How to plant fern

Whether you’re into gardening or simply hunting for pretty home decors, you can make lovely houseplants of easy-to-grow ferns by learning about the different types of fern plants that can be found all over the world.

Ferns are vascular plants from the Pteridophyta division and have about 10,560 different species. They vary in sizes from 2 to 3 milometers tall to 10 to 25 meters in height. Depending on the type of species, ferns can live up to 100 years. Although they’re found all over the globe, they’re usually found in four particular habitats such as moist, shady forests, crevices in rock faces that face away from the sun, acid wetlands, and tropical trees.

Ferns are among the oldest types of plants in the world. Fossil records trace back all the way to 360 million years ago during the late Devonian period. There are also fern species that only appeared roughly 145 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period.

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While ferns generally grow in tropical climates, with a little care and work you can easily grow one of these amazing plants in your home, which is a great way to add beauty and life to your space. It’s important to understand how to take care of a fern inside your home so that it will last for as long as possible and will be healthy, which is a problem that many people have when they decide to grow an indoor fern. These plants are actually very low maintenance, as long as you provide them with the right kind of care and provide them with the right environment.

It’s important to remember that ferns will not do well when they are exposed to very low temperatures for a long period of time. You want to make sure that you keep your fern in an area of your home that is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Additionally, since ferns like to have a little extra moisture when compared to other houseplants, keep them in a plastic pot instead of moving them to a clay pot, as this will help them to retain moisture.

Do not place your fern in direct sunlight, as that can burn the plant, rather, keep them in indirect light so that they will still have enough energy to grow without being damaged. By pruning back damaged fronds, getting rid of pests right away, and fertilizing your fern during its active growing season, you can make sure that your fern has everything it needs to survive and thrive indoors.


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Ferns are a great way to add another layer to your garden and to soften up rough edges, but only if you are careful when taking care of the plant and provide it with the best possible conditions. While ferns may grow wild around your home in the woods, transplanting one to your garden or picking up a new fern from the store to line your path can result in it dying. Understanding how to care for ferns that you are growing outdoors will better your chances of these plants adding beauty and life to your yard.

Even though ferns are incredibly forgiving and will generally be able to survive without a lot of care after they are established, they do take a little bit more work at first to ensure that they are going to grow as well as possible. Your first step is to choose the right fern for your space. Some are better at withstanding droughts than others, while there are some ferns that do a great job living in rocky or acidic soil without dying.

When you choose the right fern for your growing conditions, you will have a head start on your plant is able to survive for as long as possible. Make sure that you mulch the fern regularly and water it during dry periods, especially if the fronds begin to droop or start to look a little dry. Additionally, in the spring, you will want to take time to divide ferns that have gotten too big, as this will prevent them from accidentally taking over your garden.



There’s no reason why your winter garden should look dead and brown when the growing season for most of your plants has ended. By planting an evergreen fern in your space, you will still be able to enjoy something green throughout the winter. These ferns will not die back to the ground or die completely, which means that you will be able to enjoy the way that they look throughout the winter. When you look for an evergreen fern that will be able to withstand droughts and snow without dying, it’s important that you choose one that can easily live in your area.


Unlike evergreen ferns, deciduous ferns are going to lose their green every single year. The plant will store chlorophyll, which will ensure that in the spring it will be able to produce fresh new growth. The dormant period that these plants experience in the winter allows them to store up enough energy to be able to survive the active growing period. While deciduous ferns won’t stay green and provide that lovely contrast in your garden all winter long, they are still a great option for anyone looking for a gorgeous plant to use in their space.


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These ferns will not only lose their green and die back in the late fall and winter, but they also will die completely down to the ground. They do not have any permanent woody structure that provides the shape of the fern throughout the winter. One problem that some people have when they plant herbaceous ferns in their garden is remembering where they are, as they will die back completely to the roots. It’s important that you mark where your fern is so that in the spring when it is time to start planting in your garden you will not accidentally dig it up or plant a new plant on top of it.


