Keep up to date with

Special Gift Offer
URL:
http://www.gardengatemagazine.com/newsletter/2020/06/11/different-types-of-ferns/
Share:

Different Types of Ferns

By: James A. Baggett
Whether you have a secluded pond or a shady backyard setting, you can find a hardy fern to add beauty to any spot in the garden.

different-types-of-ferns-maidenhair-fern-lead:The graceful, fanlike pattern of maidenhair fern is unique among all of the native ferns.

A fondness for ferns

Ferns are tougher than most gardeners realize. Just ask Lyndall Heyer. She has filled her woodland garden in snowy Stowe, Vermont, with a tapestry of different types of hardy ferns that fill her zone 3 shade garden with grace and texture. Ferns are, after all, the epitome of elegance and simplicity. Lyndall’s garden is tucked into a north-facing hillside surrounded by shade-tree covered peaks. Over the years she has carved out at least 12 different gardens on the 13-acre property she shares with her husband. Her shade gardens — dominated by different kinds of ferns, hostas and astilbes — require almost no effort at all. That’s because she depends on cold-hardy ferns that pretty much thrive on their own.

“I don’t grow finicky plants and I don’t grow finicky ferns,” Lyndall says. “If you have the right plant in the right place, especially with ferns, it will just grow and grow.” Lyndall has lots of shade and amends her soil regularly with both locally made worm castings and compost.

You Might Also Like:
Ferns in Containers
Shade Garden Makeover
Colorful Shade Garden Combos
Lovely Plant Pairing for the Shade

Japanese painted ferns and hostas in a shade garden: Japanese painted ferns add texture to shade gardens and make a great companion to hostas.

Mix up textures

Because their foliage provides instant texture, consider the habit of the fern and the shape of the frond when selecting different kinds of ferns for your garden. Mixed plantings of ferns by themselves or with other foliage plants can be an appealing mix of textures. The delicate fronds of maidenhair ferns look lovely with blue hostas and purple coral bells. Bright green interrupted ferns stand out when planted with variegated Solomon’s seal and Japanese aralia. Soft-green fern fronds make good neighbors with columbines and bleeding hearts because they hide the spring ephemerals’ fading foliage.

“Hay-scented fern fills in naturally on my banks and edges,” says Lyndall. “Japanese painted fern behaves beautifully and is planted with Virginia bluebells that grow up through the fern fronds. But my favorite is the royal fern. It’s large with an open habit and unusual fronds. I simply enjoy it planted by the side of my driveway.”

Ferns can be addictive

Once you get started growing ferns, you may find yourself becoming a collector of different types of ferns. You may want to amend your soil with compost. A transplanting spade will make quick work of dividing and planting. Of course, ferns appreciate regular watering and a great hose nozzle is essential. And if you want to dig deeper, here is a great book about ferns you should check out.

Ferns are easy to grow

Whether you have a secluded pond or a tranquil woodland setting, you can find a fern to add beauty to any spot in the garden. Hardy ferns, including all the ones featured, generally require rich, moist soil with extra organic matter and most grow in neutral to moderately acid soil. That’s because they naturally thrive in the dappled shade of the woodland, growing in soil well-amended with rotted leaves. They are so easy to grow they never need staking, pinching or pruning, except for the removal of the occasional damaged frond.

How to grow ferns

  • If you have heavy soil, break it up and lighten it with rotted leaves or compost at planting time.
  • Plant ferns shallowly, with the crown flush with the surrounding soil or slightly above to prevent crown rot.
  • Keep ferns well-watered for the first couple of years. The best time to plant is in spring and fall when rain is more plentiful.
  • If it is an evergreen fern like Christmas fern, you might want to thin the old ragged fronds in spring as the new ones appear. Deciduous ferns will require either fall or spring clean-up.
  • In spring, apply a thin layer of mulch to help hold down weeds and conserve moisture. Fertilizer is not necessary as long as mulch is left in place to decompose. A topdressing of well-composted manure every couple of years helps build the soil and adds nitrogen.
  • Ferns rarely need to be divided, but if you want to share with a friend, you can dig up and divide your ferns into several new plants every two or three years.
  • Don’t expect them to look like much the first year or two after planting. They take time to establish and it may take four or five years before they become fully mature. Ferns only get better over time.

You Might Also Like:
Garden Gate's Favorite Hostas
Shade Garden Plans
Marvelous Moss Garden
DIY Spiral Topiary

Fern-illustrations-with-labels-2

Different types of ferns

Here are 10 of the hardiest and easiest garden-worthy ferns from Lyndall’s garden.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

This native fern is especially adapted to wet areas, where it will produce an exuberant upright bouquet of fronds.

Type Perennial Foliage Separate stiff yellow-green fronds appear in early spring with cinnamon-colored fibers found emerging from the base of the fronds Light Full to part shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

The graceful, fanlike pattern of maidenhair fern is unique among all of the native ferns.

Type Perennial Foliage Finely textured almost frilly fronds emerge in spring with curved stalks that divide into fingerlike projections Light Full to part shade Size 12 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis)

The lovely bright green fronds of royal fern turn an attractive shade of red-brown in autumn.

