16 Fabulous Indoor and Outdoor Ferns

Ferns add texture and interest to your home and garden, whether they mingle with other plants or stand alone as beautiful specimens.

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April 03, 2019

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Staghorn Fern

Staghorn, also known as elkhorn ferns, are eye-catching when they’re mounted on a wall and grown as houseplants. In USDA Zones 9-10, these evergreens can live outside year-round, where many gardeners hang them in trees. Staghorns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are epiphytes, non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants and take in water and nutrients through their fronds. They need bright, indirect light and seldom thrive under artificial lights indoors. When the weather is hot, water them once a week by misting the entire plant or soaking it in water just long enough to saturate the roots. Reduce watering during cooler weather. When your staghorns are actively growing, feed them with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer as directed on the label; feed less often when the plants are dormant in fall and winter.

Boston Fern

Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata), with their arching branches, are perfect for hanging baskets on porches. But keep them out of direct sun, which can scorch them. They need a cool location and indirect light. They also require high humidity if they’re grown as houseplants, so mist them a couple of times each week. Don’t let their soil dry out and feed them with a houseplant fertilizer at half-strength while they're actively growing, from spring to fall. If your fern drops a lot of its foliage while overwintering indoors, cut it back and it will regrow. Left outside, Boston ferns are evergreens in Zones 9-11.

Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum) brighten shady spots in the garden with their fan-shaped fronds held on shiny, black stems. They're deciduous perennials that thrive outdoors in full to partial shade and moist, well-draining soil rich in organic matter (in nature, you’d find them in the humusy, slightly acidic soil of woodlands). They’re more demanding when grown indoors, as they dislike the dry air in most homes. To enjoy them as houseplants, mist them daily, put their pots on top of some pebbles in a tray with a little water, or keep them in a bathroom or near a kitchen sink. They'll need a location with indirect morning or afternoon sunlight.

Silver Brake Fern

Silver brake ferns (Pteris argyraea) make attractive houseplants and adapt well to most homes. They need bright, indirect light and should be kept away from drafts and vents; hot, dry air will make the fronds turn yellow and die. This fern can grow up to 12" tall, but you can snip off tall stems, if desired, to control its size. Keep its soil slightly moist and raise the humidity by putting the container on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water, or mist it regularly. While the fern is actively growing, feed with a half-strength, balanced houseplant fertilizer every couple of weeks. In the garden, use it alone or in masses to add interest and texture to shady rock gardens or woodland areas. It's hardy in Zones 8-10.

Bird's Nest Fern

Most homes are too dry for ferns, especially when the air conditioning is on in the summer or the heat is on in winter. Fortunately, 'Austral Gem' bird's nest fern (Asplenium hybrid dimorphum x difforme) can adapt to low humidity. It's not a messy houseplant; unlike many ferns, its fronds don't produce spores that will drop on your tabletops and floors. After the last spring frost, give 'Austral Gem' a vacation outdoors in full shade. Hardy in Zones 9-11, it's evergreen in a shady garden and forms clumps of foliage up to 20" tall and 24" wide.

Lemon Button Fern

The smallest of the Boston ferns, lemon button ferns (Nephrolepis cordifolia) give off a citrusy scent when you crush their leaves. Grow these pretty ferns with button-like leaflets in containers or terrariums and give them filtered shade; they can’t take direct sun. If your home is dry, mist your fern regularly or place it on top of some pebbles in a tray filled with a little water. To avoid root rot, don't let the bottom of the pot touch the water. Hardy in Zones 10-11, these evergreens grow about one foot tall and wide. Outdoors, use them as a groundcover or in a border, or plant them along the edges of paths.

Ostrich Fern

Perennial ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are easy to grow, happy in moist or wet soil that is slightly acidic. Plant yours in full to part shade and give them plenty of room; they spread underground via rhizomes and grow 3' to 6' wide. Even their upright fronds can reach 4' to 6' tall. Hardy in Zones 2-7, the plants do best where the summers are cool. Design tip: use these ferns as a backdrop for other shade-loving plants. To grow them indoors, keep them moist, water and mist them regularly, and give them indirect light. These deciduous ferns may go dormant during the winter when they’re grown as houseplants.

Japanese Painted Fern

In hot summer climates, Japanese painted ferns should be planted in partial to deep shade, but they can take morning sun elsewhere. These deciduous perennials, (Athyrium niponicum) have soft, silvery fronds with hints of blue or violet-red and they're hardy in Zones 4-8. Give them moist soil that is rich in organic matter and mulch them. Don’t let water stand around their roots, which can cause the roots to rot. If your fern needs a boost, feed it with a liquid plant food at half-strength. Mix these ferns, which grow 18" to 24" tall, with colorful heucheras, hostas or shade-loving flowers in your garden. If you grow them as houseplants, they'll need high humidity and a spot in a bright window that doesn't heat up from the sun.

