There are over a hundred varieties of ferns that are found growing in the wild in Minnesota, many of them make great landscape plants in the shady garden. While there are similarities with wild ferns, hardy ferns can vary greatly in appearance, growth habits and cultural requirements. Most ferns are very easy to grow, and knowing what to expect and what each prefers will help you succeed. Keep in mind that plants can often adapt to less than ideal conditions. For instance, most ferns will tolerate more sun when they are kept evenly moist.
Here are a few of the terms used when talking about ferns:
Fronds and Fiddleheads The leaves of ferns are called fronds. The tightly rolled buds that emerge from the ground and unfold are called fiddleheads.
Deciduous or Evergreen Ferns that die back to the ground at the end of each season is called deciduous. Evergreen ferns keep their fronds from year to year.
Fertile Blades Some ferns will send up a brown encrusted spike called a fertile blade. This frond is part of the fern’s reproductive effort, like seeds on other plants. They are often used in dried arrangements, and they can simply be removed if you find them unattractive.
Acid Humus is soil with lots of organic matter, usually decaying plant material. Acid is a measure of the soil pH. Neutral soil has a pH of 7. Soil with a pH below 7 is considered acid. Sunshade A spot that receives 5-6 hours of direct sunlight is considered full sun and if it receives no direct sunlight it is considered full shade. Anything in between is called semi- or partial shade.
Dry, Moist or Boggy If the soil dries out an inch or two deep during the growing season choose ferns adapted to dry areas. If your soil actually stays a bit soggy most of the time, choose a fern adapted to bogs. Soils that stay moist throughout the growing season but do not stand in water are considered moist to evenly moist.
Central or Creeping Rhizome Rhizomes are a type of root. Some ferns grow from a central rhizome, becoming a bigger clump as they mature but not spreading. Others have creeping rhizomes that can spread out.
Bachman’s Hardy Fern Varieties
Autumn Brilliance Dryopteris erythrosora Named because the new fronds will have shades of gold, orange or red, autumn fern grows from a central rhizome and is deciduous. It will grow 1-2 feet tall and is hardy through Zone 4. The fronds are slightly arching. Autumn fern grows its best in light shade to part sun. It will tolerate almost any well-drained soil, but prefers acid humus that stays moist to very moist. It is easy to grow.
Branford Beauty Athyrium is a hybrid of the Japanese Fern and the lady Fern. Silver-gray fronds have a distinct reddish background and red stems. It has a nice upright form. Grows to 2 feet. It is Hardy to zone 4.
Christmas Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern is evergreen, grows 1-2 feet tall and is hardy in Zone3. Its fronds are horizontally arching. It prefers shade, is highly adaptable to different soils. Ideally, it likes to stay moist but can tolerate it drier. It is easy to grow. The newest fronds have a silvery finish, which ages into a rich green. Sometimes used as cut foliage.
Ghost Athyrium A hybrids of the Japanese Painted fern and the lady fern. It is Hardy to zone 4. Upright form with silver leaves. Will grow to 24-36 inches.
Japanese Painted Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ The Japanese Painted fern spreads with a creeping rhizome, it is deciduous, grows about 1 foot high and is hardy to zone 3. The slightly arching fronds have an attractive purplish tinge and are a gray-green. Painted ferns get their best color when they get lots of light. An ideal location would have morning sun and afternoon shade.
Lady Athyrium felix-femina Lady ferns grow from a central rhizome, are deciduous, can grow 3-4 feet tall and are hardy to Zone 3. They have slightly arching, lacy fronds. Lady ferns prefer full to light shade and acid humus soils. They are easy to grow and grow best where it is evenly moist.
Ostrich Matteuccia struthiopterus Ostrich fern grows from a central rhizome, but will also send out creeping rhizomes. It is deciduous, will grow 3-4 feet tall and is hardy in Zone 2. Ostrich ferns send up a fertile frond. They have upright, arching and horizontal fronds and make a bold, architectural statement in the landscape. They prefer full to light shade and acid humus soil that is moist to boggy. They are easy to grow.
Bachman’s Grown Hardy Ferns
Packaged Soil and Soil Amendments
pH Soil Testers and Soil Acidifiers
Quality Gardening Tools and Gloves