Hardy Ferns for the Landscape

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • The “Wave” petunias make wonderful hanging baskets for full sun. They come in purple, bright pink, reddish-purple and pale “misty lilac.” They can also be used for a colorful summer ground cover.
    • Cage or stake tomatoes while still small so that you can train them as they grow.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Ladybugs are a big help with aphids in your greenhouse or garden. Release at dusk in problem areas.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.

Hardy Ferns for the Landscape

“Nature made ferns for pure leaves.” So said Thoreau, and indeed, the variety and beauty of ferns is almost endless. Their many shades of green and even bronzy-red leaves make them interesting at any season.

Ferns are relatively easy to grow. They are long-lived and generally pest-free. Some ferns are evergreen the year round, while others turn brown with the frost and come back to life the next spring with a great burst of growth.

Ferns need protection from hot sun and moisture through the dry weather. Most ferns will live in heavy shade where few other plants are successful. Generally speaking, deer avoid ferns, so they are good plants for the forest garden.

Ferns are practically essential for the shade garden. Their graceful, arching fronds add texture to the landscape. Large ferns, like giant chain fern, can be used along fences or walls to break up the flat surfaces. Lower growing ferns can be used in front of sparse shrubs.

Most ferns grow in deep or light shade and are at home in woodland areas. They like moist soil and mulch to keep the soil soft. Use them with hostas, astilbe, foxglove, Bethlehem sage, and impatiens for a lush look.

Some ferns will take more sun than others. Deer fern, sword fern, and chain fern can stand a half day of sun if the soil is moist.

There are many hardy ferns that grow well in this area. Some of the native ferns are the familiar sword fern (Polystichum munitum), the giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), five-finger fern (Adiantum pedatum) and deer tongue fern (Blechnum spicant).

Sword ferns grow from two to four feet tall depending on soil conditions. They are evergreen and make a good foundation planting or naturalize easily under trees. Giant chain ferns are the largest growing ferns in this area, reaching six feet tall. They grow tallest in cool, wet places, and are very attractive against a shaded wall.

Five-finger ferns come up in the spring with delicate fronds on dark, wiry stems. The fronds make a finger-like pattern atop 12 to 18 inch stems. They die back in the winter but are very hardy. Deer tongue ferns grow one to three feet tall with narrow, glossy green fronds. They have a symmetrical, formal appearance.

There are several other ferns that do well here. Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium nip. ‘Pictum’) blends wine-red and silver markings on its graceful fronds. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) has reddish new fronds which turn a deep green as they mature.

Japanese Tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) is a shiny leaf fern that adds an elegant look to shaded gardens. It is particularly beautiful when new fronds emerge stiffly, then droop backwards to form a tassel. It grows to 2 feet tall and wide.

Soft Shield fern (Polystichum setiferum ‘Proliferum’) is a hardy European native that does well here. It has distinctly cut leaflets that give a frilly effect to the fronds for a lush, rich appearance. They grow 2-3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Create lush shady landscapes with a variety of ferns and other perennials.