Ferns

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A Japanese Painted Fern emerging under a Hydrangea in our spring garden.

One of our special joys this past week, our unfolding ferns, continue to pop up in surprising places.

Although some varieties, like Autumn Brilliance, are hardy and provide color and mass throughout the winter; others, like these little Japanese Painted Ferns, are deciduous.

Autumn Brilliance ferns stay green throughout our winters.  New spring foliage is copper colored for the first few weeks.  These clumps grow larger and more beautiful each year.

Autumn Brilliance ferns stay green throughout our winters. New spring foliage is copper colored for the first few weeks. These clumps grow larger and more beautiful each year.

Deciduous ferns disappear entirely after a hard freeze, and you almost forget about them.

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Then, after a stretch of warm days in the spring, they just suddenly appear again.  It seems like they just pop up overnight.

Christmas ferns planted in a bed of Vinca

Christmas ferns planted in a bed of Vinca

Once they begin growing, ferns unfurl their fronds very quickly.

Japanese painted fern just emerging in a pot with Heuchera and ivy.

Japanese Painted Fern just emerging in a pot with Heuchera and ivy.

Ferns are one of my favorite perennial plants.  Not only are they beautiful throughout the season, but they are never bothered by deer.  They require no maintenance.

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Many varieties of Autumn, Christmas, and Lady ferns even grow in partial sun, provided they have adequate moisture.  These plants naturalize beautifully, most spreading by underground stems which wander hither and yon beyond the original plant.

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Adding ferns to a planting creates an instant feeling of peace and relaxation.  Their softness “takes the edge off” their surroundings, and helps other plants in the group weave together more harmoniously.

Our "fern garden" is on a very shady slope.  Little else grows here successfully, partly because deer who slip into the yard are drawn here to graze.

Our “fern garden” is on a very shady slope. Little else grows here successfully, partly because deer who slip into the yard are drawn here to graze.

I often use  ferns in container plantings.  Lady Ferns grow  especially well indoors, even in the winter.

Several need potting up or dividing this week as they’ve grown so much over the winter.

Ghost fern emerging at the base of a potted Hydrangea

Ghost fern emerging at the base of a potted Hydrangea

I like Japanese painted ferns, or Ghost ferns, around the trunks of small shrubs.

I often add them to a Four Season planting featuring a shrub or small tree.  Even though the Japanese Fern disappears over the winter, they add such interest in spring as the shrub also begins to grow again.

Autumn Brilliance and a wild grape vine.

Autumn Brilliance and a wild grape vine.

Several shady areas of our garden are given over almost entirely to ferns.  Their movement in the breeze adds texture and interest to areas where not much else will grow.

Because deer tend to find their way in, despite our best efforts, the Heuchera and Solomon’s Seal I’ve planted here in past years was frequently munched, and never looked  good.

Anolther view of our fern garden.

Another view of our fern garden.

About all we’ve had success with in these wild areas are ferns, Hellebores, moss, and spring bulbs.

Last spring I planted a beautiful fern in a hanging basket with some annuals, and hung it on our deck in partial shade.  I forgot to note the variety, and so didn’t know whether or not it was a hardy fern.  It grew large and lush over the summer, but there was no space to over-winter it inside.

It was a loser in the lottery of which plants would winter in the house or garage.  We moved it up close to the wall of the house, in a sheltered spot, and hoped for the best.  Sadly, by January it was entirely brown.

Do you see the fiddleheads emerging from the clump?  The fern survived winter in its basket on the deck!

Do you see the fiddleheads emerging from the clump?   The fern survived winter in its basket on the deck!

Earlier this week I was turning it out of its basket in order to re-use the basket  with a fresh planting for the season ahead.

Just as the root ball was headed to the compost… I saw fiddleheads!  The fern survived the winter!  I happily repotted it into a larger basket with fresh soil, gave it a drink of Neptune’s Harvest, and set it back into its protected spot.

As soon as the fiddleheads uncurl, and our weather settles out, I’ll happily hang it up for another season on the deck.

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Ferns are an affordable luxury.  Most retail for under $10.00, even in a gallon sized pot.  I purchase them in pots 4″ or smaller.

Homestead Garden Center offered many varieties of fern in little 2.5″ pots for $2.50 last year, and I keep pestering the Patton family to please offer them again in the small size this year.

This Japanese Painted Fern was planted from a 2.5" pot in 2011.  It is growing below a yound Camellia shrub in partial sun.

This Japanese Painted Fern was planted from a 2.5″ pot in 2011. It is growing below a young Camellia shrub in partial sun.

When you are careful to purchase hardy ferns, even deciduous ones, it is a great long term investment in the garden.

Ferns work well against a foundation,  along walls and hedges, as a backdrop for a border, under established trees, and in naturalized areas.

The key to success is in knowing how much light a given cultivar can take and in keeping the soil moist during times of drought.

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With so many species and cultivars, there is a color, form, and size for most every taste.

Our Oakleaf Hydrangea and Japapnese Painted Fern survived winter here in a shrub border.  Mayapples and Vinca surround them.

Our Oakleaf Hydrangea and Japanese Painted Fern survived winter here in a shrub border. Mayapples and Vinca surround them.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Ferns

  1. I have yet to get ferns, but I live next to the beach so I don’t think they are salt tolerant.

  2. Love the ferns!!!! 🙂 After the rain stopped this afternoon, I walked down to the pond and the ferns are growing fast, frond every where!! Suppose to be 30 degrees tonight, I sure hope not 😦

    • Did you get the terrible wind? Our temps have dropped over 30 degrees already, and we’re under a freeze warning tonight. Hope you don’t get that cold, and that your garden survives. Glad you loved the ferns! At least most are hardy enough to take a few hours of the cold. Best wishes, WG

  3. Lovely post about one of my very favorites. A friend in Lewes, DE has what she calls fern valley growing under a tree. Jam-packed with so many varieties intermingled with loads of hosta. She lives in the historic district so no deer worries. I’m finding that ferns are increasing in popularity here at my house too as the deer don’t eat!! Very informative and interesting. Thank you, WG.

    • Thank you, Barbara. I’d love to see your friend’s “Fern Valley”! I’ve been admiring the beautiful tulips all over CW this past week. No deer worries in town, either. I visited a friend’s garden in the neighborhood today, and commiserated with her over all of her nibbled to the very bone shrubs… So many hungry deer here now! Best wishes, WG

  4. I love ferns! Yours are so beautiful! I agree that they are wonderful additions to the garden, particularly in shady beds. The cultivars of Japanese painted ferns are especially lovely. Our woodlands have many varieties, which have naturalized in my gardens. We have a lot of Ostrich fern, the fiddlehead you see for sale in supermarkets. When I look at what they are getting for them, I think I should sell them myself!

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