Gardens - Shade Gardens

Seven easy-care ferns

Fuss-free ferns are dependable plants for shady gardens

1. American maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Native to northeastern North America. Deciduous; airy, rounded leaflets arranged in finger-like pattern on wiry black stems. Forms dense colonies. Despite fragile look, tough as nails in moist, acidic soil in part shade.
Height 30 to 60 cm
Zone 2

2. Golden male fern (Dryopteris affinis) and male fern (D. filix-mas)
Semi-evergreen; tall and robust, with many crested forms. Very adaptable; tolerate part sun; tolerate drought in medium shade. D. a. ‘Polydactyla Dadds' is one of the most handsome and reliable varieties.
Height 60 to 120 cm
Zone 4

3. Hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium syn. Phyllitis scolopendrium)
Evergreen; undivided fronds; many varieties with wavy to ruffled edges. Needs neutral to alkaline soil that's moist but well drained; don't overwater. Tolerates part sun.
Height 20 to 40 cm
Zone 4

4. Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Deciduous; hundreds of varieties, most have very finely dissected fronds. Prefers humus-rich loam in light to medium shade, but very adaptable.
Height 50 to 100 cm
Zone 3

5. Royal fern (Osmunda regalis)
Native to eastern North America. Deciduous; majestic, erect fronds with coppery red stems (red-purple in ‘Purpurascens'); foliage turns golden in fall. Tolerates full sun in boggy soil; part shade in average (not too dry) soil.
Height to 1.5 m
Zone 2

6. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)
Evergreen; new spring growth is coppery orange. Very adaptable and resilient; needs good drainage; drought-tolerant in shade.
Height 20 to 50 cm
Zone 5

7. Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum)
Deciduous; striking, metallic-silver fronds with red stems. Needs cool, sheltered site in moist but well-drained, acidic soil. ‘Branford Beauty' is a newer, more vigorous form.
Height 40 to 50 cm
Zone 4


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