Ferns may not produce flowers, but they are among the most spectacular plants you can put in the garden. Particularly popular for shady spots, these ancient green plants add unique, feather-like foliage. Ferns are more than just ornamentation, though. They are also great for preventing erosion and can be planted on hillsides and other vulnerable areas to keep soil in place. Not all ferns are the same – choose from a variety of sizes, textures, and shades of green to bring diversity to a shady bed.
Some ideas for pretty native ferns for the garden include:
Ostrich Fern – The Ostrich fern, Maatteuccia struthiopteris, enjoys moist and even wet ground. Try this variety if you have a pond or stream in the garden or a marshy area that struggles to support other plants. The name for this fern aptly describes its tall, elegant, and feathery fronds, reminiscent of large ostrich feathers. It can also cover a large area quickly and provide height and a backdrop for shorter plants. Ostrich fern grows up to between 3 and 6 feet (1 to 1.8 meters) in height and will spread out just as wide. In addition to moisture, these ferns need a nice shady spot.
Christmas Fern – Polystichum acrostichoides is a lovely fern that produces lance-shaped fronds. They are long and narrow, growing up to 3 feet (1 m.) in length but just 4 inches (10 cm.) wide. Growing in dense clumps, Christmas ferns make great hanging basket plants but are also pretty in beds and in woodland or streamside gardens. You can also expect to enjoy some of the greenery from these ferns year round. The name Christmas fern comes from this fact.
Sword Fern – Sword fern is Polystichum munitum, an evergreen fern. The fronds are shaped like lances or swords and grow to a height of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m.). While the Sword fern does enjoy moist soil like other varieties, it is unique in that it can tolerate and survive dry conditions. It is also hardy in cold weather and will provide year-round greenery in many environments.
Growing Tips for Ferns
Ferns are a wonderful addition to the garden, as long as you have some shade for them. Most will not tolerate full sun, but that makes these pretty plants perfect for tough shady areas where you struggle to grow flowers. Make sure the soil is rich in organic matter before planting ferns, and that you will be able to keep it moist. Water regularly when ferns are establishing roots.
Use mulch to both retain moisture in the soil for these thirsty plants and to control weeds. It also helps to hand pull weeds as needed so they don’t outcompete the ferns for nutrients. Once they are established, your ferns won’t need much care. You can divide them in the fall or spring, but ferns will naturally spread and fill in spaces from year to year.
Ferns are delightful in the garden, providing green in shady areas and adding height and texture. There are many types of ferns to choose from, so enjoy select a range of plants to add variety and interest to your garden.