Small Fern Species Small perennial ferns add charm to a landscape primarily through the frilly, intricate patterns created by their fronds. These deeply indented leaf structures make them beautiful as either a focal point in the garden or as a background plant. Their lace-like appearance and shade tolerance make them indispensable as the following examples demonstrate.
New York Ferns
Some ferns like the New York Fern have the amazing quality of being evergreen. It’ll grace the garden with its lacy presence in both summer and winter when most other plants have faded out of sight. Throughout most of the year, this yellow-green fern consists of fronds with a basic oval shape that tapers towards both the top and bottom. With no more than 1 or 2 feet of height and a frond width of 4 inches, it definitely belongs in the small fern category. The individual fronds sprout directly from the rootstock. The New York Fern prefers moist soil that’s a bit on the acidic side. Thriving in full to partial shade, it can also tolerate cold down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
As the name indicates, this fern releases the fragrance of fresh-cut hay when its stalks are cut or crushed. The benefits don’t end there, though, as Hay Scented Ferns also produce spectacular fronds between 1 and 3 feet high that stretch up to a foot wide at the center. Even better, the individual leaflets are smothered with deeply grooved subleaflets that resemble oak leaves. Lower leaflets on the fronds are just a little shorter than the center ones. Once planted in modestly moist and acidic ground, Hay Scented Ferns won’t be alone for long as they produce new plants from rhizomes to create thick colonies. The ferns don’t mind soil that’s a little dry if they’re planted in shade. They also handle cold down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bracken ferns are world travelers. There’s a species of this fern native to North America, Europe, and Asia. The name itself comes from an Old English word for fern, so the whole name translates to fern fern. The fronds of Bracken ferns grow up to 3 feet high and range from light to dark green. They have an elongated, triangular shape. Their leaflets hold smooth, oblong subleaflets. Usually, 3 fronds extend horizontally from a single stalk. Like most other ferns, this one prefers moderate acidity and moisture along with a light amount of nutrients. Among ferns, this is considered the most drought-tolerant around. It also forms colonies very quickly through rhizomes. Heading into Fall, Bracken ferns change from green to yellow. When winter arrives, these ferns endure temperatures as frigid as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.