Himalayan fern maidenhair (Handsome Adiantum) is a small fern with fresh green fronds and a slow spreading growth habit. Although technically evergreen, removing old growth reveals gorgeous bronze fronds when they bloom in late winter. This fern is an excellent ground cover to fill in the gaps left by early spring bulbs. Native western fern (a. Alloticum) is deciduous, with bright green fronds on black wiry stems that gradually form an impressive mass.
Spleen plant maidenhair (Asplenium trichomane) forms curly clumps of short evergreen fronds on wiry black stems. According to the Great Plant Picks website, “This fragile little native fern looks incredibly tough once established.” Plant your spleen plant in a container where you can admire its beauty up close.
Rochford sacred fern (Cut the certomium ‘Rochfordianum’) has bright green, bold, leathery leaves with serrated margins – easy to recognize in reference to holly leaves. Beautiful foliage and upright growth habit make the Rochford holly fern a beautiful specimen that provides a contrast to more subtle shade plants in the garden or container compositions.
Sunset fern (Dryopteris lepidopoda) Adds color and warmth to the shade garden. Evergreen in the traditional sense, new spring growth appears coppery pink, then transitions through amber and bronze before maturing to a deep, brilliant olive green. Remove worn-out foliage in late winter to clear the way for new growth. With regular water, colorful new growth extends into the summer.
Japanese painted fern (Japanese garden He was. fee) brings an alternative color palette to the shade garden with green and silver fronds shaded with purple. Named cultivars, such as ‘Silver Falls’, ‘Burgundy Lace’ and ‘Apple Court’, enhance the colorful effect. Cut the deciduous fern back in the fall after the foliage yellows.
Fern is not picky. Provide well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, and mulch with compost or fine wood chips to conserve moisture. Most ferns thrive in open spaces and dappled shade; Those that grow in full sun will require additional water. Planting in spring or fall, when rain is plentiful, helps ferns establish before the seasonal dry months.
Refer to the Great Plant Picks website (greatplantpicks.org) for specific growing information for all of the ferns listed above.
The Hardy Fern Foundation (HFF) has been promoting its favorite fronds since 1989. Annual benefits for HFF members include a subscription to the organization’s information-packed newsletter, notice about upcoming classes, garden tours, and members-only access to a specialty fern distribution in the fall. HFF members also enjoy free admission to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, home to the organization’s collection of hardy ferns displayed in a rich, layered forest. Visit hardyferns.org for membership details and to explore additional fern resources, including local and national affiliate gardens, suggested reading, and international fern sites.