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How to Grow Sensitive Ferns in Your Garden

A complete guide to planting and growing the Sensitive fern. Learn everything about this resilient species dating back to prehistoric times!

Are Ferns Really Prehistoric?

Ferns are some of the oldest plants still alive today. They are so old that they predate the dinosaurs!

While most plants and animals evolve over time or eventually die out, ferns are a reliable constant. Most of the ferns we have today are similar or even the same as the ones growing when dinosaurs walked the earth. Ferns have managed to survive for so long due to their adaptability and reproduction habits. Because they reproduce by spores and rhizomes, ferns have been able to continue growing for millennia. 

What Is the Sensitive Fern’s Background

The Sensitive fern is a deciduous perennial plant that is native to eastern North America. While it tends to spread, it is not invasive in its native habitat.

The scientific name for the Sensitive fern is Onoclea sensibilis. It gets the name 'sensitive' from how sensitive it is to frost and drought. While its fronds are sensitive to frost, it is still a perennial, meaning that it returns yearly. The Sensitive fern can be easily identified by its triangular fronds and large leaflets. It is also referred to as a “bead” fern because its sori resemble beads.

Where Does the Sensitive Fern Grow?

The Sensitive fern has been found naturally along streams, riverbanks, marshes, open fields, and near wetlands. It grows best in moist, well-draining soils and prefers slightly acidic soil

The Sensitive fern will thrive under the right conditions. It requires dapple shade and consistently moist soil. It will suffer if it is exposed to the sun for too long or if the soil dries out.

Because the Sensitive fern is deciduous, it loses its vegetation in the winter when the frost comes. Then in the late summer or fall, it grows its fiddleheads that turn into fronds. 

The Sensitive fern can reproduce in two ways: by spores or rhizomes.

Unless it is sterile, a Sensitive fern will have tiny bead-like pouches on its leaves called sori. The sori release spores into the air and once they land on a suitable surface, they germinate and grow into gametophytes.

The ferns also reproduce by rhizome. A rhizome is a modified stem that grows horizontally underground, and from this stem, young fiddleheads can grow. A single rhizome stem can grow several feet long.

USDA Growing Zones for Sensitive Ferns

Knowing your grow zone will help when selecting a fern to purchase. Fortunately, ferns grow in almost every USDA zone. However, if you live in a warmer climate, we recommend that you plant your ferns in ample shade and ensure the ferns are watered regularly. 

Sensitive ferns have a wide growing range. Their USDA grow zones are from zone 3 to 9. This means that they will grow in nearly any zone, provided they have moist soil and enough shade.

Some Ferns Can Be Toxic

Humans and pets should not eat ferns or fern parts. Some ferns have carcinogenic compounds and can lead to some health issues if consumed. Additionally, ferns should not be planted near pastures or farmland. The good news is, that as a result of their inedibility, all ferns are completely deer and rabbit-resistant.

How To Grow a Sensitive Fern

Despite their delicate-sounding name, Sensitive ferns are sturdy plants. They are low maintenance once planted and are easy to take care of.

Here is a short, step-by-step guide on how to successfully grow the Sensitive fern:

  1. Identify the right planting location for your Sensitive fern. These ferns grow best in shaded gardens and woodland gardens where they can spread
  2. Check your soil and make sure it’s free-draining.
  3. Buy your Sensitive ferns.
  4. Avoid planting in summer. If you do, then plant them when it cools out, like in the early evening.
  5. Plant the Sensitive ferns avoiding covering the crown with soil.
  6. Water thoroughly after planting and make sure the soil is well draining.

    If you are having difficulty growing your Sensitive ferns, try testing your soil. Inexpensive soil tests are available at most garden centers.

    If your Sensitive fern wilts, it may need to be relocated to a shadier area in your garden. It may also need to be watered more often.

    Where Can You Buy Sensitive Ferns

    Tennessee Nursery has a wide range of ferns available to buy online, including the Sensitive fern. We have affordable prices for all our plants and trees so you can create a luxurious garden at a fair price!

    Here are several other ferns we offer through our online store

    Sensitive Fern

    The Sensitive fern grows in dapple shade and moist soil. It has large, jagged leaflets that originate from its large fronds. The sensitive fern can add a lush look to any shaded outdoor space.

    Zones: 3 to 9
    Sun exposure: Part shade to full shade
    Mature height: up to 4 feet
    Water: Average to moist
    Best for woodlands and containers

    Cinnamon Fern

    The Cinnamon fern has large triangular fronds that wave in the breeze. It can grow fairly tall for a terrestrial fern and looks great in woodland gardens. Plus it's low maintenance and easy to keep healthy.

