris, polypodium, polystichum, adiantum and asplenium. Not having the names come to mind quickly is extremely frustrating, rather like getting into a different model of car and finding that you can’t start the engine.
It’s even more maddening because male fern admirers seem to be able to trip the names off their tongues with ease. Perhaps the ability to remember botanical names is linked to testosterone, like spatial ability. Scientists have apparently proved that “spatial intelligence” is affected by the female hormone oestrogen. Presumably my fern naming would improve if I took a course of testosterone, along with getting the right lid on the right saucepan.
Although not a botanist, I do understand the recurring descriptive additions to fern names such as cristata (crested), crispum (frilly-edged), crenatum (scallop-shaped), frizelliae (very crinkled like the lettuce), fimbriatum (with a small fringe), congestum (busy, like the M25 on a Friday evening), grandiceps (large-headed) and sagittata (arrow-shaped). I’m not so sure of the difference between ‘Grandiceps’ and ‘Grandiceps Askew’, however, the latter is described by the fern king Martin Rickard as neat, but rare. It’s possibly only a couple of glasses of wine between upright and askew – which is where I may be going wrong, for I’m teetotal.
Some names reflect the collector, or raiser, such as Martindale (Lake District 1872), or Bevis (Devon 1876), or Druer (1900). These date from the Victorian era of fern fever, or pteridomania, when enthusiasts roamed the damper western half of Britain, where ferns tend to flourish, in search of the unusual and rare. Martindale, Bevis and Druer were all men, although bonnet-wearing ladies with baskets denuded the London area of ferns for their conservatories and terrariums. Luckily, ferns have a juvenile algal stage that allows them to return, decades later.
There are, of course, female fern fanatics, such as Angela Tandy of Fibrex Nurseries (fibrex.co.uk). She can name anything in the blink of an eye, although she is not suffering from a surfeit of testosterone, I hasten to add. She’s been working with ferns for 40 years on the family’s Warwickshire nursery. She says: “You get to recognise them. They’re like children and they’re all different.”
Her advice is to look carefully and say the name out loud every time you see your new treasure. Keep at it until you know it. Once you’ve learnt the name, look closely and learn to recognise the differences. Start with the foliage, then the colour of the stems, then look at how they grow, examining the detail – “rather as you would with snowdrops”, Angela adds.
I can do snowdrops Angela, just not ferns. Luckily, not knowing the name in no way diminishes the beauty of the fern, that’s what I tell myself.
Angela recognises that there are more male fern fanciers than women. They are “nerd-like” to use her words, but you have to be a nerd to undertake the 10-year process of raising ferns from spores in a dark place such as the wardrobe. I’d rather have shoes in mine. “Women just want to grow beautiful ferns that look lovely,” Angela adds. I’m with her there.
Top five favourite ferns for winter green
1. Asplenium scolopendrium Crispum Group
A small upright fern that must have moist shade and shelter from midday sun. The tongue-shaped leaves need careful placing because they scorch easily and turn yellowish in bright light. Angela loves the puckered edges of the leaves which look as though they’ve been gathered up round the edges, or “goffered” as Martin Rickard calls it. Like hair that’s crimped with tongs. Find it the right place and it will shine, away from the glare of the sun, offering a contrast to the lacier fronds. My best are in deep, moist shade.
Asplenium scolopendrium Crispum Group Credit: © Andrea Jones
2. Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’
The king fern is second on Angela’s list. This will thrive in dry shade once established, although it will grow in moist soil, too. All newly planted ferns must be watered in their first growing season, even if it says “dry shade” on the label. This upright fern gets big, up to 3ft (90cm), but the dark green crests on the top of the frond and on the sides (the pinnae) add weight so the ends of the fronds appear to curtsey.
It’s graceful as well as robust, but be aware that the fronds do deteriorate by midwinter. Cut them right back to the bare brown knuckles, as low as you possibly can, and the fronds will reappear with the bluebells, usefully covering foliage of early miniature bulbs such as snowdrops.
Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ Credit: Alamy
3. Polypodium x mantoniae ‘Cornubiense’
A fern for dryish shade once established. “Once it’s happy it will produce three types of frond: plain, crested and heavily lacy.” This is a good ground-cover fern because polypodies are wider than they are taller. It will meander and saunter along without being an aggressive spreader. Like all polypodies, it is divided in August and September when it starts back into growth after a summer holiday.