These ferns fall somewhere between deciduous and evergreen ferns in terms of how they grow. Some semi-evergreen ferns will shed their foliage, but only for a very short time and they don’t experience the long dormant period that deciduous ferns do. Another reason why ferns may be labeled as semi-evergreen is that they lost the majority of their foliage, but not all of it, for part of the year. Finally, ferns may have this label because they will lose some of their foliage due to certain weather conditions, such as a cold snap, aren’t evergreen in very cold environments, or they will lose their foliage due to certain insects.

Boston Fern

This is one of the most popular ferns to be used as a houseplant and is commonly seen on front porches in the late spring through the early fall. While it’s not hard to take care of these plants, they do require specific care or the fronds will start dying back and the plant will not look healthy. It’s important that your Boston fern is in a cool location in your home and has plenty of indirect light and humidity for it to be able to thrive.

During the winter, you will want to make sure that you take steps to keep your fern as humid as possible, or it simply won’t be able to survive the dry air of your home. Lightly misting the fern a few times a week or setting it on a tray of pebbles with water will help to provide the moisture and humidity that this plant needs to thrive. It looks great in a hanging basket due to the long fronds that will reach down.

Staghorn Fern

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This is a very distinct looking fern, and while it can be grown for some time in a pot as a houseplant, due to how quickly the fern grows, you will soon need to consider how you are going to transplant it. Many people opt to mount their staghorn fern on a board and keep it secured there. By hanging the plant on the wall in this way, you won’t have to worry about it outgrowing its pot or how you are going to provide the care that it needs.

These ferns will rot quickly when watered excessively, which is why mounting them is such a great idea. When mounted, you can plunge the entire board and plant into the water to allow it to get damp and then allow the plant to dry out completely before being watered again. Being mounted on a board also makes it very easy to spray the plant with water and provide it the high humidity it needs to survive.

Holly Fern

Holly ferns can be grown indoors, but because they do so well in dark areas of your garden, they are often used outside in landscaping and gardens. Because the plant doesn’t need as much sunlight as other ferns, you can easily grow it inside without worrying about stunting its growth or causing it any damage. These ferns can reach two feet tall and will spread about three feet wide.

They make a great plant to add interest to the back of your garden or they can be grown in the shade of your porch without any problems. If you live in an area with mild winters, then you may be able to leave this fern outside in the cold, but if your temperatures drop too low, then you need to bring it indoors so that it can survive.

Maidenhair Fern

These ferns have very attractive feathery-like fronds that are soft and will add charm to your landscape or your home. They will thrive in wooden and moist areas of your garden, making them an ideal fern to plant if you want to improve the appearance of your shade garden. Not only can they be grown on their own or in a container for extra impact, but they also make the great ground cover when you plant a number of maidenhair ferns close to each other in the same location.

When growing a maidenhair fern as a houseplant, it is important to remember that they do not like being repotted and prefer to be in smaller containers. Make sure that you do not place your maidenhair fern near vents in your home, as they can cause the plant to dry out and suffer.

Cinnamon Fern

These taller ferns can easily reach higher than four feet in height and have two distinct types of fronds, making it fairly easy to tell this fern apart from others in your garden. The large, green fronds around the outside of the plant are sterile, while the cinnamon-colored fronds that grow from the middle of the plant are fertile and plume-like. Together, the two fronds will give the plant a multidimensional feel that will set it apart from other ferns that you may have growing in your garden.

Make sure that you plant your new cinnamon ferns after your last expected frost so that the cold doesn’t kill them. They can be planted close together in the garden to form a backdrop for other flowers or they will help to improve the appearance of swampy areas in your yard when planted a few feet apart from each other for the most possible impact.

Bird’s Nest Fern

This fern may not, at first glance, even look like a fern, since the fronds are not airy and feathery, but rather thicker and look much more like elongated leaves than fronds. The center of this fern looks like a bird’s nest, which is where the plant got its name. The fronds have a crinkled or wrinkly appearance and may resemble seaweed. In the wild, bird’s nest ferns are epiphytic and will grow attached to other things, such as a building or a tree.