    Zones: 3 to 9
    Sun exposure:
    Part sun to part shade
    Mature height: from 3 to 5 feet
    Water: Average
    Best for woodlands and containers

    Royal Fern

    The Royal fern has an upright growth habit and grows in clumps. Its unique appearance makes it an ideal choice for any woodland or shaded garden. Its fronds bear oblong deciduous leaves.

    Zones: 3 to 9
    Sun exposure: Full shade
    Mature height: up to 3 feet
    Water: Average
    Best for woodlands and containers

    Ostrich Fern

    The Ostrich fern is one of the most exotic-looking ferns available. Its long tapered fronds have an upright growth habit that brings a sense of serenity to an outdoor space. Its distinct look makes it one of our more popular products.

    Zones: 3 to 7
    Sun exposure: Full shade
    Mature height: up to 4 feet
    Water: Average
    Best for woodlands and containers

    Bracken Fern

    The Bracken fern is an exceptional woodland ground cover due to its spreading habit. It is one of the easiest ferns to grow and requires little maintenance if any. It can tolerate some sun and thrives in a range of soil conditions.

    Zones: 3 to 9
    Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Mature height: average of 3 feet but can grow up to 7 feet
    Water: Average to dry
    Best for woodlands and containers

    Fern Variety Pack (10 Ferns)

    The variety pack is an ideal choice for the gardener who wants a little bit of everything. Whether you need to cover a large space or can't choose just one fern, this option is for you. You will receive ferns that vary in size, texture, and leaf shape. Why choose just one fern when you can have 10?

    Shop Our Fern Selection

    Visit our online shop for a wide selection of plants and trees, or come say hi at our store location in Tennessee! We offer fast shipping nationwide so you can start transforming your garden today!

    If you have any questions about ferns or if you have any other plant needs, don’t hesitate to contact us at customerservice@tennesseewholesalenursery.com.

    Sensitive Fern - TN Nursery

    Sensitive Fern

    The sensitive fern is a hardy, deciduous plant with finely dissected fronds that curl up when touched or exposed to frost, making it a unique and interesting addition to damp woodland gardens. A sensitive fern is a beloved plant that gets its name due to its sensitive nature, preferring certain environments that are mostly warm and humid. But despite its name, it's one that you shouldn't overlook if you live in a region that it can grow in. Let's take a look at why this perennial plant is a must-have for your landscape. Sensitive Fern Produces a Stunning Spectacle When Planted in Greater Numbers This plant looks good on its own, but it produces a lush, green, thick spectacle that easily adds something more to any space when you plant multiple of these perennials together. The lobed leaves blend together and reach up and out at a maximum height of about two feet. If you want to add some volume and life to spaces that need it most, consider adding several of these plants to your landscape. They may even spread naturally with time. Sensitive Fern Acts As a Home for Wildlife These plants grow in areas where wildlife flourishes, which means that they play an important role in the ecosystem. Speaking of its more practical uses, small animals like frogs and salamanders will use the leaves of this plant to take cover and escape from the heat. If you're looking for plants that are friends with and attractors of wildlife, this one will be an excellent fit for your space. Wildlife Feed on Sensitive Fern, But Won't Eradicate Your Plants This plant also serves as source for animals and insects, but you won't have to worry about the wildlife population in your area decimating your plants before you're able to enjoy them. This plant is both deer and rabbit-resistant, with larger animals only taking a few of the leaves or avoiding them entirely. This ensures that your plants still contribute positively to the environment but aren't at risk of being wiped out by animals. Sensitive Fern Can Serve As Greenery in More Bare Areas Where more common plants are unable to grow, groundcover like this plant is the perfect solution. Adding height and color to more moist and humid areas of your property, these perennials take root and help your property look less bare, supporting the areas in your yard that need it most.

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    Cinnamon Fern - TN Nursery

