Ferns Can Make Your Garden Green

lily with ferns

If you have a shady moist area in your garden where you can never get anything to grow successfully don’t despair—that just might be a perfect spot to grow some ferns. The delicate beauty of ferns makes them an ideal addition to garden areas that are too shaded, damp or rocky for most flowering plants to grow, since ferns love dappled shade and moist, slightly acidic soil that reflects their natural habitat. If you think some ferns might make a welcome addition to your garden, here’s a few things you should know about growing them.

A Little Bit about Ferns

Ferns have been around for millions of years and grow in virtually all climates so, no matter where you live in the country, you should be able to find a fern that will thrive in your garden. Even better, since mature ferns can range in size from just a few inches to as much as 6 feet in height, you should be able to find one that compliments your landscaping.

Ferns are different from the plants we're familiar with that all have stems, leaves and seeds. Instead ferns have a ‘caudex’ (stem), leaves are ‘fronds’ made up of the ‘stipe’ or leaf stem and the ‘blade’ or the expanded portion of the frond. Also, ferns don’t produce seeds, they regenerate using ‘spores’ that are different from seeds in that they have no residual food supply and need to be planted in a moist environment to grow.

A word of caution if you are considering putting some ferns in your garden - under good growing conditions ferns may become invasive, so carefully consider exactly where you want to plant them.

Finding Ferns

Ferns are usually available from garden centers and plant nurseries, but it may be easier to get your ferns by dividing already growing plants. Provided you have permission from the property owner, you can easily dig and move wild ferns and you'll have the advantage of knowing they will thrive naturally in your gardening zone.

The best time to dig ferns is in the early spring when the new fronds unfurl and release their spores.

garden with walkway and ferns

Locating and Planting Your Ferns

Most ferns prefer dappled sun rather than full shade and they do like moist (not wet) soil.

Try to locate your ferns where you can see and enjoy them from inside the house as well as when you're in the garden.

Once you’ve decide on the location, prepare the soil by digging in some natural amendments such as compost, peat moss, composted manure or leaf mold to a depth of 8 to 10 inches.

Plant your ferns at their previous depth making sure there is ample room between the plants so they can grow and spread, then backfill the holes with soil and water them in well.

Finish up by spreading a couple of inches of organic mulch (bark chips, shredded leaves) around the base to hold moisture and prevent weeds from growing.

garden with broad leaves and ferns

Taking Care of Your Ferns

Ferns don't really require a lot of care. Simply make sure the soil stays moist, and in hot dry spells give them some extra water.

You could also add some slow release fertilizer during the growing season and apply a layer of mulch in the fall to protect the roots and hold moisture over the dry winter months.