Ferns are perfect plants for gardens because they come in many shapes, colors and sizes. They bring a unique texture to your garden that is not easily replicated by other types of plants.
Ferns are perennial plants said to have existed for over 300 million years. They are flowerless, seedless, and reproduce via spores that are released under their feathery fronds.
You can easily distinguish ferns from other plants in a garden due to their leaf structure and fondness for moisture. These features have made them a must-have to attain a stunning shade garden. Different types thrive well in various climatic conditions, whether in or outdoors.
If you choose to grow ferns indoors, you must mimic the external environment where they thrive. The good thing about incorporating such plants in your garden is that they can turn a humid, shady space into a lush, thriving green shade garden.
Many different varieties of ferns exist, so you might find it difficult to choose which one would work best in your garden bed. This article discusses some of the most popular types and what makes them unique!
19 Types of Ferns For a Shady Garden
1. Tokyo Wood Fern
Just like the name suggests, the Tokyo wood fern is an upright and narrow fern native to the Japanese islands of Shikoku and Honshu. It thrives well in zones 5-8 and is deer resistant. It’s considered best for large woodland gardens because it gets up to 3 feet tall and spreads up to 3 feet wide.
2. ‘Lady in Red’ Fern
With its unique color, this Japanese fern is characterized by its brilliant bright red stems. Due to its delicate frilly fronds, ‘Lady in Red’ can grow to a height of 2-3 feet. It thrives best in moist humus soils with zones of 2-8.
Being a rabbit-resistant fern, ‘Lady in Red’ can be grown in drifts or as an accent plant.
3. Beautiful Wood Fern
The beautiful wood fern, also known as Dryopteris pulcherrima, is mainly grown for ornamental purposes. This wood fern grows well in zones 6-9 in full shade.
Under an average, moist soil, it can reach a height of 18-22 inches tall. Dryopteris pulcherrima is usually characterized by its medium growth rate and arching evergreen leaves.
4. Western Sword Fern
The Western Sword Fern, commonly known as Polystichum munitum, features leathery, toothed, dark green glossy foliage. Its evergreen clumps are usually formed by fronds that grow up to 4 feet long under cool and shady conditions. Western Sword fern works well in zones of 5-9 in full shade or part sun.
Regular watering is a must to maintain evenly moist soil for it to thrive. The Western Sword Fern is best used as a soil erosion control plant or as a woodland planting.
5. ‘Regal Red’ Japanese Painted Fern
‘Regal Red’ is a unique fern. It can add stunning color to your garden with its burgundy leaves and stalks and beautiful overlayed leaflets. Its stalks range from 8-20 inches tall.
It flourishes well in zones 4 to 8 in part shade to part sun and works magic along rock paths and formations.
6. Tasmanian Tree Fern/Man Fern
The Tasmanian tree fern is native to eastern Australia and has lacy textured foliage. Its fronds are supported by a dark brown trunk, with the fronds being 3-6 feet long. It grows well under zones of 9-11 in full or part shade.
Even though it’s considered a slow grower, the Tasmanian tree fern can grow up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. However, it grows well in moist garden soil, meaning that it has to be watered regularly.
Apart from its beautiful accent, Tasmanian tree ferns provide year-round interest and offer some protection from intense winds and hot weather.
7. ‘Pewter Lace’ Painted Fern
This Athyrium niponicum features pewter-colored foliage with a metallic sheen. ‘Pewter Lace’ flourishes perfectly in zones 5-8 under full shade.
With a height of up to 15 inches and 12 inches wide, ‘Pewter Lace’ can be used as a barrier for erosion control. It is a temperate grower that prefers wet garden areas.
8. Northern Maidenhair Fern
The northern maidenhair fern is one of the most coveted ferns by many gardeners due to its horseshoe-like foliage. It grows well in zones 3-8 in part shade, part sun, and full shade.
Reaching a height of 12-24 inches on wiry black stems and 20-24 inches wide, northern maidenhair is an easy-to-grow fern known for thriving in average garden soils. However, it has to be kept under moist conditions during the summer and spring seasons.
9. ‘Victoria’ Lady Fern
The ‘Victoria’ lady fern, or Athyrium filix, is a vigorous grower that was discovered in Scotland in 1861 during the Victorian days. Commonly referred to as Queen of Green, ‘Victoria’ lady fern can grow to 18-24 inches tall.