Polypodium x mantoniae ‘Cornubiense’ Credit: Alamy
4. Athyrium filix-femina Plumosum Group
“This feathery airy-fairy fern needs moisture because the fronds will shrivel if it becomes too dry,” Angela warns. Given some shade, the light green lacy fronds are as dainty as paper doilies.
Athyrium filix-femina Credit: Alamy
5. Polystichum setiferum # ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’
This is Angela’s favourite. “The architectural fronds appear in April, it’s evergreen and it’s no bother because you can grow it in a border in dappled shade, though not deep shade. It’s the perfect fern,” she says. I think of it as a feathery, elegant, shiny green shuttlecock with russet-brown bristles. Polystichum means “many-bristled” (which helps if you are name-challenged, like me).
Pulcherrimum Bevis Credit: Alamy
On good soil ‘Bevis’ will become large and luxuriant; you can divide a mature crown, should you wish to, between April and August. Mine, which was a division from a friend, took several years to shine – ferns are best planted small and left to develop, in my opinion. Now it is a fine specimen, so give this one some space to shine. Tidy it as the new fronds appear.
Most ferns are divided in the growing season between April and August. The exception is the summer-dormant polypody which needs to be tackled in August or September once it starts into growth once again.
A Shopper’s Guide to Buying Outdoor Ferns
By Doug Jimerson
Big, bold outdoor ferns add character and beauty to porches, decks, and terraces. These easy-care plants thrive in low-light conditions, making them an ideal choice for sheltered situations. Use outdoor ferns in hanging baskets, window boxes, urns, and planters. Here’s a quick guide to help you select some of the best outdoor ferns.
Native to Florida, Mexico, and Central America, Boston fern was first “discovered” in a shipment of plants sent to Boston in the 1800s (and thus it earned its common name). Soon this elegant plant became popular because it could survive the cool, dark environment of Victorian living rooms. Its graceful, arching fronds and rich, green color also helped make Boston fern a best seller. Today, Boston fern is still a top pick for indoor and outdoor settings. But, because Boston fern can grow 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, it are often a better choice for outdoor situations. In zones 9-11, Boston fern can be planted directly in the ground.
Here’s a plant that lives up to its name. This tough-as-nails fern can grow 6 feet tall and wide, making it a much better choice for your porch or patio than your front parlor than traditional Boston fern. Macho ferns have long, arching branches with wide, dark green fronds. Plant macho fern in large hanging baskets, or oversized urns, pots, or tubs. Macho ferns are hardy planted in the ground from zones 9-11.
Because of their spectacular size, macho ferns usually look best by themselves. They can swallow up smaller plants in container gardens.
Note: You can bring this tropical fern indoors as a large houseplant if you’d like to save it for the winter.
Get tips for saving your favorite tropical plants before winter.
Kimberly Queen Fern
If you love ferns, but forget to water them, check out spectacular Kimberly Queen fern. These bold beauties are Australian natives that can take a bit more heat and drought (and sun) than other outdoor ferns. Kimberly Queen ferns have gorgeous upright habits that makes them outstanding choices for urns or vertical containers. The plants grow 3 feet tall and wide and develop handsome spots (spores) on the undersides of each leaf. Kimberly Queen fern can also be grown in the garden in zones 9-11.
Because Kimberly Queen fern has an upright habit, it’s better suited to urns, container gardens and window boxes than hanging baskets; Boston fern is a more traditional pick for beautiful hanging baskets. Like Boston fern and macho fern, you can bring Kimberly Queen fern indoors as a houseplant to save it over winter.
Besides tropical ornamental ferns such as Boston, macho, and Kimberly Queen, there’s a host of perennial ferns that you can plant in the flower border or landscape. Most of these plants are winter hardy and come back bigger and better every year. Hardy ferns include:
> Japanese holly fern
> Japanese Painted fern
> Cinnamon fern
> Dixie wood fern
> Fortune’s hardy holly fern
> Ghost fern
> Korean rock fern
> Lady fern
> Wood fern
Shopping for Ferns
When shopping for ferns to decorate your deck, patio, porch, or balcony — or plant outside in your garden, look for full, balanced plants with lush, vibrant foliage. Many ferns (especially tender varieties such as Boston, macho, and Kimberly Queen) will have gray-green or olive-green foliage instead of their traditional rich green color. Most bounce back pretty quickly when watered after being too dry.