Type Perennial Foliage Broad fronds with large, well-separated leaflets and spores located in brown tassel-like clusters at the tips of the fronds Light Part to full shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Emerging fiddleheads in spring are delectable sautéed in a bit of oil.

Type Perennial Foliage Finely dissected, medium green fronds with the appearance of long ostrich feather plumes emerge in spring and lose their leaflets in fall Light Part to full shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 8 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

This is a very aggressive and widespread native fern that is ideal for most dry shade situations.

Type Perennial Foliage Coarse, divided, triangular-shape green fronds arise at a tilt to almost horizontal in spring and persist until first frost Size 3 to 4 ft. tall, 4 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 10

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

The stalks of this fern have a decorative, beaded appearance, lending it its other common name, bead fern.

Type Perennia Foliage Long-stalked bright green fronds with leathery, triangular leaflets with distinctively netted veining emerge in spring and are especially sensitive to drought and frost Light Part to full shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Hay-scented fern can be recognized by the sweet scent of new-mown hay when the fronds are crushed or dried.

Type Perennial Foliage Lacy, narrow-triangular yellow-green fronds emerge erect to arching in spring (they release a fragrance like that of fresh-mown hay when brushed with the hand) Light Part shade to full sun Size 18 to 24 in. tall, 24 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum)

The name comes from the fact that it looks like it has been delicately painted with shades of green, red and silver.

Type Perennial Foliage Slowly spreading clumps of arching, triangular fronds that are a soft gray-green with silvery hues and dark maroon midribs Light Part to full shade Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

In spring, the newly emerging silvery white “fiddleheads” of interrupted fern are striking in appearance.

Type Perennial Foliage Broad soft, almost chartreuse green fronds emerge in spring that are “interrupted” in the middle with little leaflets that fall off in mid-summer Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern got its common name because it stays green right through the holiday season.

Type Perennial Foliage Lance-shaped, evergreen fronds (thus the common name) emerge in spring to form fountain-like clusters Light Part to full shade Size 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

This native fern is especially adapted to wet areas, where it will produce an exuberant upright bouquet of fronds.

Type Perennial Foliage Separate stiff yellow-green fronds appear in early spring with cinnamon-colored fibers found emerging from the base of the fronds Light Full to part shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

The stalks of this fern have a decorative, beaded appearance, lending it its other common name, bead fern.

Type Perennia Foliage Long-stalked bright green fronds with leathery, triangular leaflets with distinctively netted veining emerge in spring and are especially sensitive to drought and frost Light Part to full shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

The graceful, fanlike pattern of maidenhair fern is unique among all of the native ferns.

Type Perennial Foliage Finely textured almost frilly fronds emerge in spring with curved stalks that divide into fingerlike projections Light Full to part shade Size 12 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Hay-scented fern can be recognized by the sweet scent of new-mown hay when the fronds are crushed or dried.

Type Perennial Foliage Lacy, narrow-triangular yellow-green fronds emerge erect to arching in spring (they release a fragrance like that of fresh-mown hay when brushed with the hand) Light Part shade to full sun Size 18 to 24 in. tall, 24 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis)

The lovely bright green fronds of royal fern turn an attractive shade of red-brown in autumn.

Type Perennial Foliage Broad fronds with large, well-separated leaflets and spores located in brown tassel-like clusters at the tips of the fronds Light Part to full shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum)

The name comes from the fact that it looks like it has been delicately painted with shades of green, red and silver.

Type Perennial Foliage Slowly spreading clumps of arching, triangular fronds that are a soft gray-green with silvery hues and dark maroon midribs Light Part to full shade Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Emerging fiddleheads in spring are delectable sautéed in a bit of oil.

Type Perennial Foliage Finely dissected, medium green fronds with the appearance of long ostrich feather plumes emerge in spring and lose their leaflets in fall Light Part to full shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 8 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

In spring, the newly emerging silvery white “fiddleheads” of interrupted fern are striking in appearance.

Type Perennial Foliage Broad soft, almost chartreuse green fronds emerge in spring that are “interrupted” in the middle with little leaflets that fall off in mid-summer Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

This is a very aggressive and widespread native fern that is ideal for most dry shade situations.

Type Perennial Foliage Coarse, divided, triangular-shape green fronds arise at a tilt to almost horizontal in spring and persist until first frost Size 3 to 4 ft. tall, 4 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 10

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern got its common name because it stays green right through the holiday season.

Type Perennial Foliage Lance-shaped, evergreen fronds (thus the common name) emerge in spring to form fountain-like clusters Light Part to full shade Size 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Published: June 11, 2020
Share:

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Related Tags

easy to grow garden design part shade shade

Also in This Newsletter


Last Week’s Newsletter

June 4, 2020

10 Long-Blooming Perennials

Want a colorful garden that lasts through the seasons? These 10 long-blooming perennials will keep your garden looking colorful from spring to fall.

Butterfly Bush Basics

With colorful, fragrant flowers, butterfly bush delights gardeners & pollinators! Learn more about growing this beautiful flowering shrub in your garden.