With arching stems and delicate leaves, ferns are a must for adding lush texture to the shade garden. Most ferns spread slowly, so they are a popular choice for planting under trees or for filling other large shady areas of the garden. But their upright form and lacy fronds make an incredible addition to your shade containers. We have two great ways to use ferns in container gardens. Scroll on to learn about each!
Idea #1: Keep a container thrilling with fabulous fern foliage
With leaves like this, who needs flowers? This Australian sword fern is the thriller of this container. The rich red tones play against the lush green palette and provide color all season long. Texture plays an important role in this container, too. The medium-sized leaves of the red coleus form a focal point that’s set off by the finer textures of the fern, the creeping Jenny and the trailing coleus. The large leaves of the elephant ear, as well as the bulk of the dark, solid container, keep the overall effect from being too “busy” and messy.
Design tip: Limit the colors
How do you keep a combination of plants from looking too busy? Choose a couple of main colors and be sure that all the plants adhere to that color palette. Here, the dark red is picked up in all the coleus leaves and the ribs of the elephant’s ear leaves. A sparkle of chartreuse is scattered across the container to brighten it, both in the creeping Jenny and the edgings of the coleus cultivars.
Container maintenance tip: Keep it tidy
Pinch back the coleus as needed in midsummer to keep them neat and compact so they don’t take over the container.
Fern & coleus container recipe (number to plant)
A) Australian sword fern (Nephrolepis obliterata ‘Emerald Queen’) (1)
B) Coleus (Plectranthus ‘Redhead’) (3)
C) Elephant ear (Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’) (1)
D) Coleus (Plectranthus ‘Strawberry Drop’) (1)
E) Coleus (Plectranthus ‘Trailing Plum’) (3)
F) Coleus (Plectranthus ‘Kong Jr.™ Scarlet’) (1)
G) Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) (1)
Container is 22 in. square
Check out more garden container ideas
Idea #2: Fill out your container with a spunky green fern
Although ferns are often a quiet backdrop for other plants, sometimes they like to take center stage. This chartreuse Boston fern is like a ray of sunshine spilling out from the container. It contrasts nicely with the dark purple of the black varnish plant and the ruby colored caladium.
Container design tip: Angle it
Tip the Boston fern forward slightly when planting so that it angles out. This way the fern leaves will reach out and over slightly and keep growing that direction — instead of inward toward the other plants where it could start to take over.
Container maintenance tip: Give it some sun
Place this container in a spot with morning sun to get the brightest color from all these plants and to keep the geranium blooming.
Fern & caladium container recipe (number to plant)
A) Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata Rita’s Gold™) (1)
B) Caladium (Caladium ‘Freida Hemple’) (1)
C) Black varnish plant (Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum ‘Rubrum’) (1)
D) Caladium (Caladium ‘Raspberry Moon’) (1)
E) Geranium (Pelargonium ‘Persian Queen’) (1)
F) English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Gold Child’) (1)
Container is 16 in. in diameter
You might also like this lovely plant combination for shade