Because of this, while you can grow this type of fern in a pot, they love to be mounted, much the same way that a staghorn fern does. If you grow your bird’s nest fern in more light, then it will have crinkled fronds, while ones that don’t get as much light will have fronds that are flattened. Of course, as with any fern, an overabundance of light will cause your fern to yellow and can eventually kill the entire plant.

Australian Tree Fern

While this type of fern can technically be grown as a houseplant, in the wild they can grow up to 40 feet tall. They have large fronds that can be anywhere from four feet to twenty feet long, depending on whether or not the plant is located outside. The fern will not change colors in the fall, and there aren’t any fruit or flowers on this type of fern.

If you do decide to plant this fern in your garden, then you need to make sure that you provide it with weekly watering, especially during dry weather, which can quickly kill your new fern. Because the fern can survive in shade to full sun conditions, it is a great choice if you are looking for a standout fern. This plant doesn’t like fast changes in its growing conditions, including the temperature, sunlight, or humidity.

Asparagus Fern

Normally displayed in a hanging basket on the porch in the summer and brought inside to improve the appearance and air quality of a home during the winter, the asparagus fern will provide the best foliage growth when it is placed in a shady spot. While rare, sometimes the fern will flower and produce very small white flowers that are attractive.

The asparagus fern may appear very fuzzy and soft, but it actually has small thorny spurs on the fronds, making it a good idea to always wear gloves when you are tending to your fern so that you do not injure yourself. When the asparagus fern is happy and healthy, it will produce small red berries that can be planted to easily propagate the plant. As a houseplant, the asparagus fern can be tricky to take care of and will need daily misting to prevent the fern from turning brown and dying.

Ostrich Fern

If you have an area in your garden where you have problems growing plants due to the amount of shade, then it’s time to try an ostrich fern. These ferns are a great way to create a stunning backdrop for other plants in your garden and grow up to six feet tall when well established and cared for. Because this plant grows in large clumps and produces very tall and arching fronds, it is reminiscent of an ostrich’s tail features, from which it gets its name.

There will be smaller fronds that will grow in your fern, which are the fertile fronds. They will remain standing even after the taller fronds have all died back for the winter. While this plant can be grown inside, it is difficult to provide it with the humidity that it needs to thrive, but homeowners love that they can harvest fiddleheads from the fern for their meals as a special treat.

Japanese Painted Fern

These colorful ferns are a far cry from the typical green that most people think of when they picture a fern, which is one reason why so many people want to have them in their yards. The fronds are silvery and have a bit of blue on them along with red stems. There are a few different cultivars of this type of fern, and they will all vary in appearance, although they have similar growing needs.

Japanese painted ferns love getting morning sun and need a very rich soil to grow well. If you try to plant your fern in less than ideal soil, then you will need to make sure that you fertilize it regularly to keep the plant growing the best that it can. It’s a good idea to amend the soil with compost before even attempting to plant a Japanese painted fern so that the plant will have the best chance of thriving.

Royal Fern

Royal ferns are very large and have interesting leaves on the fronds. They are resistant to deer and rabbits, which makes them great to plant in your garden if you have problems with animals eating your plants. Make sure that there is enough room for the plant to reach its full size, which can be up to six feet tall with a three-foot spread.

If the plant is cramped, then it will not be as healthy as possible, nor will it be able to grow to its full potential. Make sure that you take time in the fall to prune back any fronds that are browning and keep the soil moist, especially during the dry season or in the summer when the fern may be susceptible to hot temperatures and dry ground.

Blue Star Fern

This is an easy houseplant to grow because it handles low light incredibly well and is very difficult to overwater. The dusky green of the leaves combined with their interesting design makes this plant one to consider. The fronds are not at all delicate and the leaves are wide enough to hold their shape. Because this fern doesn’t get much higher than one foot tall or wide, you never have to worry about it taking over your home. Make sure that you use potting soil that will drain quickly so that the roots of the plant aren’t constantly damp.

