Ferns in Shade

Ferns are a group of plants from the dawn of time and are extremely successful in different climates and regions.

They grow all over the world.

No matter what your temperate zone or climate, you will be sure to find species that are adapted to, and will grow well, in your environment.

They can provide a lush green and almost tropical look to any garden, range in height from just a few inches high to taller than an adult, and are extremely useful in landscaping.

They are shade plants and generally indigenous to woodlands. This means that they will rarely, if ever, tolerate direct sunlight, preferring to live in partial or even deep shade.

They are therefore just right for those shady spots in your garden or in your woods where nothing else will grow. If the growing conditions are right, they can be not only very hardy, but can even be aggressive. This is not always a bad thing.

If, for example, you have woods where sunlight hardly ever reaches the ground, and where very few plants will grow at ground level, introducing some of these shade loving plants might perhaps be the best thing that you could do in that environment.

Plant them in groups, preferably of different species with a considerable height difference to give a three dimensional height texture to the foliage. And as woodland conditions greatly favor the growth and spread of ferns, you will soon have a carpet of gently waving green fronds covering the ground.

Big Fern Frond Opening on Shade Fern Plant

Growing Fern Plants

Shade Garden Ferns

Generally speaking, if you would like a rarer species, you will have to buy it from a nursery.

Be careful that whatever fern plants you buy, they are suited to your climate type - you do not want to buy a highly tropical variety that may look beautiful but is really only suited to growing in a greenhouse.

A nice place to acquire them and know that they will be suited to your climate is in the local wild. If they grow in the wild near where you live they will be extremely hardy for your garden and will require very little care and supervision to survive. It's always best to plant native plants and these are no different to any other.

Remember they are ancient plants that do not propagate in ways that you are used to. What you will have to do is to dig up a wild fern in the spring and then put it in your garden. As the new fronds of the plant open out, they will release spores that will then cause them to spread.

How to Take Care of Ferns

Fern Fronds in a Shady Garden

Ferns for Deep Shade

Though these plants will tolerate full shade, they actually do best when also given a little dappled sunlight.

They prefer a richly moist soil as do many woodland species. Mix in some rich compost to about ten inches into the soil before you plant them, and they will flourish.

Make sure the soil is kept damp in dry spells and add slow release fertilizer from time to time. Mulching to protect the plants from cold weather is advised.

Shade loving fern plants thrive in rich, moist, humus soil with an acid PH. Ideally 1 part soil, 1 part clean sand and 2 parts peat moss. Adding compost mulch twice a year will keep the roots cool and moist in the summer and protect the rhizomes from freezing and thawing in the winter. Mulching will also help keep the soil PH near to an ideal reading.

These plants make a great addition to any shade garden. There are so many to choose from and many different types, shapes, sizes and colors.

There are different growing habits to consider. Some will stay in clumps, while others tend to spread. Choose the correct one for the needs of your garden design.

These will spread:

  • New York
  • Hay Scented
  • March
  • Bracken (Be aware that bracken species can be poisonous to horses if they should have access to grazing where it is growing)
Harts Tongue Fern in Deep Shade

If you want to naturalize an area these would be your best bet.

A few clumping types would be:

  • Cinnamon
  • Harts Tongue
  • Japanese Painted
  • Lady
  • Maidenhair
  • Ostrich
  • Royal
  • Regal

Most will generally grow 6 to 36 inches tall.