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Successfully Growing Ferns in My Garden

There was a time I struggled to grow ferns, but no more!By adding lots of organic matter to the planting hole of each fern, by mulching, and by being diligent to keep the soil moist, I have boosted my success rate. Now I rarely lose a fern. I also fertilize in spring with fish emulsion, and in July I treat them to my "summer tonic," a mixture of 2 Tbs. of epsom salts and 2 Tbs. fish emulsion per gallon of water, used to soak the ground beneath each fern.

Fortunately we get plentiful rainfall in my area, but sometimes we have dry weather during summer or fall. I do have a homemade sprinkler system of sorts that I use in the woodland garden during excessively dry periods. The woodland garden is a large area, so hauling hoses or buckets of water around can be an enormous chore. I created this system by burying two long industrial hoses under mulch. The first hose begins directly across the drive from the house and runs through the woodland garden to a staked impulse sprinkler, which is connected in tandem via the second hose to another staked impulse sprinkler. The two sprinklers together can water a large portion of the woodland garden, including all my ferns and native azaleas. A third hose stays attached to the faucet on the side of the house. We use this hose for washing cars, etc, but when the woodland garden needs watering, I simply pull it across the drive, connect it to the woodland hose and turn on the water.I acquired my ferns from different sources. Some were gifts. Many I purchased, and others I transplanted from other parts of my property, including the wild valley behind our house, an area rich in native ferns, but an area that is difficult to access, so I doubt I will ever develop it. Many of the ferns down there are growing in thin, hard soil. Most of them look scraggly. When I transplant them and give them my usual care, they usually respond by becoming healthy and lush.

The following  is a sampling of the ferns in my garden. I have others, and there are more I would love to own! As you see, there are many types of ferns, which offer a variety of textures and colors:1. Bird's Nest Fern, Asplenium nidus. This fern is not hardy. It is in a pot and comes inside for the winter. 

2. Peacock Fern, Selaginella uncinata. Its foliage has a turquoise iridescent sheen.

3. Lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina. I love its feathery fronds.

4.Southern River Wood Fern, Thelypteris kunthii. Wood ferns can grow up to 3 feet high.

5. Arborvitae Fern, Selaginella braunii. This is one that likes plenty of water.

6. Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum. It's silvery fronds brighten dark spots in the woodland garden.

7. Japanese Holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum. Evergreen in frost free areas, it loses its fronds in colder climates.

8. Autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora. Emerging fronds are copper colored, then gradually turn rich green by mid-summer.

9. Resurrection Fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides. This native fern appears to die during dry weather but quickly revives when rain returns.

10. East Indian Holly Fern, Arachniodes s.'Variegata.' This evergreen fern has prominent yellow variegation and will grow in zones 7-10a.

11. Southern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris. A beautiful fern with many clustered fronds (large, divided leaves) on wiry black stems.

12. Virginia Blue Fern, also called Blue Rabbit's Foot Fern, Phlebodium pseudoaureum. My newest fern, I could not resist its chalky blue color or the oddly shaped fronds. It is hardy in zones 8-9. 

13. Lady in Red Fern, Athyrium angustum forma rubellum 'Lady in Red.' Lacy light green foliage radiates out from the red stems.

14. Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides. This evergreen native fern grows in abundance in the valley behind my house.

Finally, I can not leave out my Boston Fern, Nephrolepis exaltata. It is not hardy at all, but every year I put one in the large urn in the middle of my arbor garden.

You may also enjoy reading  Summer Proof the Garden, as well as Planting a Fern Glade.

Have a great week!   Deb

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Reader Comments (17)

Your fern collection is beautiful. I struggle to grow ferns because my soil is so sandy (even with tons of organic matter added!). One that does well for me is Lady fern, which must have a wide range of temperature tolerances to grow in both your garden and mine.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJean

You have a very pretty collection! While I had quite a lot of ferns in my old shady, well-irrigated garden, I haven't been particularly successful in establishing them in my current garden. I put in a few Austral Gems, a relatively drought tolerant fern, but even these have gotten sun-bleached as a result of reducing my shade canopy in a vain effort to satisfy my disagreeable tree-hating neighbor.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Hmph, you have "comments off" on the older articles. I have #2 and something like #12 but I use different common names for both. I probably have some of the others in the 1/4 acre of woods at the back of our property. I admire them from a safe distance because I don't like snakes. For sure, there is cinnamon fern back there. Enjoyed this article.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Great news with your success! Didn't even know before that you struggled with them :)

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

I have started a miniature fern glade, inspired by your gardens. I've got to have one of the Rabbit's Foot ferns - I've wanted one as a houseplant for a while, but I never considered it for outside!

I would love to grow some ferns here but I fear the ground is too free draining for them and our summers too hot, it isn't even humid here so not even that moisture to help them. I love all the different colours and forms that you have.

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

We inherited the Knysna 7 weeks (= in a vase) fern, and our neighbour has offered me more.

I have added a maidenhair fern in a shady sheltered corner.

Slowly I plan to add more, when I can open a suitable space.
Do love ferns!!

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

Hi Deb,

Love your garden and blog very informative.

Birmingham Fern Society will have their show and sale Wednesday June 15, 2016.

Entries 8-10. Show viewing 1-4. Public entries welcome.

FERN SALE 1-5. 43 varieties available

Great place to see different ferns in the cool auditorium at Bham Botanical Gardens.


June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Do you know I had this same thought. I was wondering why my ferns were not growing, expanding and looking healthy. This year changed all that. I am not sure if our drought will not make them go back to wimpy, but now they are doing well. You have a lot of wonderful selections. Love that Boston. You need Dryopteris erthrosora 'Brilliance' in you woodland. It is beautiful in orange. I may have it on my blog at the end of the month when I show the garden through the month again.

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

You have an impressive (and beautiful!) collection of ferns! Gosh, I've never planted ferns here, and they just pop up everywhere! I only have about three types of ferns, but the most common one here is the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), which I have to pull and thin constantly so it won't take over my garden! So, no problem getting them established here, but they do tend to shrivel during dry spells. I always know they'll come back the next year, so I don't worry too much. The ferns in your garden give it so much character!

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

Your ferns are beautiful Deb. So green and healthy. I love ferns. I keep buying them but not all survive in my dry sandy garden.

June 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Now that is a collection of ferns !

June 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatsi

I'm surprised ferns would be difficult there in the steamy south, but I suppose a dry summer would do it. You have a great selection! I especially like the Asplenium and the Japanese Holly Fern.

June 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjason

Wow, I am impressed with your extensive fern collection! Do you know that I've never grown a single fern? I'm one of those odd garden ducks who don't get all excited about them like every other gardener I know. But then again, I have very little shade, and my summers are too dry. So I'll just let you grow them, and I'll enjoy them this way!

June 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Beautiful photos - you helped me to identify some of the ferns in my garden for which I had forgotten the names. I am in zone 7b - not too far from you. I had to abandon all hope of hostas due to deer browsing and now the ferns are what make my shade gardens beautiful. There are a few in your collection that I will have to add to my garden :)

August 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Gorgeous pics Deb. What made you go with epsom salts? I use them on my tomatoes but haven't tried them with my ferns.

December 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hi Joshua, thanks for stopping by my blog! Regarding your question about the epsom salts: Epsom salts contain magnesium and sulfur, both elements which are often deficient in old, acidic soils of the Southeast, which is where I am. I have found ferns respond to my treatment with increased vigor and better color. Ferns grown in potting soil probably don't need it. Best wishes! Deb

December 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

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