If you’re looking at ferns for hanging baskets, check to see if plants are rootbound. The more roots there are in the pot, the faster the hanging basket will dry out. Sometimes ferns, especially toward the end of the season, can get rather rootbound. It can be common to see lopsided ferns sold in stores; the fronds break and bend when pressed up against each other — but don’t let that deter you; with proper care (see tips below), your ferns will rebound quickly.
When shopping for perennial ferns, keep in mind they go dormant during the winter. Perennial ferns sold in the early spring may not have much growth on them yet. Because they grow a bit slower than tropical ferns, buy the largest plants you can find if you want to make a statement in your garden the first year. Different fern varieties have varying growth rates. Japanese painted fern, for example, is a slow grower, but ostrich ferns can grow fast when it’s happy.
Buy Outdoor Ferns
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All ferns, whether tropical or hardy, prefer a shaded or partially shaded location with rich, slightly moist soil that’s rich in organic matter (such as compost). They also enjoy high humidity and love an occasional shower. Feed ferns with a slow-release granular fertilizer. Tropical ferns are sensitive to frost so move them to a sheltered location if cold weather threatens. To get your ferns off to the best possible start, topdress the soil with a couple of inches of compost after planting. Then mulch ferns to prevent weed competition and to help protect them from temperature extremes.
Ferns in containers need more frequent watering than their counterparts in the ground since containers (especially hanging baskets) dry out a bit faster. During especially hot, dry, windy weather, potted ferns may need watering once a day or so to keep them from drying out. Always check soil moisture before you water, though, to avoid overwatering your ferns.
Get tips for adding ferns for summer interest in your outdoor spaces!
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Taking Care Of Outdoor Ferns: How To Take Care Of Ferns In The Garden
Although we are most accustomed to seeing graceful ferns throughout woodlands and forests where they nestle under tree canopies, they are equally attractive when used in the shady home garden. Garden ferns that are tolerant of winter temperatures can be grown year round in gardens throughout the United States.
A large number of ferns will withstand both the winter cold and summer heat, which makes them particularly useful in the shady southern landscape. This hardiness also makes taking care of outdoor ferns simple.
Types of Hardy Garden Ferns
Growing a fern garden outdoors is easy. Ferns make excellent companions for woodland plantings like hosta, columbine, liriope, and caladiums. Learning how to take care of ferns depends mostly on the type you grow. While many types of hardy garden ferns are deciduous, some are evergreen. There are a number of outdoor ferns to choose from with the following being the most common:
- Southern maidenhair fern – Southern maidenhair fern is a hardy spreading plant that will survive in a wider range of soil conditions, including rocks and acidic soils. This fern is very delicate in appearance despite its hardiness.
- Lady fern – Lady fern is drought tolerant, grows up to 3 feet, and has a beautiful upright habit.
- Autumn fern – Autumn fern is a semi-evergreen fern and has arching fronds. Foliage turns a coppery pink color in the spring, green in the summer and copper in the fall. This fern is known for the year-round interest it adds to any shady garden and prefers very wet soil.
- Christmas fern – Christmas fern is a popular fern in the southeast, where it is evergreen. It looks similar to the Boston fern. This fern grows slowly but is well worth the wait.
- Male fern – The male fern is an evergreen fern that is shaped like a vase and will grow up to 5 feet. This interesting fern likes light to full shade and very wet soil.
How to Take Care of Ferns
Ferns are extremely forgiving and have an incredibly strong survival instinct. Ferns will grow where other plants fail to thrive and most do well in rich, well-drained soil with an abundance of organic matter.
Planting a fern garden outdoors requires minimal attention other than regular mulching and water during very dry periods.
Few pests bother ferns other than the passing slug, which will devour nearly anything.
Divide ferns in early spring when they become too large.
Taking care of outdoor ferns is so easy that you often forget that they are there. They are excellent for naturalizing, and will reward the gardener with their graceful texture year after year.