Cretan Brake Fern

This type of fern is a very popular houseplant and is enjoyed so much partially because of the interesting shape of the leaves and the way that the fronds hang and move. They are clump-forming ferns that have wiry threadlike stalks growing from rhizomes in the soil. Because of this, they do look a little similar to palm trees to me, even though there isn’t a main stem on the plant.

While they do require high humidity like all other ferns grown indoors, they are significantly easier to take care of than some other fern options. Regular pruning is important to keep the plant looking healthy and to ensure that there is enough new growth each year. By cutting the fronds close to the bottom when needed, it’s easy to control these ferns.

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Learn About Ferns

Fern Common Disease Problems

Leaf Spots: These may be caused by a fungus or bacterial disease. They usually cause small to large spots to form on the fronds possibly surrounded by a halo of lighter colored tissue. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plant parts. Avoid overhead watering. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Leaf Tip Burn: This is a condition when the tips of the frond and leaflets brown and die. Burpee Recommends: This is usually caused by overfertilization or overly dry conditions.

Rhizoctonia Blight: This causes brow, irregularly shaped spots on the foliage close to the crown or on the top. Spots spread and webbing forms from frond to frond. Burpee Recommends: Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Root Knot Nematodes: Microscopic worm-like pests that cause swellings (galls) to form on roots. Plants may wilt or appear stunted. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant into infested soil.

Root Rots: A number of pathogens cause root rots of seedlings as well as mature roots. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation and do not plant related crops in the same area for several years. Pull up and discard infected plants. Make sure your soil has excellent drainage. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Fern Common Pests and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are 1/8 to ¼ inch long flat wingless insects that secrete a white powder that forms a waxy shell that protects them. They form cottony looking masses on stems, branches and leaves. They suck the juices from leaves and stems and cause weak growth. They also attract ants with the honeydew they excrete, and the honeydew can grow a black sooty mold on it as well. Burpee Recommends: Wash affected plant parts and try to rub the bugs off. They may also be controlled by predator insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

Scale: Small bugs look like brown, black, gray to white bumps on the stems of plants. Scale may not have any apparent legs and may not move. Scales have a sucking mouth part. Scale may produce honeydew so leaves and stems may be sticky. Scale can weaken the plant causing it to grow very slowly and may wilt at the middle of the day. Burpee Recommends: Completely spray the stems with Insecticidal soap. For a severe infestation contact your local County Extension Service for recommendation for your area.

Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Caring for Your Garden

Follow these simple maintenance and monitoring tips for a healthy harvest all season long!

  • Fertilizing
  • Watering
  • Weeding
  • Succession Planting
  • Storing Garden Produce
  • Fall Tasks
  • Extend the Growing Season


There are not enough nutrients in your garden soil to grow strong, productive plants for the entire growing season. Your need for fertilizers will decrease in time if you add some organic matter each year. Fertilizers, whether organic or synthetic, will supply nutrients to plants when they need them.


  • Fertilize as necessary based on soil test recommendations for your garden and the needs of your different crops.
  • Plants will tell you if nutrients are lacking by stunted growth, pale leaves, and low yields.
  • Follow label directions. Both chemical and organic fertilizers can be over-applied and burn plants or stimulate leaf growth at the expense of fruit (tomato, squash, pepper, etc.).
  • Apply ½ of the fertilizer recommended at planting time and the rest later in the growing season (you’ll find specific recommendations on the vegetable crops page). For example, tomato yields can be increased if plants are fertilized when little green fruits first appear.
  • Apply a thin layer of compost to an area before planting seeds or transplants.


Video – Drip Irrigation

Vegetable plants and fruits are 75% to 95% water. Succulence, eating quality, plant growth, and productivity are all improved when sufficient soil moisture is available:

  • In general, water is most needed during the first few weeks of plant development, immediately after transplanting, and during development of edible plant parts.
  • Avoid shallow, frequent watering (except for fast-growing salad greens). It encourages shallow rooting which makes plants more susceptible to drought damage.
  • When hand-watering, wet the soil around the plant base. Overhead watering may encourage plant diseases but can also help cool plants and provide moisture for beneficial insects and spiders during hot, dry weather. Allow foliage to dry thoroughly.
  • Soaker hoses and drip systems (drip irrigation) are highly recommended. They minimize water use and deliver water slowly and directly to the root system;
  • Water in the morning when possible. Disease problems are more likely to get started overnight on cool, wet leaf surfaces;
  • Adding organic matter increases a soil’s water-holding capacity. Mulches will help conserve soil moisture.

