Zone 8 shade plants

Zone 8 Shade Gardening: How To Choose Plants For Zone 8 Shade

Zone 8 shade gardening can be tricky, since plants need at least some sunlight to live and thrive. But, if you know which plants live in your climate and can tolerate only partial sun, you can easily create a beautiful garden.

Growing Plants for Zone 8 Shade

While growing plants in the shade can be tricky, zone 8 is a temperate climate that gives you a lot of options. Stretching from parts of the Pacific Northwest, down to Texas and through the middle of the southeast up to North Carolina, this zone covers a large area of the U.S.

Make sure you know the specific needs of each plant you choose and give them the appropriate soil and watering level to help them thrive, even in the shade. Some of the common zone 8 shade plants will merely tolerate partial shade, while others will thrive with less sun. Know the difference so you can find the perfect place in your garden for each plant.

Common Zone 8 Shade Plants

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few of the more common examples of plants that will grow well both in the shade and in a zone 8 climate:

Ferns. Ferns are classic shade plants. They thrive in the forest with only dappled sunlight filtered through the trees. Some of the varieties that can grow in zone 8 include royal fern, ostrich fern, and cinnamon fern.

Hostas. This is one of the most popular shade plants for zone 8 as well as colder zones, and let’s face it – nothing quite beats a stand of hostas in the garden. These low-growing perennials come in a variety of sizes, shades and patterns of green, and are highly tolerant of shade.

Dogwood. For a shade-friendly shrub, consider dogwood. These compact, shrub-like trees produce beautiful spring flowers and several varieties thrive in zone 8. These include red dogwood, pink dogwood, and gray dogwood.

Foxglove. A pretty perennial flower, foxglove grows up to four feet tall (1.2 m.) and produces, bell-shaped blooms in pink and white. They thrive in partial shade.

Ground covers. These are popular shade plants because they cover large areas of ground that are too shady for grass. Varieties that will grow in the zone 8 climate include:

  • Bugleweed
  • Lily of the valley
  • English ivy
  • Periwinkle
  • Lilyturf
  • Creeping Jenny

Zone 8 shade gardening doesn’t have to be a challenge. You just need to know what to plant in partial shade, and this list should help you get started.

Ferns for Zone 8

Ferns for Zone 8 can add beauty to your landscape or garden

How to plant Ferns For Zone 8? Let’s begin by unpacking your greenery. The box and packing material protect the fern rhizomes. These are bulb like in appearance and if you cannot tell the top or bottom plant sideways and let the fern figure it out naturally. Select a spot that ferns will thrive in such as under the canopy of trees. This location gives them the dappled sunlight and shade they desire. Usually, when bare root ferns are packed for shipping, they are protected with a gel-like substance painted on the root areas. This antibacterial agent will help to keep pests away during shipment. Do not disturb this protective covering. Plant as is and it will grow beautifully.

Ferns for Zone 8 include Staghorn, Boston, Wood, Ostrich, Fiddlehead, Maidenhair, Japanese, and Sword Ferns

There are several varieties of ferns that can add beauty to your home. Some of these types of ferns are:

* Staghorn fern – Usually planted without any dirt. Placed on tree limbs.
* Boston fern – indoor fern that should be cut back when planting from a plant.
* Wood fern – Found in shady woody locations. Plant only in loamy soil that is not dry.
* Ostrich fern – Plant this fern in small groups, dappled light.
* fiddlehead fern spiral shaped buds that unfurl. Plant in smaller spaces.
* Maidenhair fern – Light, airy greenery mainly planted as an indoor plant
* Japanese ferns – Assortment of unusual ferns varying in color
* Sword fern – Spiky fern that is very showy. Suitable for planting in pots indoors.

Ferns for Zone 8 should carefully be sorted and planted

A Final Word on Planting

These are some of the selections of ferns that you can order to plant. Bare root tubers are less than twenty percent the cost of potted ferns. The tubers store easily in a plastic sealed bag in a cold place. Dormant bare root fern tubers are known as rhizomes. Usually, they do best a season after they are planted. All ferns do well plant in semi- too shady areas. Knowing how to plant bare root ferns is not difficult. Start by planting tubers at least one inch below the top of the soil just like you are planting flower bulbs. Then add your tuber packing the soil securely over the top of it. Cover this with mulch or compost and leaves. Do add sphagnum peat moss to the ground to hold in moisture as ferns do not like to dry out between watering times. Ferns are bug resistant naturally, so you do not need to worry about pests. Ferns are low maintenance and are a top pick for many situations.