Cold Hardy Fern Plants: Tips On Growing Ferns In Zone 5
Ferns are fantastic plants to grow because of their wide adaptability. They’re thought to be one of the oldest living plants, which means they know a thing or two about how to survive. Quite a few fern species are particularly good at thriving in cold climates. Keep reading to learn more about selecting hardy ferns for zone 5.
Cold Hardy Fern Plants
Growing ferns in zone 5 really doesn’t require any special treatment provided the plants you ultimately choose for the garden are, in fact, zone 5 ferns. This means as long as they’re hardy to the area, the ferns should pretty much thrive on their own, other than the occasional watering in overly dry situations.
Lady fern – Hardy to zone 4, it can reach anywhere from 1 to 4 feet in height. Extremely tough, it survives in a wide range of soils and levels of sun. The Lady in Red variety has striking red stems.
Japanese Painted fern – Extremely hardy all the way down to zone 3, this fern is especially ornamental. Green and gray deciduous fronds grow on red to purple stems.
Hay-scented fern – Hardy to zone 5, it gets its name from the sweet smell it gives of when crushed or brushed against.
Autumn fern – Hardy to zone 5, it emerges in the spring with a striking copper color, earning it its name. Its fronds turn to green in summer, then change to copper again in the fall.
Dixie Wood fern – Hardy to zone 5, it reaches 4 to 5 feet in height with sturdy, bright green fronds.
Evergreen Wood fern – Hardy to zone 4, it has dark green to blue fronds that grow up and out of a single crown.
Ostrich fern – Hardy to zone 4, this fern has tall, 3- to 4-foot fronds that resemble the feathers of which earn the plant its name. It prefers very moist soil.
Christmas fern – Hardy to zone 5, this dark green fern prefers moist, rocky soil and shade. Its name derives from the fact that it tends to remain green year round.
Bladder fern – Hardy to zone 3, the bladder fern reaches 1 to 3 feet in height and prefers rocky, moist soil.
Succeeding with Hardy Ferns
Perennials 101, Perennials for Special Purposes
1. SOME FERN FACTS
Ferns are valuable garden plants of great dependability and beauty. Their leaves, known as fronds, can be lacy or leathery, plain green or variegated, providing a long season of interest. Rarely suffering from pests and diseases, they offer trouble-free elegance.
Ferns were tremendously popular in Victorian times, and many of the British well-to-do had ferneries — shady garden areas devoted to vast fern collections. As modern gardeners become more aware of the value of foliage texture in their landscapes, they are rediscovering the refreshing diversity of hardy ferns. Naturally inhabiting woodland areas, ferns thrive in the shade offered by trees during the heat of summer. They perform best in a moist, well drained soil, high in organic matter. Providing appropriate soil conditions for ferns will reward you with healthy, vigorous plants.
There are numerous kinds of hardy ferns available in garden centers. Many fern species are deciduous, dying back to the ground for winter. Others are evergreen, providing attractive winter foliage in the garden, or brought indoors for cut-flower arrangements.
In Zones 2 through 6 the evergreen types often become more semi-evergreen in habit. Ferns vary in texture and height as well; some forming a low spreading mound, while others create a bold upright clump. With such a range, even the smallest garden can have a woodland feeling by planting a few ferns along with other moist-shade lovers such as Hostas, Primroses and Astilbes.
2. Tips on planting and care
Fern care is relatively easy. Ferns require moist, humus rich soil. If your soil is poor, dig in 4 to 6 inches of well-rotted compost or peat moss. This will provide a loose, water-retentive soil in which ferns can thrive. Ferns do well under trees, but tree roots (especially maples and many evergreens) may rob the soil of water and nutrients. Also, rain may not penetrate the branch canopy. You may have to provide regular watering to these areas if you want to grow ferns there. This is especially critical just after planting until the ferns becomes established. It is a good idea to mulch around your ferns with compost or leaf litter once a year. This will improve the soil, keep the roots cool and help to retain moisture. Where winters are very cold, cover ferns with boughs or mulch in the fall to protect them. Evergreen ferns may look somewhat tattered by late winter; if so, trim off any unsightly foliage in early spring.
