While ferns are among the most delicate-looking of plants, their constitutions are anything but fragile. Many ferns, including evergreen types, are iron-clad hardy, and most are highly adaptable, thriving in average garden soil and part shade. Some are even surprisingly drought-tolerant in light shade; still others can thrive in full sun in moist to boggy soil.
More importantly, no fern need ever be fussed over. These primitive plants have been around for a good 350 million years longer than we've been (give or take a few hundred thousand years), and will do quite nicely with no attention at all, thank you. The only thing we gardeners need to do is select the right fern for the right spot.
With thousands of species and varieties to choose from, there's a fern—or a dozen—perfectly suited to every garden and situation: perennial bed, foundation planting, groundcover, focal point, rock garden, edging, pondside feature, container and more. But be forewarned: these easy-growing shade plants may be habit-forming.
Keeping ferns happy
Although they'll grow anywhere under almost any circumstances, there are steps you can take to maximize your fern's success.
- Site in part (not deep) shade sheltered from wind and direct sun.
- Ensure soil is moisture-retentive but loose; roots need air as much as they also need water.
- Select ferns best adapted to local conditions; established, well-chosen ferns need watering only in extended periods of drought.
- Provide plenty of humus (natural, shredded leaf litter is ideal), but do not overfertilize.
- Once they're established, do not disturb plants by cultivating around roots or moving clumps unnecessarily.