Hardy Ferns: Planting and Care Guide
Hardy Ferns are such individualists. You'd think that planting different varieties from the same family all together in a group would make for a rather dull, if intense, planting. But no — each manages a distinctive look, and I for one would be hard pressed to tell you which was my favorite! No wonder the great Victorian gardener Gertrude Jekyll dreamed of a rock garden devoted entirely to Ferns, a "restful delight of cool and beautiful foliage."
Even if your garden space is limited, find a place in the shade for Ferns. They ask for very little care, and repay you with ease of growth and breathtaking beauty. Most are easily divided after two or three years in your garden, increasing your garden beauty without costing you a dime. Best of all, they add texture like no other perennial — graceful and airy, despite their hardiness and willingness to grow.
In this article, I describe the very best Ferns for your garden this spring. And if you're looking for a particular variety to plant in mass or to dot among your shade landscape, I've got some fine recommendations. Remember, all of these Hardy Ferns are guaranteed to succeed in your garden, and if you divide them regularly, they'll "live forever"! Enjoy the ease and beauty of Hardy Ferns in every shady spot.
Among the most popular and widely-grown in American gardens, Hardy Ferns have come by their reputation honestly. An easier, more dependable, and lovelier Fern would be hard to imagine. The native North American species (A. felix-femina) is an absolute must for beginning gardeners, nearly growing itself. And the Asian species (A. nipponicum) contains the magnificent Painted Fern family, with some of the most beautiful frond colors in the world. The two species complement each other nicely, thriving in very moist to wet soil (waterside plantings are stunning!) and normal to alkaline soil.
Caring For Your Hardy FernsIn the wild, Ferns thrive in the dappled shade of the woodland, finding their feet in rotted leaves and other rich soil ingredients. Very few (Brilliant Fern is one exception) can tolerate dry soils, and all prefer a good pampering their first two years — lots of water and humus!
Work the soil well and deep before you plant your Fern, raising the bed at least 3 inches above the soil level. If you have heavy soil, lighten it with rotted leaves or coarse bark.
Ferns need both moisture and excellent drainage, which can be a balancing act — a good, rich mulch works wonders. If rot is a problem, make the mulch gravel or other coarse, well-draining material.
Plant your Fern very shallowly, with the crown flush with the surrounding soil.
Keep garden debris away from the base of your Ferns if you can. Rot can be a problem when the crown of the fern sits in stagnant water — though some, such as the Tatting Fern, will happily rest in an inch or so of water on the bank of a stream or pond. If you see signs of Rot, apply a fungicide and chances are your Fern will shake it off!
If possible, water the roots and not the fronds.
If your Fern is evergreen, you might want to thin the old fronds in spring as the new ones appear. At the same time, apply a new layer of mulch for the new growing year.
Every 2 or 3 years, you can dig up and divide your Fern into several new plants to share with admiring friends or to increase your own garden's beauty!