3. Some Hardy Ferns to look for:
This is just a small sampling of the hardy ferns now available. Our online Perennial Search will help you to locate many more. Simply type the word ferninto the box and click “search”.
- Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum).
Native through the northern states and Canada, this forms a medium-sized mound of very delicate, lacy foliage. The leaf-stems are a striking black color.
- Dragon’s-tail Fern (Asplenium ebenoides).
The triangular fronds are tapered and toothed, giving the appearance of the dragon’s tail. These ferns form a low mound of shiny fronds, reaching 1 foot (30cm) tall. Evergreen.
- Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’).
Only reaching 1 foot (30cm), this has beautiful low fronds highlighted in silvery gray, with purple leaf-stems. Japanese Painted fern is the most colorful hardy fern, and one of the easiest to grow. Deciduous.
- Crested Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Vernoniae Cristatum’). Forming dense mounds of bright green, very lacy fronds, this fern is a particularly easy variety to grow. Deciduous.
- Robust Male Fern (Dryopteris complexa ‘Robust’). A taller fern, excellent as a specimen plant. Fronds are dark green and long, arching gracefully under their own weight. A strong grower, but not invasive in the least. Deciduous.
- Shaggy Shield Fern (Dryopteris cycadina). Fronds are a light golden-green, while the undersides have interesting black scales. Evergreen in milder regions. Forms a low mound to 2 feet (60cm).
- Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). A very familiar garden fern, native to eastern North America. Plants form a tidy, low to medium-sized clump of dark-green, leathery fronds, remaining evergreen in most regions. Tolerates summer heat and humidity.
- Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). Evergreen in milder winter regions, the new fronds emerge a bright copper colour, contrasting with the older green fronds. Low to medium in habit, and excellent for mass planting.
Choosing the Right Fern for Your Site
Whether you have a secluded pond, sunny rock wall or a serene woodland setting, you can find an assortment of ferns to add beauty to any spot in the garden. Most ferns do well in part shade or dappled sunlight, but there are many which will do well with quite a bit of sun, provided they get enough water. Shade loving ferns appreciate an organic, evenly moist, well drained soil. If your soil is heavy on the clay or sandy side you can add compost or other organic matter to help balance it out. (If you use manure, be sure it is well rotted or aged.) Ferns require minimal maintenance throughout the year. Once in the garden, ferns in general do not require additional fertilizer. They will appreciate leaf litter from surrounding trees and an occasional top dressing of a compost mulch. Unless you want to share a fern with a friend these easy going plants rarely need to be divided. Deciduous ferns can be trimmed as the fronds yellow in late fall and early winter. Evergreen ferns do best if the older fronds are trimmed off in late winter or early spring, just before the new fronds emerge. As with other perennials, the best time to plant is during the spring and fall when the rain is plentiful. Ferns come in an amazing range of texture, color, sizes and and shapes. Their ease and versitility make them an essential part of any well rounded garden.
Tree Fern Care
These handsome ancient plants are a poplar attraction in warm gardens, but unfortunately not reliably hardy in the greater Seattle area. Dicksonia antarctica is the most cold tolerant of the lot, but all tree ferns need special care and winter protection. Site them in the warmest section of the garden; a shady nook on the south side of the house (away from cold north winds) is ideal. As the roots extend down the trunk, the plants need extra water to transport a steady supply to the foliage. The trunk also needs to be misted or watered periodically. Critical care is especially essential for survival during the winter months. When the plants are young and containerized, the entire plant can be brought inside to the warmth of a greenhouse or suitably comfortable site in filtered light. Once the plant gains height and remains in the ground it will need protection from the cold. A hefty mulch at the base and a simple wrap of burlap or horticultural gauze around the trunk can be sufficient in mild weather. However, in more severe cold the trunk needs greater insulation. Experts use various techniques. One of the easiest is to wrap the trunk in bubble wrap and then cover this with an addition blanket of burlap or similar material. (Bubble wrap alone should not be used as it magnifies sunlight which will burn the plant.) Some gardeners also wrap the fronds which if left exposed will burn and brown in a severe frost. They should be held up vertically, not pulled down, and tied with a loose wrapping. Be advised that the fronds will likely be damaged in the process. Note that all of these precautions should be in place before an arctic blast arrives. Good luck!!