Soaker hose in garden

Drip irrigation


Weeds are plants that grow well in disturbed environments. For most gardeners, they are simply “plants out of place.” They compete with garden plants for water and nutrients and may harbor insect and disease pests. Controlling weed growth is a key to success in the vegetable garden. Start early, as soon as weeds appear. Whenever bare soil is exposed, weeds are likely to germinate and fill that space.

  • Spread organic mulches around your crops to prevent weed growth, moderate soil temperature, conserve soil moisture, and add organic matter to the soil when they rot.
    • (Examples: 2 to 4 inches of grass clippings, finished compost, or newspaper covered with straw or shredded leaves.)
  • Hand-pull the vigorous weeds that grow through the mulch layer. Grass clippings should be allowed to dry before you pile them around plants. Do not use any grass clippings that have been treated with an herbicide.
  • Synthetic mulches come in many varieties. Black plastic mulch warms the soil for earlier, higher yields of warm-season crops. It cannot be re-used a second season. Landscape fabric warms soil and allows water and air into soil, and it can be re-used. Cut holes in synthetic mulches with scissors or a razor to plant seed or transplants.
  • Hand-pull weeds when they are young and tender. Mature weeds extract large quantities of moisture and nutrients from the soil;
  • Slice weeds off at ground level using a long-handled hoe with a sharp edge.
  • Mow around your garden to prevent the spread of weeds.

Black plastic mulch

Support tomato, pepper, and cucumber plants with stakes or trellises to save space.

  • Monitor plants regularly for problems; check out Maryland Cooperative Extension’s resources for solutions.
  • Learn to take an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to any plant or pest problem. Vegetables and herbs can be grown successfully in Maryland gardens without pesticides.

Fall Tasks

The summer garden chores aren’t over when the last tomato is picked. Putting the garden to bed in the fall will give you a jump on next year’s growing season.

  • Test your soil. We can’t stress this enough! Adding amendments to your soil in the fall will ensure that they are available in the spring for optimum plant growth.
  • Clean up the debris. Pull up all dead and unproductive plants and add it to your compost bin. Many seasoned gardeners will have already removed old plant debris and planted cover crops to protect and enhance the soil.
  • NOTE TO NEW GARDENERS: Remove diseased or insect-infested plant material that may shelter overwintering states of these pests from the garden. This will reduce the potential for these disease problems from next year’s garden.This debris should be bagged and put out for the trash and not put in the compost pile. Only really hot compost piles will kill off potential problems.
  • Don’t leave the soil bare. Cover the soil with shredded leaves or some other type of mulch to prevent erosion. Cover crops are preferred, but shredded leaves are a good alternative. Rake leaves into a loose pile and mow over them with a lawnmower to cut them up. They will be much less likely to blow away if they are broken up. They can be worked into the soil next spring or seedlings can be planted through them. The mulch will act as a weed inhibitor.

How to Use Ferns in Your Garden Landscape

Ferns make excellent landscape plants because of their attractive fronds and their ability to thrive where many plants fail. You can plant them under shady trees, use them as border plants, grow them as ground covers or line garden pathways, and fill empty landscapes with low-maintenance ferns.

Most ferns are easy to maintain. They grow under fully or partially shaded parts of gardens where they benefit from moist but well-drained and loamy soil and moderate watering at regular intervals. When provided with these conditions ferns will produce abundance of lush fronds.

Ferns come in large and small sizes. Some are dwarf and some grow taller. Some form small clusters and some sprawl to cover the landscape. Depending on the size and layout of your garden, you can use ferns in your landscapes for many purposes. They can be used as companion plants with other flowering plants. You can use ferns to provide a lush-green background to your flower beds. You can also incorporate them in your landscapes as specimen plants grown in containers or hanging baskets.