Cinnamon Fern

With cinnamon-colored fronds that grow in their centers, and big, green fronds surrounding them, cinnamon ferns add color and texture to shady spots. They can also take filtered sun if given moist soil that's rich in organic matter. Hardy in Zones 4-8, these deciduous plants (Osmunda cinnamomea) do best in sites that are protected from drying winds. Water them regularly, if there’s not enough rainfall, or grow them near a pond or other water feature. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer when new growth starts in spring, using the amount directed on your product label. Cinnamon ferns, which grow to 4' tall, make a great backdrop for shorter flowers, and they’re useful as groundcovers or for erosion control on slopes.

Kimberly Queen Fern

Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata) are sometimes called sword ferns because of their narrow, upright fronds. Use these practically carefree Australian natives as elegant specimen plants in an indoor location that gets medium light and high humidity. (You'll probably need to mist them often or keep a small humidifier going.) They're also easy to grow outside, where they’re hardy in Zones 9-11 and grow to 3' tall and 4' wide. They prefer shade to part sun in the garden; plant them in well-drained soil and keep them moist. Fertilize a couple of times a year, if you wish, but these ferns don't need a lot of plant food.

Autumn Fern

True to its name, autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) takes on fall-like bronze tones in autumn. It also boasts coppery-green fronds in spring that become brighter green by summer. Give these colorful ferns, which are hardy in Zones 5-9, part to full shade and shelter them from strong winds and long periods of hot sunlight. Feed them lightly with a slow release fertilizer when new growth appears, following the directions on your product. Autumn ferns grow 24 to 30 inches tall in slightly acidic, rich, moist soil. In frost-free regions, they remain evergreen, but in areas with cold winters, they can be semi-evergreen or deciduous, depending on how low the temperatures go.

Athyrium 'Ghost' Fern

This is one ghost you won’t mind having around. Athyrium 'Ghost' shines in shady garden spots, thanks to its silvery-green fronds and attractive burgundy midribs. Hardy in Zones 4-8, these deciduous ferns reach 24" to 30" high in full shade to part sun and need moist, organically rich soil that drains easily. They're perennials you can plant to help control erosion or grow as a ground cover, in a woodland or in a border. Pot them in containers and move them around as needed for color and interesting texture.

Leatherwood Fern

Native Leatherwood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis) earned their common name for their leathery, blue-green fronds held on arching stems. Give these shade-loving perennials, which are hardy in Zones 3-8, full to partial shade and plant them in average to moist soil that drains easily. The plants form clumps that grow up to 2' high and wide, but they don't spread. Use them in woodlands, rock gardens or native plantings, or combine them with colorful wildflowers and heucheras. They also make lovely specimen plants, thanks to their vase-like shapes.

'Lady in Red' Fern

In the second year after planting, the stems of Athyrium felix-forma 'Lady in Red' turn violet-red, and with its dark green fronds, it becomes a stand-out in the garden. Use it in a border, container or as a groundcover, or cut its foliage to enjoy indoors. The plants grow up to 36" tall and 24" wide. Plant these ferns, which are hardy in Zones 2-8, in part to full shade. Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist; they prefer organically-rich soil that drains easily.

Christmas Fern

Is your garden spot moist or dry? Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) adapts to either. This evergreen is hardy in Zones 3 to 8, although its long, leathery fronds droop onto the ground in the winter. Give Christmas ferns full to part shade and fertile soil that drains easily; they can mature up to 3' tall and wide. These ferns are native to parts of North America, where you'll often see them carpeting forest floors. Try growing them on shady slopes, where they’ll help control erosion.

Rabbit's Foot Fern

The roots of rabbit's foot ferns (Davallia fejeensis) are fuzzy rhizomes, which climb right over the edges of containers and resemble the soft feet of rabbits. In nature, the rhizomes help attach the plants to trees. These ferns are hardy in Zones 10-12 and can be grown as attractive houseplants that mature about 18" tall and 20" wide. They need bright, indirect sunlight and should be kept slightly moist. Mist the rhizomes as needed to keep them from drying out, and don't cover them with soil, which leads to rotting. Feed with a liquid houseplant fertilizer at half-strength every couple of weeks when the plants are actively growing.

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