Ferns add beauty and texture to shady areas
Foliage in varying shades of green capture your attention. Garden uses for ferns are almost endless; simply use your imagination. Ferns can be specimen plants or provide a lush backdrop for other shade-loving plants like Hostas, caladiums, and astilbes, to name a few.
Not all fern species are limited to shade gardens. Some ferns thrive in full sun, giving you even more planting options.
Ready to add ferns to your new or existing garden? Here are some of our top recommendations.
Why You May Want to Add Ferns to Your Garden
Ferns are an excellent option for shady areas where other plants often struggle. Along with providing greenery, sometimes year-round, ferns can stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
You can find ferns for almost every climate, from cool to warm. However, only some species grow in all plant hardiness zones. Some prefer milder winters, while others do not mind extended freezing periods.
It’s always best to check the plant’s description before bringing it home. When in doubt, read the care tag that accompanies most garden plants. It will inform you about its hardiness rating and the plant’s care requirements.
7 Warm Season Fern Favorites
1. Bracken Fern
The only continent you won’t see a Bracken Fern is Antarctica. The hardy fern is native to the eastern region of the United States and can grow in all plant hardiness zone. Even Alaskans can enjoy Bracken ferns during their short warm season.
Bracken ferns aren’t picky about growing conditions as long as the area is entire to partially shady.
The perennial has a dense network of roots that burrow deep into the soil. The deep roots help ensure the fern will survive drought and freezing temperatures. It also works to prevent soil erosion. An easy way to use Bracken ferns is to plant them on shady hillsides. Along with preventing erosion, these tall plants can effectively stop weeds from growing.
Reaching around 4ft. tall, Bracken ferns are striking in the garden. The fronds typically appear in the early spring and stay green throughout the growing season.
2. Fiddlehead Fern
Native to North America, Fiddlehead Ferns grow in every hardiness zone as long as the conditions are ideal. These ferns are picky about growing conditions. They need a shady location with moist, acidic soil.
Fiddlehead ferns produce upright, green leaves with curled tips. The unique shape of the fronds gives the Fiddlehead fern its name, which is also why it’s a popular garden plant. The fern looks excellent in mass plantings or blended with other shade-loving plants.
It is a deciduous fern that dies in late fall and reappears in early spring. In warmer climates, the fern may stay throughout part of the winter.
3. Glade Fern
Narrow, bright green fonds make the Glade Fern stand out in shade gardens. The fern can also handle dappled sunlight. Think of the light you get in heavily forested areas.
Glade Ferns grow in most plant hardiness zones and prefer slightly moist soil.
It is a relatively large fern. Mature plants can grow up to 2ft. and 3ft. wide. Its larger size makes it an ideal specimen plant in areas where other plants struggle.
The fronds and leaflets are slender with a slight downward curl. The curl makes the fronds appear to be dancing on windy days. Their feathery appearance adds texture and interest to the garden.
Glade Ferns tend to grow in clusters but are easy to thin out. The ferns also require minimal care. Water when the soil is dry or if you notice the tips of the fronds turning brown.
You may also know Glade Ferns by these other familiar names.
- Narrow-leaf glade fern
- Narrow leaf spleenwort
- Narrow-leaved spleenwort
4. Ostrich Fern
Ostrich Ferns are warm-season favorites. The fern is native to North America and grows in temperate climates. In nature, the perennial grows in swamps and damp forests. The fern will grow in sunlight but prefers damp, shady areas. You must keep the soil consistently moist to keep your Ostrich Fern happy.
Besides its watering requirements, it is a hardy fern resistant to pests and disease.
They make ideal backdrop plants for shorter species like caladiums and astilbe. Ostrich Ferns can grow up to four or five feet tall.
Growing in clusters, Ostrich Ferns are stunning. The fronds have a bright green stem in the center. The fronds form a crown at the top of the plant, and each leaf has a slight curl at the tip, resembling an ostrich bowing its head.
5. Cinnamon Fern
Native to the Eastern United States, Cinnamon Ferns grow in moist areas like bogs and swamps. In gardens, the lush ferns thrive in shady areas. These ferns are a great option in areas where little else grows. They grow in most soil types as long as they have plenty of moisture. However, they do prefer a slightly acidic growing medium. For Cinnamon Ferns to thrive, they require consistently moist soil.
These warm-season ferns grow in all hardiness zones in the continental United States (zones 3 – 9). The ferns are also resistant to most diseases and garden pests.
The fronds begin emerging in the early spring, constantly producing new fronds for several weeks.
In the summer, the fertile fronds grow spikes that gradually change to a rich cinnamon color. Non-fertile fronds remain a stunning, bright green.
6. Japanese Painted Fern
Native to Asia, the Japanese Painted Fern is also well-suited for the United States. The warm-season fern grows in plant hardiness zones 3 through 9.
It is a more miniature fern, often used in container gardens. It also works well in small shade gardens, with or without other plants. The fern’s striking foliage often provides enough garden interest without the need for other shade plants.
The Japanese Painted Fern has unique foliage. The fronds divide into smaller leaflets, giving the fern a lacy appearance. Foliage colors range from silver and green to delicate purple.
It is a deciduous plant, losing its foliage in the late fall or winter. The perennial returns in the early spring; by summer, you can enjoy the gorgeous foliage until the fall.
7. Fern of the Month Plant Box – Get 3 Ferns per Month
Can’t decide on a single fern species or are looking to add to your collection, a Fern of the Month subscription service is the perfect solution.
Depending on the subscription’s frequency, you can receive a box of three ferns monthly.
Smaller ferns make great houseplants that require minimal care. It’s a great way to add greenery indoors. The plants are also great for gift-giving. You can also grow these ferns in the garden or outdoor containers.
Anyone with pets will be happy to learn that ferns are non-toxic, even when a frond or two are eaten.
Add Greenery Indoors and Outside with Ferns
Ferns are perfect for shady locations. Mix them with other plants or let the ferns take center stage. Smaller specimens are ideal for indoor use and are safe for pets. Take a look at our selection of ferns. Or sign up for our Fern of the Month subscription service.