Growing ferns in your garden is like paying homage to the passage of time. Ferns have been on this earth for millions of years, surviving and thriving through floods, fire, and the ravages of man doing what man does. They are tough yet delicate, and stalwart, yet elegant. As long as you provide them with some basic needs, they can create a green and lush garden for any style home, rustic to modern. Learn about different types of ferns, and fern care with these tips, tricks and picks!
How to Care for Ferns
- First and foremost, ferns need shade. Some, like lady or shield ferns, will tolerate some sun though, so don’t give up if your garden space isn’t under a north facing wall.
- Ferns like moisture, although again, there are exceptions that will tolerate drier soil. Few ferns will tolerate both however, meaning both little shade and low water. You need more of one to compensate for the other.
- While ferns are heavy feeders, they prefer an organic supply of nutrients from compost and mulch. If you use a commercial fertilizer, use a slow release form so as not to burn their roots, which are sensitive.
- Some ferns are evergreen, and others drop their fronds in fall and come back each spring. Ferns can be notorious for being slow to start in the spring, so don’t jump to conclusions if they are a bit late. The fronds will unfurl in little rolled up “fiddleheads” that are unique to this type of plant.
- Certain ferns grow better in certain environments, and its always better to try and choose ones that match your garden. For instance, tropical ferns look amazing in Florida, but Minnesota might do better with woodland ferns. Although sometimes it is totally worth it to baby a tropical fern with misting and winter protection so that you can have that look on your summer deck. Also, always make sure the ferns you choose are fit for your hardiness zone, or that they can be brought indoors in winter.
- Ferns are deer and rabbit resistant, which means they are perfect for a woodland setting.
- Plant ferns with the crown flush with soil. If you plant them too deep, they are prone to rot.
TGG’s Top Types of Ferns to Grow
Autumn Fern –
One of our favorite ferns, this evergreen grows to 24 inches and unfurls copper fronds in spring, and orange red in fall, with deep green the rest of the year. The color is amazing, and it is an easy fern to grow in zones 5-9. Photo “Brilliance Autumn Fern” by ‘Monrovia‘.
This is our young Autumn fern in spring, and is doing just fine in a container on our plant wall. Check out our DIY modern plant wall tutorial!
Shield Fern –
The shield fern is one of the best choices for dry shade, and is hardy down to zone 5 despite its tropical appearance. Growing 2-3 feet high and wide, this fern is at least semi evergreen and prefers deeper shade. Photo by Bliss Garden Design via ‘Houzz‘.
Photo by ‘HGTV‘.
Ostrich Fern –
One of the largest ferns, Ostrich fern fronds can grow up to 6 feet, and spread by underground rhizomes, quickly taking over a wet area. This is the perfect drama plant for an area that doesn’t drain well and is always moist. Hardy down to zone 2, these plants grow upright in a vase shape. Cut back dead fronds in early spring. Photo by Jay Sifford Design via ‘Houzz‘.
Photo by Steven Fox Photography via ‘Houzz‘.
Painted Fern –
The Japanese Painted fern is a smaller plant that grows 1-2 feet and has a gorgeous silver grey color, tinged with burgundy. While not evergreen, this fern is showy enough to make up for it, and was Perennial Plant of the Year 2004.
Maidenhair Fern –
There are both Northern and Southern Maidenhair ferns. The Northern variety grows 1-3 feet on wiry black stems, and is hardy done to zone 2, though it is not evergreen. The Southern, or Common Maidenhair has delicate looking leaves and is often grown as a houseplant, but don’t let that fool you. This is a tough evergreen plant down to zone 6. It grows just 12-18 inches tall and loves moisture and shade.
Northern Maidenhair – Photo by Jay Sifford, ‘Houzz‘.
Southern, or Common Maidenhair – Photo by Ginkgo Leaf Studio via ‘Houzz‘.
Birds Nest and Harts Tongue Ferns –
We included two types of ferns here because both these ferns are very similar in appearance. The biggest difference is that the Birds Nest fern is tropical, and therefore not winter hardy, while the Harts Tongue fern is evergreen and hardy down to zone 6. With strap like leathery, glossy leaves that grow bright green, this fern grows only 1-2 feet. The leaf edges can be flat or wavy, and some grow upright, while other more prostrate. We grow both these varieties, and the Birds Nest fern loves our glass shower indoors!
Birds Nest Fern
Harts Tongue Fern (Yep! Thats our DIY plant wall again! We love that project!)
Lady Fern –
One of the most common woodland ferns, this delicate beauty grows 2-3 feet tall and wide, and tolerates some sun and drier soil. The lady fern is not evergreen, but has gorgeous red fiddleheads that unfurl in the spring. Zones 3-9. Photo by ‘Jung Seed‘.
Australian Tree Fern –
This is a great example of a tropical fern that is worth the work. Hardy and evergreen to zone 10 (lucky you if you live there!), this fern can be grown in a large container as a patio tree, and moved indoors in the winter. Indeed, it grows quickly to 10 feet in a container, 20 in the ground. Needing part shade and lots of moisture, this bright green fern adds exotic drama to any space!
Photo by Firma Design via ‘Houzz‘.
Photo by Carter Van Dyke Associates via ‘Houzz‘.