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Holly fern, a woodland native, adds a bold, coarse texture to the landscape with its large fronds. In fact, the holly fern forms a dense arching clump of lustrous dark green fronds that reaches up to 3 feet tall. Use this plant as a groundcover in moist woodland areas and enjoy its glossy green fronds when the rest of the garden is dormant during winter months. Easy to grow when planted in moist soil and part to full shade, holly fern is a long-lasting garden plant.
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Part Sun, Shade
From 6 inches to 3 feet
1 1/2-4 feet wide, depending on variety
garden plans for Holly fern
Planting Holly Fern
Light up a shade garden with holly fern and its lush upright green fronds. This shade-lover is a great planting partner for astilbe, barrenwort (Epimedium), coralbells (Heuchera), hosta, Irish moss or pearlwort (Sagina subulata), lungwort (Pulmonaria), spotted dead nettle (Lamium), and yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea). In time, many of these perennials will creep together to form a dense carpet of foliage and flowers that prevents weeds from emerging.
Holly fern is also a great container plant. Pair it with begonia, coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), and New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) for a color- and texture-rich planting that looks good from spring through the first frost. When planted in a container garden, holly fern is usually treated as an annual.
Holly Fern Care
Holly fern grows best in moist woodland soils in part shade to full shade. Water plants deeply and regularly during the first growing season to establish an extensive root system. Blanket the soil around plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch to prevent soil moisture loss. Holly fern also thrives in containers and is a great plant for adding texture to a container grouping on a shaded patio or porch. Plant holly fern in spring, situating the rhizomes at an angle to help combat potential crown rot problems. Crown rot is especially troublesome in poorly drained soils.
Holly fern is an evergreen fern in most areas. Care for it in spring by cutting back the old fronds right after new growth emerges. Top-dress the mulch around plants if needed to maintain a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch or compost.