Ferns in Garden Landscape

Here are a few examples of ferns beautifully used in garden landscapes.

Some of the ferns suitable for garden landscape include:

  • Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair fern
  • Athyrium vidalii, Japanese lady fern
  • Blechnum spicant, Deer Fern
  • Cyrtomium falcatum, Japanese holly fern
  • Dennstaedtia punctilobula, Hay-scented fern
  • Dryopteris clintoniana, Clinton’s wood fern
  • Dryopteris tokyoensis, Tokyo wood fern
  • Matteuccia struthiopteris, Ostrich fern
  • Cyrtomium Falcatum, Holly fern
  • Nephrolepis exaltala, Boston fern

Taking Care Of Outdoor Ferns: How To Take Care Of Ferns In The Garden

Although we are most accustomed to seeing graceful ferns throughout woodlands and forests where they nestle under tree canopies, they are equally attractive when used in the shady home garden. Garden ferns that are tolerant of winter temperatures can be grown year round in gardens throughout the United States.

A large number of ferns will withstand both the winter cold and summer heat, which makes them particularly useful in the shady southern landscape. This hardiness also makes taking care of outdoor ferns simple.

Types of Hardy Garden Ferns

Growing a fern garden outdoors is easy. Ferns make excellent companions for woodland plantings like hosta, columbine, liriope, and caladiums. Learning how to take care of ferns depends mostly on the type you grow. While many types of hardy garden ferns are deciduous, some are evergreen. There are a number of outdoor ferns to choose from with the following being the most common:

  • Southern maidenhair fern – Southern maidenhair fern is a hardy spreading plant that will survive in a wider range of soil conditions, including rocks and acidic soils. This fern is very delicate in appearance despite its hardiness.
  • Lady fern – Lady fern is drought tolerant, grows up to 3 feet, and has a beautiful upright habit.
  • Autumn fern – Autumn fern is a semi-evergreen fern and has arching fronds. Foliage turns a coppery pink color in the spring, green in the summer and copper in the fall. This fern is known for the year-round interest it adds to any shady garden and prefers very wet soil.
  • Christmas fern – Christmas fern is a popular fern in the southeast, where it is evergreen. It looks similar to the Boston fern. This fern grows slowly but is well worth the wait.
  • Male fern – The male fern is an evergreen fern that is shaped like a vase and will grow up to 5 feet. This interesting fern likes light to full shade and very wet soil.

How to Take Care of Ferns

Ferns are extremely forgiving and have an incredibly strong survival instinct. Ferns will grow where other plants fail to thrive and most do well in rich, well-drained soil with an abundance of organic matter.

Planting a fern garden outdoors requires minimal attention other than regular mulching and water during very dry periods.

Few pests bother ferns other than the passing slug, which will devour nearly anything.

Divide ferns in early spring when they become too large.

Taking care of outdoor ferns is so easy that you often forget that they are there. They are excellent for naturalizing, and will reward the gardener with their graceful texture year after year.

Hardy Ferns

Southern Maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris): This native fern grows 12 to 26 inches tall on thin wiry stems with delicate leaves. It grows in light to full shade with constant moisture, in the mountains and piedmont only. Propagate through rhizome division.

Northern or Common Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum): This fern is also native to South Carolina. It grows 12 to 24 inches tall on thin, wiry stems. Fronds and leaves form a distinctive horseshoe shape. It is deciduous and grows in part to full shade in the mountains and piedmont only. This species also prefers constant moisture, but can withstand some drought. Rhizome division.

Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron): This fern has erect, dark evergreen fronds 6 to 20 inches tall. It is native throughout South Carolina. It prefers some sun to light shade, does not like wet soils. Propagate by rhizome division.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina): This vigorous fern has upright, deciduous leaves 24 to 48 inches tall. Grow in light shade to full shade throughout South Carolina except for the coast. Although it prefers constant moisture, lady fern can stand some drought. Propagate by rhizome division

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyriumniponicum ‘Pictum’): The deciduous fronds of this fern are a mix of silvery-gray, green and burgundy on dark purple stems. It grows 10 to 15 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade anywhere in South Carolina except for along the coast. Prefers constant moisture, but can withstand some drought. Rhizome division.

