Fern Fascination

GardenFind the fern for you.

By Charlie Thigpen

Photography by Lindsey Griffin

Every year ferns are one of our top selling plants, and that’s pretty amazing considering they don’t produce beautiful blooms. They are, however, cherished for their fabulous foliage. These frond-filled beauties are popular year-round as houseplants and many are sold in the spring and summer for the porch or garden. The word fern is from the old Anglo-Saxon word fearn, meaning feather. These feathery textured plants add a soft look to any landscape.

In the heat of summer, when many plants look tired and rough, lush green ferns can create a cool, tropical effect. They also help create a classic entry point and are often seen flanking a doorway or positioned at the entrance to a garden. Although this family of plants looks rather delicate, they are pretty tough since they date back to prehistoric times. Whether you want them for your home or garden, there is a fern for you.

For the Garden

It’s a myth that all ferns need deep shade because asparagus, Macho, and Kimberly Queen ferns can tolerate quite a bit of sun if watered frequently. Although they will tolerate sunny locations, they do like to be shielded from the hot, western sun. These three ferns are versatile and will also perform well in shade to part shade where they won’t require as much water. They are annuals and will quickly get knocked to the ground after enduring freezing temperatures, but I know many gardeners who take them indoors or to the basement before the first hard frost and overwinter them.

If you want perennial ferns for the garden, plant autumn ferns. These ferns like shade to part sun and don’t require too much water. Their new foliage is coppery red, which will later turn dark green. This fern is quickly becoming the most popular landscape fern because it’s very hardy once established and it’s evergreen. Even during last winter’s bitter cold these ferns stayed green. The fronds will begin to look a little tattered in January and February when they should be cut to the ground, but they will quickly recover and come back fuller each season. Other evergreen ferns are Christmas and holly fern. Holly ferns are not as delicate looking as most ferns and have thick holly-like leaves. If you do have a shady yard and lots of room to plant these shade lovers, consider using other great ferns such as cinnamon, Japanese painted, lady, maidenhair, southern shield, and tassel fern. These are all great perennials.

In the House

Ferns became popular houseplants during the Victorian era and their popularity has continued to grow. They are a nice touch inside the home, adding the same lush look they give our gardens, but they also help purify the air by filtering out toxins. Indoor ferns do need to receive bright indirect sunlight to stay full. Most of the ferns should be happy when they are watered once weekly. Interior ferns we’ve found to be the easiest to maintain include Austral Gem, bird’s nest, button, rabbit’s foot, and staghorn. The Austral Gem is relatively new, but it has thick fronds and doesn’t seem to be as finicky as most interior ferns. The bird’s nest doesn’t have delicate fronds but instead has wide, thick leaflets that radiate from the center of the plant. Rabbit’s foot fern produces hairy rhizomes that creep and will eventually drape around its container looking like little rabbits’ feet.

Pick a fern that’s right for your home or landscape and enjoy these graceful, yet hardy plants. Water them consistently and place them in the right location and these feathery plants might just tickle your fancy.

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