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November 1, 2013

Fantastic ferns

by Debra Anchors

Ferns are nothing short of gorgeous. Best of all, they are so easy to care for that most gardeners meet with success. Even those who lust only for colorful flower gardens find ferns invaluable as lush background plantings intermixed with perennials to bring form and texture to their showy beds throughout the growing season. Although the fern family is truly enormous, the gardener’s choices for deliberate cultivation are somewhat limited.

Ferns need light open shade to grow well. While it’s true they’re often found along forest edges, nature rarely grows them in deep shade. And, since ferns root on the soil surface, they need some kind of mulch like bark or wood chips to keep roots cool and prevent weeds from taking over. If you can manage these few requirements, your ferns will be off and running!

Speaking of running, ferns that propagate themselves by runners are aggressive, so plant them where they won’t crowd out other treasures. 

Northern maidenhair fern
The northern maidenhair fern           
(Adiantum pedatum), a common favorite, has black leafy stalks and knee-high, lyre-shaped fronds of soft blue-green.

Ostrich fern
Another beauty is the imposing ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). In the garden, ostrich ferns contribute an architectural grace of handsome, nearly three-feet-tall plume-like fronds all summer.

Japanese painted fern
The Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum), with its many-hued fronds of a silvery sheen and contrasting maroon stalks, is becoming increasingly popular. Of medium size, this painted lady lends itself to interplantings as a foil for flowering plants.

Christmas fern - photo by Ben Kimball
One stalwart evergreen fern (Polystichum  acrostichoides), the Christmas fern, stays lush even through early winter snows.

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