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium spp.): Bold, coarse textured evergreen leaves make these large ferns a feature in the landscape year-round. Holly ferns grow up to 30 inches tall depending on species. They grow in light to full shade, and will grow throughout South Carolina. Provide supplemental water during dry periods. Rhizome division.

Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula): The crushed leaves of this deciduous fern smell like freshly cut hay. Fronds grow 18 to 30 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture, but can stand some drought. Hayscented fern is native in the mountains of South Carolina and can be grown in the mountains and piedmont.

Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis): This tall, vase shaped, semi-evergreen fern will grow 3 to 4 feet tall. Grown in light to full shade, with constant moisture, anywhere in South Carolina except the coast. Clump division.

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora): The new spring leaves of this evergreen fern are coppery-pink in spring, turn green in summer and rusty-brown in fall. It grows 24 to 36 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. It will grow throughout South Carolina. Prefers constant moisture, although it can withstand some drought. Clump division.

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas): This vase-shaped evergreen fern grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Grow in light to full shade, with constant moisture, anywhere in South Carolina except the coast. Clump division.

Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris Ludoviciana): This evergreen fern is native to the Coastal Plains of South Carolina, in swamps and along stream banks. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Grow in light to full shade anywhere in South Carolina. Provide supplemental water during dry periods. Clump division.

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis): The leathery, evergreen fronds of this fern grow 24 to 36 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture, but will withstand some drought. Marginal wood fern is native to the mountains and piedmont of South Carolina and will grow throughout the state except for along the coast. Clump division.

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): While ostrich fern can grow 4 to 6 feet tall in the wild, it is generally shorter in gardens. This large deciduous fern is vase shaped and will reach greatest height with ample water and rich soil. Grow in light to full shade, with constant moisture, in the mountains and piedmont only. Propagate by edge division.

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis): This coarse-textured, deciduous fern grows 24 to 30 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Sensitive fern prefers constant moisture but can stand some drought. It is native throughout South Carolina. Edge division.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea): This upright, deciduous fern is native throughout South Carolina. It grows 24 to 36 inches tall. Plant in sun to full shade, with constant moisture if planted in sun. Cinnamon fern can stand some drought in shade. Edge division.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis): Native throughout South Carolina, this large, coarse textured, deciduous fern can grow 3 to 6 feet tall if given ample water. Plant in sun to full shade, with constant moisture. Edge division.

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera): This upright growing, deciduous fern grows 12 to 24 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture but can stand some drought. Can be grown throughout South Carolina, except for the coast. Rhizome division.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides): Evergreen, upright, leathery fronds grow 24 to 36 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture but can stand some drought. This fern is native throughout South Carolina. Rhizome division.

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum): The dark, evergreen, lacy leaves of this fern grow upright 24 to 36 inches tall. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture but can stand some drought. Will grow throughout South Carolina, except for along the coast. Rhizome division.

Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsus-simense): Leathery, dark, evergreen leaves grow 10 to 15 inches tall in a vase-shaped form. Grow in light to full shade. Prefers constant moisture but can stand some drought. Will grow throughout South Carolina. Rhizome division.

Southern Shield Fern (Thelypteris kunthii): This deciduous fern has light green fronds that grow 24 to 36 inches tall. Plant in sun to full shade, with constant moisture in sun. It can stand some drought in shade. Native to the Coastal Plain, and can be grown throughout South Carolina. Rhizome division.

Sources for Ferns

Quality garden centers carry a variety of ferns, generally in larger sizes than can be obtained through mail order. The mail order sources listed below stock many hard-to-find ferns.

