Learn How to Care for Outdoor Ferns With This Guide

Creating your own fernery is rewarding, low-maintenance, and simple to accomplish. Here's everything you need to know about planting and caring for ferns.

painted fern around large rock
Ferns can thrive in a variety of environments, including squeezed between large boulders.

Ferns add delicate, feathery texture and tons of green to any garden bed. All you need is dappled shade, some plants to get the colonies started, and enough moisture to encourage ferns to grow. Here's what you need to know to start your own fern garden.

How to Care for Ferns

Although ferns come in many shapes, sizes and textures, their care requirements are similar across the board. If planted in the right conditions, ferns can be a full and foliage-forward addition to landscaping.

Light: Ferns prefer a dappled shade canopy. Dense shade or bright sun will stress ferns beyond their comfort level.

Watering: If nature doesn't furnish an inch of rain weekly, watering will be necessary, especially during the first growing season after transplanting.

Soil: Ferns sink their thirsty roots into deep, friable soil rich in organic matter. Heavy clay soils are not hospitable unless amended with compost. A neutral or slightly acidic soil is preferable for most ferns; aim for a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

Fertilizer: Beyond compost added to the soil, ferns do not need fertilizer.

How to Grow Ferns

Know what to expect when planting ferns in your yard. Different varieties of ferns can reach different sizes and are hardy in different zones, so read the tag before bringing a fern home.

Hardiness: Zones 2–10, depending on the species.

Height: Depending on species, ferns can range from only 8 inches to 6 feet tall.

Transplanting: The optimal time to transplant ferns is from late spring through the end of summer (but not during a drought).

Problems: Ferns are wonderfully trouble-free. They rarely succumb to diseases and are deer-resistant.

Selecting Types of Ferns

There are so many types of ferns, there is bound to be a variety that fits your needs. Unless you have a lot of ground to cover, avoid aggressive ferns such as ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Some favorite hardy ferns include the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), cinnamon-frond autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora), and nearly evergreen Himalayan maidenhair (Adiantum venustum). Japanese painted ferns feature pale hues of pink, mint, and silver.

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