Ferns Are Made for the Shade

Try these varieties for your shade garden.

male ferns

male ferns

Southern shield fern can tolerate both sun and full shade if given constant moisture. 

Southern shield fern can tolerate both sun and full shade if given constant moisture. 

Ferns lend an air of relaxation to a garden space—especially in summer when just the sight of their frilly, delicate-looking (yet tough) foliage seems to lower the temperature. Maybe it’s because they’re often associated with the coolness of mountain trails or the shade of tropical settings.

For homeowners, ferns offer lots of great choices, especially for the shade garden. Many hardy ferns tolerate both cold and hot temperatures, average one to three feet in height and width, and for the most part, are slow growers. All prefer organically-rich, well-drained soil, and most require a moist shady area – though some, like cinnamon, royal and Southern shield ferns, will grow in full shade if given constant moisture. For design combinations, nothing beats a frilly fern paired with a broad-leafed hosta.

Here are a few ferns that no shade garden should go without: 

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium): The coarse-textured, bold evergreen fronds of this tough fern add beauty year round. Some grow up to 30 inches tall with leaves equally as long, and they prefer light to full shade. They even sprout babies between rocks and on the cold dampness of the north side of buildings. They can be easily divided as their clumps grown large, and they make great container plants. 

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora): Few ferns offer the seasonal color variation that autumn ferns do. In spring, the new leaves of this evergreen start out a coppery pink, then in summer turn green, and finally in fall, turn a rust shade. This ferns grows 24 to 36 inches tall and nearly equally as wide. 

Southern Shield Fern (Thelypteris kunthii): Though deciduous, this fern gives its all during the remaining three seasons of the year. It features light green frilly fronds that grow 24 to 36 inches tall. It’s also one that can tolerate both sun and full shade if given constant moisture. 

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’): Now, here’s a fern you can’t ignore! Also deciduous, this fern’s fronds feature a mix of silvery-gray, burgundy and green foliage along dark purple stems. A smaller fern, it grows only 10 to 15 inches tall and prefers light to full shade.