Chuck Plemmons Perennials

275 South Blackstock Rd.

Spartanburg, SC 29301

Hickory Mountain Plant Farm

148 Hadley Mill Rd.

Pittsboro, NC 27312

Meadowbrook Nursery We-Du Natives

2055 Polly Sprout Rd.

Marion, NC 28752-7349

Mountain Mist Nursery
10 Log Gap Rd.
Fairview, NC 28730

Native Gardens

5737 Fisher Ln.

Greenback, TN 37742

Niche Gardens

1111 Dawson Rd.

Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Plant Delights Nursery

9241 Sauls Rd.

Raleigh, NC 27603

Sunlight Gardens

174 Golden Ln.

Andersonville, TN 37705

Woodlanders, Inc.

1128 Colleton Ave.

Aiken, SC 29801

Mother Spleenwort: This fern is also known as hen and chickens for its curious habit of growing baby plants along its fronds. The foliage of Asplenium bulbiferum looks a bit like carrot tops, so it’s not the most refined of the ferns; it’s a curious plant that’s fun and will survive short periods of drier soil, particularly in winter when it prefers to be just kept a couple of notches away from dry. (Fascinating fact: The young growth tips are a traditional food of the Maoris in New Zealand, where it’s a native.) Look out for the glossy-leaved hybrid ‘Maori Princess’, a cross between A. oblongifolium and A. bulbiferum that grows slowly: Dick Hayward recommends ‘Austral Gem’ aka ‘Parvati’, a cross between A. dimorphum and A. difforme that is sterile, so you don’t have baby plants self-seeding into neighboring pots. Angela Tandy says A. daucifolium, the Mauritius spleenwort, is also worth looking out for.

Japanese Holly Fern: Also known as fishtail fern, Cyrtomium falcatum is widely grown as an outdoor plant, but it does perfectly well indoors, and its glossy, leathery leaves can cope with the average levels of humidity found in most homes. This really is the fern to go for if you struggle with humidity and don’t want to risk losing your plant to crispiness within weeks. Tandy says this plant seeds everywhere in the glasshouses at her nursery, Fibrex, but this shouldn’t be a problem when it’s contained in a pot. This plant’s other huge bonus over many other ferns is it doesn’t shed leaves readily, so you won’t need to keep your Dustbuster on constant standby.

Above: The great pretender. Asparagus ferns such as Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ aren’t true ferns.

Asparagus Ferns: If you’re a stickler for plant taxonomy, it’s important to say straightaway that this isn’t a bona fide fern. The so-called asparagus ferns are in fact all relatives of the asparagus in the vegetable patch (but don’t try eating them), although they do possess the feathery foliage that makes us associate them with the true ferns.

Above: Asparagus ferns’ roots emerge from a clump of bulbs.

There are four widely available types: Asparagus setaceus, the common asparagus fern, the Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ group or emerald feather, A. falcatus the sickle thor, and Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’, the plume asparagus or foxtail fern. These all make great houseplants, easy to grow for anyone who wants lacy foliage without the extra stress of constant misting.

They will cope with the average humidity of most homes, and the odd lapse in the watering regime. But do watch out when handling asparagus ferns as they often have tiny spines along the stem which are very painful if pricked. Like ferns, they dislike direct sunlight, so keep them away from south-facing windowsills, and in winter they will only need occasional watering.

Lacy Tree Fern: If you want something really big to make a statement, the lacy tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) is the one for you, Tandy says. Tree ferns can go outdoors in the summer but need to be in frost-free conditions at a minimum over the winter. They require plenty of bright light, but avoid direct sunlight; keep them moist but don’t water directly onto the crown as this can result in rot setting in. Check out Pistils Nursery’s guide to growing tree ferns indoors for more.

Above: Fern family, dappled sunlight, all is well.

As for my mahogany maidenhair fern? So far, my Didymochlaena truncatula is hardier and happier than my late, lamented delta maidenhair fern. With misting, dappled light, and a few humid days spent outdoors, I have high hopes—for the next few months, at least.

Need more houseplant help? See our curated growing guides for our favorites at Houseplants 101, including Asparagus Ferns 101, Orchids 101, and Prayer Plants. Don’t miss:

  • Houseplants: How to Decode the Info on Plant ID Tags
  • Succulents Explained: How to Identify and Grow 12 Favorites
  • Everything You Need to Know About Houseplants

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