    Cinnamon Fern

    The Cinnamon Fern is a large type of deciduous plant characterized by its distinctive, cinnamon-colored fertile fronds standing upright in the plant's center. It is a captivating and versatile plant with numerous landscaping benefits. This plant, native to eastern North America, has become famous for gardeners and landscapers due to its aesthetic appeal, adaptability, and environmental contributions. Cinnamon Fern grows to a height of some 6 feet and spreads out about 4 feet on its black stalks. The unfurled pinnae are Kelly green on top, while the fronds in the center of the plant, which give it its name, are dark brown and resemble sticks of cinnamon because they grow straight up. Cinnamon Fern In The Springtime Early in the spring, the central fronds that turn brown later start out life as silver-colored fiddleheads. They're covered in fur, too, charmingly "shaking off the cold of winter." The broad fronds on the stalks form a cute rosette around the central stalks. The silver fiddleheads match well with Fescue or Brunner. Those fiddleheads appear early in the year when the top of the fern is clumped together in a cute bundle. As the Cinnamon Fern Opens When the fiddleheads are ready to open, the silver hair on them turns brown and clings to the base of the pinnae as they expand to their full glory. The large, broad pinnae on 3-foot fronds is the sterile variety. In the center of the plant, the cinnamon-colored fronds with much smaller pinnae are the fertile fronds. The plant's attractiveness comes from the contrast between the two frond types. Secondarily, the contrast between the expanded fronds and any nearby silver flowers, which they used to match, is equally striking in effect. When it comes to the sterile fronds, they can hold almost two dozen pinnae that taper gently in size from large to small, creating a shape that almost resembles a palm frond made up of pinnae. The Sporangia Of The Cinnamon Fern This plant doesn't have sori. Instead, it has sporangia that surround the stalk of the fertile frond. These turn brown as they open and give the plant its name. Up close, they're made up of tiny dots that wrap around the stalk in fine, beautiful shapes. From the time the plants peek through until the fiddleheads unfurl, it is about a week during the spring. During this time, you can see the shape of the pinnae and fronds develop and become full members of the garden for that year. Cinnamon Fern The Focal Point These ferns make an attractive, striking, and attention-grabbing entry in any garden, and because they're perennial, they'll be back every year to be a lovely garden anchor.

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    Royal Fern - TN Nursery

    Royal Fern

    The Royal Fern is a Large, striking fern with feathery fronds and a distinctive crown of fertile fronds, typically found in wetland habitats and appreciated for their ornamental appeal in gardens. The royal fern is distinctive from other plants in the class because of its notable size. Specifically, this is one of the largest that grows outside of tropical zones in the United States. Also known as the osmunda regalis, the plant thrives in areas of the yard that are moist, including both shady and partially shady spots. Why should you include it in your landscaping plans? The Eye-Catching Aesthetics Of Royal Fern The plant is appropriately named because it can grow up to six feet tall, and its size at maturity often makes it a strong focal point in yards. The fronds can be as wide as 16 inches, and they feature up to nine pairs of pinna that each have up to 13 pinnules. These qualities, combined with the healthy green color and the point shape of the fronts, add a rich texture to your yard that elevates aesthetics. The Wildlife Attraction and Tolerance Of Royal Fern While some wildlife is welcome in your yard, other wildlife can cause considerable damage and should be deterred. The potential damage from foragers like deer and rabbits is deterred as these animals do not use this plant for food. However, turtles, birds, and frogs, which generally do not cause damage, often seek shelter in their bushy leaves. Royal Fern Is A Natural Pest Deterrent While hungry insects often feed on various types of plants, it is well-known for repelling them. Specifically, the recognizable leaves have special proteins that repel many types of insects. Any insects that do find their way to these plants often become food for the birds and other animals that live under the fronds for protection from the elements and their natural predators. The Contained Growth Of Royal Fern There is little concern about these lush plants outgrowing their allocated space when they are planted three feet apart, as recommended. This is because the plants grow only a few inches each year and do not need to be cut back to prevent overgrowth. As a result, it takes many years for the plant to reach its full size, and minimal care of this low-maintenance plant is required over the years.

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    Ostrich Fern - TN Nursery

    Ostrich Fern

    The Ostrich Fern is a large, deciduous fern with graceful, feathery fronds that resemble ostrich plumes, commonly found in moist woodland areas and prized for its ornamental value. It is a magnificent and beneficial plant with several advantages in landscaping projects. The Tall and Lovely Ostrich Fern It's an attractive dimorphic plant that gardeners use all year round to beautify their patches. In its nonfertile state, the plant grows to a height of 6 feet, the gorgeous fronds resembling plumes, hence the plant's name. In its fertile state, which occurs in the fall and early winter, it is much smaller. The shape is interesting, however, so it still provides pleasing shapes in a garden, even if that shape does change. The Different Phases of the Ostrich Fern When nonfertile, it is a rich, almost Kelly green, the arching fronds swooshing enticingly in the breeze. They offer quite a contrast with other blooming plants and serve as color anchors in a garden of flowers. They're hardy, too, so you can plant them nearly anywhere to beautify a particular place. Although they aren't green and sweeping in the winter, they're still attractive as they survive the cold and snow while the perennials are snoozing until the spring. Ostrich Fern: An Environmental Friend First, its extensive root system is a great soil stabilizer, and the other plants in the garden will benefit thereby because its roots prevent erosion and nutrient loss in the soil. Second, they are a boon to various garden-dwelling wildlife. Several species of butterflies and beneficial insects rely on plants like it for shelter and as a place for egg laying and pupae maturation. Perhaps best of all, although fiddleheads are a delicacy for people when cooked, animals don't like their taste. So, you won't have to worry about rabbits, deer, and other woodland creatures venturing into the garden for a snack. The Serenity of the Ostrich Fern Practitioners of feng shui rely on it to bring harmony to both a dwelling and the garden adjacent to it. The way it morphs back into a verdant, thriving plant after being so much smaller throughout the winter indicates a symbolism of new beginnings, too.