Evergreen Ferns

When the seasons start to change, evergreen ferns can be your constant that will continue to look good throughout fall and winter. With our wet climate, ferns are relatively easy to grow and maintain, making them an ideal plant for the Pacific Northwest. While there are always exceptions, it is best to plant ferns in the shade so that they will be protected from the sun during the hottest part of the day. Most ferns will also prefer moist soil that has good drainage.

Autumn Fern (Dryopertis erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)- This fern’s most notable feature is its coppery pink new growth in the fall which matures into dark green. The Autumn Fern adapts easily to wet or dry conditions after it’s been watered regularly in its first season of growing. It grows in a vase shaped form and gets to be about 2 feet high.

Autumn Fern (Dryopertis erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)- The Japanese Tassel Fern gets its name from its new growth. As it emerges and starts to unfurl, the new growth looks like fuzzy tassels and then flattens and matures into dark, glossy green foliage. It prefers sun spotted shade and well-drained, but moist, soils. This fern will get to be about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium fortunei)- The Holly Fern grows anywhere from 12” to 24” with upright and stuff branching. Its foliage is dark green and the fronds look similar to holly branches. This fern does well both in the ground and in containers and prefers full to partial shade with soils that have good drainage.

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium fortunei)

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)- While this fern prefers moist soils, it’s also good to know that it can tolerate dry(ish) soils after it’s been established which makes this fern a good option for a low-maintenance garden. The Christmas Fern has leathery, light green foliage and forms in a fountain-like clump. As the name suggests, this fern will be green at Christmas time and its pinnae (the leaflets), look like stockings!

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) Photo Courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina)- This mat-forming fern only grows to be 6-15” tall and works well as a groundcover due to its spreading nature. The young fronds have a dark reddish tinge to them which mature into dark green. To get the best color, it should be planted in a spot that will let this fern get some sun (i.e. under a tree with high branches) and in moist soils. It is good to know that the Alpine Water Fern can handle dry conditions with occasional watering and is one of the more drought tolerant ferns.

Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina) Photo Courtesy of Plant Systemics

Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)- One of the biggest differences in this fern from the others on this list is that it has big, tongue shaped fronds. The fronds form in clumps, arch over, and are bright, rich green in color. It grows to be 12-18” and must have very well-drained soils.

Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)- The Sword Fern is one of the hardier evergreen ferns on this list making it low maintenance as well. Its sword-like fronds can grow to be 4 feet long with glossy green foliage and its clumping form can spread anywhere from 3 to 6 feet. This fern prefers partial to full shade and moist soil but it will still look good in warm, dry weather.

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Polypodium pseudoaureum ‘Virginia Blue’)- This fern has distinct icy blue foliage that will get its best color if planted in the light shade. When new growth emerges, it has orangey colored rhizomes that are fuzzy and will crawl on the ground to help it slowly spread. The Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern does best in moist soil that has good drainage and pairs well with plants that have dark green foliage.

Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Polypodium pseudoaureum ‘Virginia Blue’) Photo Courtesy of Casa Flora

Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata)- New growth on this fern comes out bright red to burgundy to orange throughout spring and summer and matures to dark green and will stay green in our region all through winter. It is best to plant this fern in full shade and moist, well-drained soils. While it can be planted right in the ground, the Jeweled Chain Fern will also look good planted at the top of a wall where it can drape down over it.

Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata) Photo Courtesy of Hardy Fern Foundation

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)- Looks can be deceiving with this fern’s delicate texture. It is quite touch, cold hardy, can tolerate drought, and various growing conditions. The stems on the Maidenhair Spleenwort are dark brown and its fronds have small shell-shaped leaves that are green and leathery. This fern does best in full shade or partial sun and moist soils but will also grow well in or on a rock wall and in dryer than normal soils.

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) Photo Courtesy of Patrick J. Alexander (USDA-NCRS Plant Database)

Do you have a favorite go-to fern for year round interest? Let us know in the comments!

More Information About Ferns and Allies

If you are looking for a fern plant, Plant Delights Nursery has a large selection of deer resistant ferns native from North America to Asia. In fact, our garden has the most diverse collection of outdoor ferns in the world (1,000 taxa) and because we grow most of our ferns from spores here at the nursery, we also have one of the largest offerings of hardy fern plants for sale in the world. We have small ferns like an 8″ Blechnum and large ferns like a 50″ Dryopteris, and all sizes in between. Our collection is so large in fact, that fern plant taxonomists at Duke University came to Plant Delights to collect and DNA barcode them all for an academic study.

