Leafy ferns on a garden path

Plant some fern-tastic ferns!

If you’ve got a shady area in your garden where not much seems to thrive, try some ferns. Ferns love dappled light and areas with shade and bring texture, drama and colour, depending on the varieties you choose.

May 8, 2020

They may be considered ‘green’ but ferns range in colour from yellows to blue/greys with some new foliage growth appearing in shades of red. They also make great indoor plants and are a great addition to hanging baskets and pots.

It’s all about location

Ferns in their natural environment thrive under shady tree canopies in a bed of damp fertile soil and mulch created from fallen leaves. The key to success with ferns in the garden is to replicate these conditions. Plant ferns anywhere there is low or dappled light - under trees, shaded patios, or dark passageways that are shaded by buildings.

Choosing ferns

Decide whether you want to mass-plant one variety of fern, or plant a mix of varieties with contrasting colours and forms. Ferns look great amongst other shade-loving plants such as hostas and bromeliads. Consider the final height and spread of your plants to ensure they won’t obstruct pathways or block views.

Planting and maintenance

Your ferns will thrive in nutrient-rich, free-draining soil. Dig compost into planting holes and space your plants out according to the instructions. Mulch well with composted leaves to keep the soil moist, provide nutrients and suppress weeds. Once established, ferns need little maintenance other than topping up mulch and cutting off dead fronds from time to time. Do this carefully to avoid disturbing the soil and roots.

Ferns indoors

Indoor ferns often suffer from low humidity - brown tips on the fronds is a sign of this. The problem can be worse in winter when the heating is on, so give indoor ferns a regular misting with water. Placing pots on a pebble lined saucer of water can also help to increase the humidity, the pebbles keep the bottom of the pot from sitting in the water which could cause drainage issues. Feed indoor ferns with half-strength liquid fertilizer every couple of months and if you do forget to water your ferns, they can often be revived by immersing the pot in water and soaking for 15 minutes. Another solution is to have two potted ferns and rotate them between indoors and outdoors every few months.

Ferns by size

Large ferns (over 1.5m)

  • King fern
  • Tree fern
  • Lady fern

Medium ferns (up to 1.5m)

  • Kangaroo fern
  • Hen & chicken fern
  • Birds nest fern
  • Dwarf tree fern
  • Leather fern

Small ferns (up to 0.5m)

  • Button fern
  • Hares foot fern
  • Maidenhair fern
  • Necklace fern

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