Ferns are a large group of plants that are valued for their foliage. They were one of the first plants to adapt to life of land and one of the few plants that have not been extensively hybridized. Ferns provide unique forms and textures that are unlike most other plants. They add long-season interest and are rarely troubled by pests or diseases. This diverse group of plants is prized for shade gardens.
Ferns prefer a rich, moist, well-drained soil that has high organic matter content. Because ferns like a rich soil, it is important to amend soil with compost, manure or peat moss. This also helps to increase the soils moisture holding capacity. It is advisable to mulch ferns annually with a 2-3" layer of compost or leaf litter. This helps to improve soil, keep roots cool and helps retain needed moisture.
Ferns require a partial to full shade location. They do not perform well in sites that receive hot afternoon sun. As a general rule the sunnier the location the more water the plants will need to maintain a healthy appearance and vigour.
During the first two seasons after planting make sure ferns are well watered. It takes a couple of seasons for ferns to settle in and establish, so supplemental watering is advisable, especially during periods of drought.
Ferns are shallow rooted, so be very careful when digging around them. Make sure that the crown of the plant is flush with the soil level - planting with the crown too high makes it vulnerable to freezing and drought which can lead to a decline in the plant’s health.
Ferns can be divided in the spring, as new growth starts to emerge. If you notice the center of the clump of ferns is dead, it may be a good idea to divide the clump to rejuvenate the plant. Do not divide a plant that has only one main crown and no smaller plants (offsets) surrounding it. Wait a few years until offsets develop.
Types and Descriptions
Maiden Hair Fern
Delicate fan-shaped, arching fronds with black stems
Glossy green strap-shaped fronds
Bright green feathery fronds form a dense mound
Crested Lady Fern
Athyrium filix-femina Vernoniae Cristatum
Bright green, crisped, tasseled fronds, forked tips, forms a dense mound
Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum Pictum
Arching grey-green fronds brushed with silver, dark burgundy stems, clump-forming
Burgundy Lace Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum pictum Burgundy Lace
New fronds flushed with wine-burgundy with silver stripes along the veins and tips, clump forming
Eared Lady Fern
Arching triangular fronds, pale green with maroon stems changing to grey-green
Arching, finely divided, dark green leaves, clump-forming
Golden-scaled Male Fern
Dryopteris affinis The King (Cristata)
Arching dark green fronds are crested at the tips, vase-shaped clumps
Toothed Wood Fern (Narrow Buckler Fern)
Upright, bright green fronds, clump-forming
Upright, triangular fronds deeply cut with ruffled tips
Slender Male Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas Polydactyla
Upright, deeply cut, dark green triangular fronds
Robust Male Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas Undulata Robusta
Upright, dark green fronds become arching with age, dense clump-forming
Branching, bright-green, triangular, tissue-thin fronds
Ostrich Fern (Fiddlehead Fern, Native Fern)
Large, bright-green feathery fronds, vase-shaped, spreading habit
Deeply lobed, light green, arching fronds, spreading habit
Arching mound of large triangular green fronds, clump-forming
Arching, leathery, divided, bright-green fronds, clump-forming
Leathery, dark green fronds, tidy, clump-forming
Braun’s Holly Fern
Thick, leathery, dark green fronds, dense, upright arching clumps
Japanese Beech Fern
Upright, narrow, dark green fronds, forms a neat tidy mound