Betty Montgomery: You can have a variety of ferns in your garden
The Autumn Fern is of a variety of ferns you can plant in your garden.
Ferns are the quintessential shade plant. They come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes. Because of the diversity of ferns, you can have a variety of them in your garden. Ferns can have a delicate texture or a bold coarse-look, they can be feathery or stiff, glossy or a dull tone, evergreen or deciduous. They come in many different shades of green and there are even ones with copper-colored new growth and others with bronze fronds in the fall. Plus, if this is not enough, they are deer resistant.
Ferns prefer soil that is rich in organic matter and is well drained but soil that does not dry out completely. Most ferns grow between two to three feet tall. However, there are royal ferns and ostrich ferns that can grow to six feet tall.
Most ferns do well in part shade or dappled sunlight, but there are some that will do well in a little bit more sun, provided they get enough water. A hot summer day can seem cooler when you have ferns mingled among your other plants or just masses of ferns.
Recently, I had the delightful pleasure of going to a nursery I had heard about for years but had just not taken the time to visit. Plants-a-Plenty, located off of Highway 221 and Highway 74 near Rutherfordton, North Carolina. is worth the trip. Wayne Hutchins not only has a wonderful assortment of ferns but all kinds of shade plants. I went to purchase a Himalayan Maidenhair fern, which I knew he had. After seeing what all he grows for the shade garden, I plan to return soon.
Some of the ferns that are easier to grow are listed below but venture out and try some of the others. Be sure to add organic material to the soil and an old rotten, decaying piece of wood in the bottom of the hole will give the ferns something to hold to.
Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) are a staple in the Southeast. They are adapted to a wide range of conditions, from very dry to moist, and are hardy to Zone 3. The fronds grow one to two feet tall and are dependably evergreen. However, during the winter months the fronds lie flat on the ground. Few hardy ferns have this beautiful deep, glossy green foliage. You can see them growing along the side of the road on steep shady banks in damp places.
Holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatumis) are a popular fern, especially in warmer climates where it is evergreen. Holly ferns are very tolerant plants and withstand heat and drought more than some others. However, they are not adapted to being planted in a sunny spot. They prefer shady conditions. Holly ferns are stiffer and more erect than other ferns and the shiny green fronds add texture to a garden. Where I live at Campobello, they are deciduous but in Spartanburg they are often evergreen.
Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have a dramatic architectural form and can make a striking focal point in any garden. They grow in our woods and along shady stream banks and ditches where the soil is moist and even boggy. They typically grow in clumps but if they are happy they can colonize, making a large area of these striking ferns. The fertile fronds appear first as silvery, furry fiddleheads, very stiff and erect with a covering that is cinnamon colored. These ferns usually reach about three feet but can get as taller over time.
Maidenhair ferns are delicate and dainty and are my favorite. There are many different kinds of maidenhair ferns and I will mention the two that are readily available.
Northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) has five fingers with delicate cut leaf tissue. The appearance is elegant and graceful with a fan-like appearance that is rather unique. I love the light, airy look and the delicate texture of this plant. The way the dainty leaflets are attached to a tall, wiry dark stem makes it stand out from other ferns. The plant is usually about 18” to 24’ tall and it will thrive in moist rich organic soil.
Southern maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris) is more known for its unusual airy foliage and delicate appearance. This fern is very fragile and graceful with the lacy foliage that flutters with the slightest breeze. You often see this maidenhair fern sold as a house-plant. However, these are not as cold hardy and do not survive our winters in zone 7. Specialty nurseries carry a Southern maidenhair fern that is cold hardy and the one you need to find.
Autumn ferns are the rage now and for a good reason. They are easy-to-grow and they make a two-foot wide clump in a short time. The new fronds are a lovely copper color as they emerge and the fall color can be dramatic, depending on which one you buy. There are some new ones available that have brilliant shades in the fall. Brilliance, Koidzumiana, Gold Mist are three of the newer ones but I have only seen photos of them.
This just begins to touch on the many different ferns that are grown in our area. Start by visiting a garden with ferns displayed or a garden center where they specialize in shade plants and you will be amazed by the array of wonderful ferns that will add beauty to any shade garden.
Betty Montgomery, author and master gardener, can be reached at BMontgomery40@gmail.com.