Ferns Are Made for the Shade

Try these varieties for your shade garden.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese painted fern

Japanese painted fern

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.

Next Up

Growing Asparagus Ferns

Grow airy, feathery asparagus ferns as houseplants or garden ornamentals. Indoors or out, asparagus fern care is easy.

Growing Christmas Ferns

Staying green deep into winter's chill, these evergreen ferns bring color to your garden when every other living thing has turned brown.

How to Grow Lily of the Valley

Dress up your yard’s shady spots with the fragrant blooms of lily of the valley flowers — an old-fashioned favorite.

How to Grow Pachysandra

Meet one of the best groundcovers for shade that delivers evergreen color year round.

Planting Coral Bells: How to Grow and Care for These Colorful Perennials

Heucheras, also known as coral bells or alum root, are herbaceous shade perennials native to America known primarily for their beautiful, robust foliage. They’re a great low-maintenance option for landscape beds and container gardens, available in a range of alluring colors.

Planting and Caring For Coleus

Bring summer color and texture to your garden with coleus plants’ dramatic leaves. Because flowers aren’t the only way to add zing.

Dracaena Plant Care

Dracaena houseplants are easy to care for with our experts' planting and growing tips.

Cast Iron Plant: How to Grow and Use This Houseplant and Garden Evergreen

Cast iron plants are easy to grow even if you have a brown thumb.

7 Ways to Prevent Tomato and Potato Blight

Early and late blight can affect both tomato and potato plants. Learn how to protect your garden and keep these diseases at bay by following these prevention tips.

Squash Bugs and Squash Vine Borers in the Garden

Having problems with your squash plants? It might be squash bugs or squash vine borers. Both can cause significant damage to squash, gourds, pumpkins and zucchini plants. Learn how to detect these pests and preserve your crops.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.

On TV

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.