Shade Loving Ferns

By Mary Ellen Ellis | July 25, 2021

One of my favorite shade-loving ornamentals is the fern. There are many varieties and they’re all beautiful in their own way, from the extravagant painted lady to the classic looking ostrich fern. I grow the latter in a shady corner of my yard, but I wish I had space and shade for more. 

Ferns Are Different

I’m most drawn to ferns because of how they look and how they fit the niche where other plants struggle to thrive. But what I also love about these plants is how unique and different they are from most others in the garden. 

Ferns use chlorophyll like other plants to produce food along with energy from the sun, but like fungi, they reproduce via spores. Most of the plants we grow in gardens are flowering; they 

Types of Ferns

While ferns will not give you flowers, they do produce some spectacular foliage. I grow ostrich ferns in my shady corner. These are regal ferns, tall and upright like a flower vase. I planted just a few five years ago and now have nearly 20 filling up an otherwise barren corner with lush, green, fringed leaves. Some other types of fern I’d like to try one day include: 

  • Staghorn. This is a striking fern with antler-like leaves. I’ve seen them grown in hanging baskets and love the look. Unfortunately, they are too tropical for my Midwestern garden, but I may have to grow one as a houseplant in the future. 
  • Northern maidenhair fern. While other maidenhair ferns are for warmer climates, this one would grow well in my garden. It has black stems with pretty, frilled leaves and a bright green color. It isn’t upright, so I’m thinking it would suit a container. 
  • Hard fern. This fern is also cold hardy, so it could work in my garden. The leaves are uniquely lobed and look a little bit like tongues. It’s an unusual fern that I’m drawn to. 
  • Cinnamon fern. Native to the region, this would be a great addition to my garden. It’s tall and upright. The descriptive name comes from the fact that the leaves have an orange-colored fuzz that drops off as they mature. 
  • Painted lady fern. Also known as Japanese painted fern, this species has unique coloring. The leaves include shades of red, purple, and silver and have a pretty, feathery texture. 

Ferns are beautiful and unique plants. They readily fill those spaces in the garden that are too shady or too wet. They’re also easy to grow and are great for beginners.

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