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    Bracken Fern - TN Nursery

    Bracken Fern

    Bracken Fern, or Pteridium aquilinum, is a captivating and ubiquitous fern species that thrives in a wide range of habitats across the globe. This perennial plant, which belongs to the Dennstaedtiaceae family, is a prime example of nature's adaptability and resilience.; Enhance the Look of Your Home With Bracken Fern Brown stems covered with silvery gray hair are characteristic of them. Their typical flowering time is in early spring. Their compound leaves are two or three times as numerous as their triangular leaves. These leaves can be anywhere from two to four feet long and up to three feet in width. An intricate whorl of three leaves forms at the very base of the stem. Starting in the middle to the end of June and continuing into late summer, spores begin to grow on the underside of the leaves. After the first heavy frost in the spring, the fronds will begin to grow again. By the end of summer, the fronds begin to change color, going from brown to a beautiful copper or gold that complements any vivid fall foliage. Add Natural Habitats for Animals With Bracken Fern The thick canopies they create keep the soil wet, which in turn creates a humid microclimate that's home to many different kinds of plants and animals. They are also an important part of the habitat's biodiversity since they provide a food source for some animals, like rabbits. They are perfect for building nests because they have plenty of fibrous fronds, which many birds and small animals use for this purpose. Create Beautiful Edges and Borders With Bracken Fern They provide a gentle and realistic border that goes well with garden settings. They are great for adding winter beauty to garden borders because of their evergreen leaves. For garden borders in regions prone to deer, they are a good option since they are usually resistant to deer grazing. Make Your Soil Healthier With Bracken Fern By decomposing leaf litter, bracken ferns improve soil structure, increase microbial activity, and supply organic matter to the soil. This makes the soil healthier. The fibrous roots of these plants improve drainage and lessen soil compaction by aerating the soil. They also help with nutrient cycling by absorbing and releasing nutrients, which stabilizes soil and prevents erosion.

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    15 Ferns - TN Nursery

    15 Ferns

    They have long been cherished for their lush green foliage and graceful fronds, and this carefully curated assortment showcases the diversity and charm of these beloved plants. This collection will captivate your senses and bring a refreshing atmosphere to your home or garden. PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE A COLLECTION OF FERNS, NOT SPECIFIC. WE CHOOSE TYPES THAT WORK BEST FOR YOUR ZONE ACCORDING TO YOUR ZIP CODE What Might We Include in The Fern Variety Set? T.N. Nursery grows healthy plants and several popular species. We produce the following species at our nursery in central Tennessee: ● Royal Type ● Cinnamon Type ● Fiddlehead Type ● Ostrich Type ● Sensitive Type ● Leatherwood Type ● Maidenhair Type ● Giant ostrich Type ● Bracken Type ● New York Type ● Christmas Type ● Glade Type ● Hay-scented Type None of these species suits every growing zone. But you don't need to worry about that--leave your selection of them to our knowledgeable staff. Our experts are here to help! 15 Ferns With their distinctive traits, they are easy to spot in a garden. These plants are often associated with tropical and subtropical environments, which creates a special ambiance in the areas where they are planted. With 15 varieties available, you could easily discover an option that will thrive and add character to your yard or garden. Beautiful Fronds Of The 15 Ferns One of the most distinguishing qualities of the fern plant is the fronds. While there are variations between the different varieties, the fronds are typically long and taper into a point. As they taper in size, they are evenly spaced. On each front, you will find numerous pinna, which are comprised of smaller pinnules of some varieties. The combination of pina and pinnules creates a detailed look that adds personality and texture to the areas where they are planted. 15 Ferns Deciduous or Evergreen Among the different varieties available, you can find both evergreen and deciduous options. The evergreen varieties provide you with year-round greenery to keep the garden or yard looking vibrant and healthy year-round. The deciduous varieties fade in the fall, and they make a beautiful comeback in early spring. Often, these plants are used as a focal point in a garden because of their fascinating features and coloring, which may be enjoyed much or all of the year. Fast Growth Of The 15 Ferns While some plants grow quickly and are challenging to contain in a confined garden space, these plants grow relatively slowly. In fact, some types only grow a few inches each year and take numerous years to reach maturity. The height and width of the types vary, which makes it easy for you to find one or several options that are well-suited for your available space. Numerous Varieties Of The 15 Ferns With 15 ferns available, you can find lovely differences in frond styles, shades of green, growth rate, and maturity size among the beautiful options. As a result of the many options available, you can explore the characteristics and compare the aesthetics of the possibilities to find one or several varieties that are suitable for your specific expectations.

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