Ferns and other non-flowering vascular plants (fern allies) are mostly shade loving perennials that look great the woodlands garden. Ferns for shade are perfect companions to hostas, and most hardy fern plants and fern allies are deer-resistant and thrive with consistent moisture.

But just because the plant is a fern does not automatically make it a shade plant. Some fern plants grow in full sun and are known as “dryland or sun ferns.” We have several genera of dryland sun ferns including Astrolepis, Cheilanthes, Notholaena, and Pellaea.

We also carry exotic deciduous and evergreen ferns from our overseas plant hunting expeditions as well as the best native ferns…all nursery propagated. If deer are a problem, add ferns to your garden as they are great deer-resistant perennials. The wonderful architecture and muted colors of ferns make them great groundcovers as well as excellent companion plants for other native shade plants like polygonatum, heuchera and carex. And the evergreen ferns look great all year round.

When you are ready to buy deciduous or evergreen ferns for your woodlands garden, check out our list of fern plants for sale.

Check out our article on Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’

Check out our many blog posts about ferns.

How to Grow Fern Plants

  • Water – Fern plants look their best with regular watering. Drought will tend to make the fronds look ratty but those can be pruned. Most fern plants are drought tolerant once established (especially the sun ferns), but a few (e.g., Sensitive fern) are not and need to be planted in a moist location to thrive.
  • Light – Most fern plants are woodland plants and prefer dappled sun or partial sun but not deep shade. If they must be exposed to full sun for part of the day, then morning-time sun is better than afternoon sun. The notable exception of course are the sun ferns which prefer full baking sun in a rock garden.
  • Soil – Most fern plants prefer compost-rich, loose soil with mulch on top. A few ferns are epiphytes and can grow in the cracks in walls, or on tree branches…notably Lepisorus and Pyrrosia.
  • Fertilizer – While fern plants prefer rich soil, they do not need high levels of synthetic fertilizer. Simply apply a shovel full of compost near them once a year and they will be happy.
  • Winter Care – Do not prune your old fern fronds until very late winter (March). They will provide a winter blanket for the crown of the plant.
  • House Plants – While we specialize in ferns for the garden, you can easily grow our fern plants as houseplants too. Just remember that ferns like more humidity than most houses provide so you will want to mist them daily or keep them in your bathroom near the sink or shower. If you find mealy bugs you can spray the plants with water to remove them. The best ferns for indoors are: Adiantum, Pteris, Dryopteris, Phlebodium, Davallia and Blechnum.
  • Herbicide sensitivity – Ferns have shallow roots and thin skins and thus are very sensitive to spray herbicides. Even a small whiff can kill a fern, so be judicious with the Roundup around your ferns.
  • Propagation – Once your clump gets large enough it is very easy to divide the clump to produce more ferns. If you are careful and patient, you can also collect the spores and grow them into new ferns, but that process requires careful attention to detail takes the better part of a year to complete. Collect the spores. Remove all the chaff. Sprinkle them into a pot and keep the soil moist and the air very humid until the gametophytes form…these look like fingernail sized leaves on the soil surface. Then splash a little water on the surface of the gametophyte to allow egg and sperm to be released and to mix. Continue to keep the pot moist for several months until the baby ferns start to grow off the surface of the gametophytes. Voila! Keep an eye out for fungal rot which frequently occurs when the air is too still and humid for too long. Tricky, but do-able.
  • Edible Ferns? – Some ferns have edible parts and others are poisonous so take care. The newly growing fronds are called fiddleheads and in the spring when they are 1″-2″ tall, you can harvest certain species of fern fiddleheads and steam or boil them thoroughly to break down toxins and then saute them with lemon and butter. They are considered an ephemeral spring delicacy. Try Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) fiddleheads. The bracken fern is also edible but may be carcinogenic in high doses. Many ferns contain thiaminase so they are best cooked thoroughly to break it down and then eaten in small amounts to avoid beriberi. A few ferns have edible roots too. Polypodium glycyrrhiza from the northwest US has a root that is chewed to release a sweet licorice flavor. Several tropical ferns such as Nephrolepis cordifolia produce edible ‘tubers’ that are more nutritious than potatoes.

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