Ferns and shade just go together like peace and quiet. Just as when you see snowy mountain tops you think of wind and fresh air, when you see ferns, you think of calm and inner peace. Ferns are graceful plants that give off a refreshing greenness.
Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.
On the practical side, ferns are low care plants that can thrive in the shade, where most plants don’t do as well.
With thousands and thousands of species, ferns can be found almost anywhere in the world. In cooler to colder climates, you find hardy ferns that typically grow to a height of a few inches to a few feet. In warmer climates, semi-tropical and tropical tree ferns can grow to over 50 feet.
Some ferns resist direct sun better than others, but most varieties do best with no direct sunlight. Ferns like cool, moist, well-drained soils. Most species will not make it in soils that remain soggy or that dry out. Watering may be necessary in locations where the soil is likely to become dry.
Below are a few kinds of ferns that you may want to look into.
This kind actually includes many species, some of which are well suited for colder climates, while others are only found in the tropics. The Adiantum aleuticum species, for instance, can be found in western North America from Alaska to Mexico. The Adiantum aleuticum ‘Subpumilum’ is a cultivar that was developed especially for garden use. The Adiantum capillus-veneris is native to the southern half of the North America, where it can be found from coast to coast. It is also a native of different locations around the globe, from Europe to Asia.
Sometimes referred to as lady ferns, this species actually includes a large number of different ferns. Lady ferns can be found almost everywhere around the globe. They prefer moist, fertile soils and most kinds do well in sunny to partly shaded areas. So called “Japanese cultivars,” such as the Athyrium nipponicum dictum, for instance, are quite handsome and easy to grow. Athyrium filix-femina is a native of the Northern Hemisphere that does well in damp, shady locations.
Dryopteris ferns include a few hundred species found in the Northern Hemisphere. They are often referred to as male ferns or wood ferns. Some cultivars do well in the sun, while others are more suited to shady locations. Be aware that too much sun may be fatal to shade loving ferns. The Dryopteris spinulosa carthusiana cultivar is better suited to sunny locations, while the Dryopteris X complexa ‘Robust’ is more sensitive to the sun’s harsh rays. Note that moist locations help ferns combat dehydration.
Contrary to other ferns, this fern has only a single species, the Matteuccia struthiopteris, better known as the ostrich or fiddlehead fern. These ferns are well suited for part shade to full shade areas with moist soils. They grow well in wet areas, near streams or ponds. They do not do well, on the other hand, in locations that have long, hot growing seasons. Be aware that they may not look their best all season long even in locations where they typically grow well. Their fronds can be fragile and sensitive to the elements.
This fern, commonly called the beech fern, is on the small side (fronds can reach between a few inches to about 18 inches). It grows well in part shade and full shade areas. They can form a handsome green carpet under a large tree, where they typically grow well.
These ferns have a distinctive look. The Onoclea sensibilis, or sensitive fern, was so named because it is very sensitive to frost. It is a perennial plant, so even though its fronds die off early in the fall, it grows back again next spring.