This plant performs well in full or part shade gardens. Characterized by its tiny twisted leaves crossing each other, ‘Victoria’ lady ferns thrive in moist and well-drained garden soils.
10. Dixie Wood Fern
Dixie wood fern, or Dryopteris x australis, stands out as a beautiful backdrop plant for your smaller shade-loving greenery. It thrives well in a moist setting with the ability to reach a height of 4 inches and a width of 24 inches.
The Dixie wood fern also flourishes in zones 5-9 in full shade. With moderate upright growth, you must ensure the plant is watered regularly for evenly moist soil within the garden.
11. ‘Brilliance’ Autumn Fern
‘Brilliance’ autumn fern, or the Dryopteris erythrosora, is an easy-to-grow fern. This is because it flourishes in both full and part shade. ‘Brilliance’ autumn fern is characterized by its bright copper-red stalks that arch.
When summer hits, the stalks turn deep green. Reaching a height of 17 inches and a width of 24 inches, this plant is hardy in zones 5 to 8. Nonetheless, regular watering will keep the soil moist and perfect for the fern.
You should plant it in areas protected against high winds. It is a pest and disease-free plant outdoors and is a low-maintenance plant.
12. Christmas Fern
Christmas fern, or Polystichum acrostichoides, is well known for its green colors, soft textures, and growing well in deep shade. With a height of 24 inches and 36 inches wide, Christmas fern thrives in zones 2-9 under full or part shade. Christmas fern forms a dense cluster of evergreen growth, making it a hardy plant for northern gardens.
13. ‘Ghost’ Athyrium
‘Ghost’ Athyrium gained popularity due to its beautiful silvery fronds that glow with a metallic sheen in contrast to its maroon ribs. The deer-resistant plant thrives well in zones 4-8 in part sun or part shade. Topping a height of 24-30 inches, ‘Ghost’ is an easy-to-grow fern that likes moist, rich, well-draining soil.
14. Deer Fern
Deer fern, or Blechnum spicant, is a moderate growing plant with the ability to tolerate coastal exposure. It grows well in zones 5-8 in part sun or full shade.
The plant has to be adequately watered to maintain evenly moist soil. It is mainly grown as a ground cover, in borders, or in woodland settings. Its leaves are well known for an upright emergence from the center of a clump during mid-summer. It is known for giving a garden a glossy evergreen groundcover that is appealing.
15. Log Fern
Are you looking for elegance? Well, the log fern, or Dryopteris celsa, is just the plant for you. This plant will grow well in zones 5-9 with its long, deep green fronds.
It is found chiefly on forest floors and has moderate growth. Log ferns can reach a height of 35 to 48 inches and 18-30 inches wide. To maintain an evenly moist garden soil for this plant, you have to water it regularly. It is an ideal plant for your wet garden areas.
16. Japanese Beech Fern
If you are looking for a fern that will produce a lush and graceful crown of foliage, look no further than the Japanese beech fern. This fern is a fast grower with green fronds. Due to its rapid growth capability, it can reach a height of 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.
However, you have to water it regularly to maintain moisture in the soil. While this plant can work wonders in forested areas, it can also be grown in shaded rock gardens or within mixed woodland areas.
17. Soft Shield Fern
Soft shield fern, or Polystichum munitum, is a fern native to Southern and Western Europe with glossy, toothed, dark green leaves perfect for your garden. It works well in zones 5-9 under full shade and in moist soil. The soft shield fern is a moderate grower reaching a height of 2 feet tall.
18. Button Fern
This type is also referred to as Pellaea rotundifolia. They have flowing, leathery leaflets shaped like a button and can thrive well in zones 8-9 where the area has shade or filtered sun. They can grow up to 18 feet.
In areas with extreme heat, they can do well as long as they are watered regularly.
19. ‘Purple Lace’ Japanese Painted Fern
This fern has striking pink, silver, and burgundy fronds. During spring, the fronds appear purple with silver accents then change to pink with a dash of silver-grey. They grow well in zones 3-8. These ferns look stunning in a shady garden growing up to 18 inches tall and wide.
Growing ferns in a garden can be addictive. Once you get the right one, you get the urge to go on a collection spree. The aforementioned ferns will make any garden spectacular.
However, it is essential to ensure the necessary conditions as outlined here for a lively green garden that will enchant any person who visits.