Native Ferns for Southern Gardens

Using native ferns adds a unique texture to a landscape design. Ferns can look magnificent in mass plantings and are a best pick for low spots on a property or drainage areas. Plants native to the south are always a good choice because they are adapted to living in our southern climate and this rule holds true for ferns as well. You can increase your chances of success by planting native.

Native ferns are ideal for a woodland garden and while they do need moisture, some can tolerate dry periods. All will require shade and relief from our hot Georgia sun. If you have a dry garden but still would like to include native ferns in your plan try planting them around your air conditioner drain or at the base of a gutter downspout.

Here are a few fern varieties which are suitable for cultivating in a garden:

native fern Christmas
Christmas Fern – 1-2′. Christmas Fern is a hardy native evergreen fern with leathery, glossy, green fronds. Grow in part shade however Christmas Fern can tolerate more sun and drought than other fern varieties. This native fern forms clumps and is ideal for borders, as woodland path edging or to use on shady banks for erosion control. In spring you can cut back the growth from last year to force new growth.


native ferns cinnamon
Cinnamon Fern – to 4′. Cinnamon ferns are a particularly handsome variety with a tall, stately appearance. This native fern is grows naturally along creek edges, swamps and in wetlands. The fronds produce two distinctly different colors and textures. A cinnamon colored fertile, plume like frond grows through the center of the plant, giving the plant its name. Surrounding the center frond are larger, green, sterile fronds. The contrast between the two colors results in an attractive plant which brings height and texture to a landscape design. Spreads by rhizomes and will form colonies


native fern lady wood

Lady fern, wood ferns and hay scented ferns are similar in look and care requirements. They are lacy and delicate, bringing a calm feel to a garden design. All are deciduous and require shade and adequate water although can tolerate short dry spells.

Hay Scented Fern – 18″. Hay scented fern is named due to the hay like fragrance it gives off when the foliage is bruised. A shorter variety of native ferns, hay scented is a pretty fern for a shady area and works well as a ground cover. Be aware that hay scented fern can become invasive so plant it in areas you need filled out and where it won’t run over other plants. Best when grown along creek edges, in a drainage ditch or along ponds banks.

Lady Fern – 2′-3′. The new fronds and stems of lady fern are red in color which contrasts nicely with the bright green foliage. Lady fern has an airy appearance and does well when planted between shrubs or to add height to a shade garden. Clump forming, spreading habit. Requires medium moisture and partial shade.

Wood Fern – 3′-4′. A taller native fern for shade with dark to golden green fronds and delicate stems. It is the tallest of the Dryopteris fern family native to North America. Wood fern may be distinguished by its large size and the backward arching, oblong fronds which taper abruptly toward the tips. Grows well in Georgia in a partly shady garden and medium moisture.


native ferns maidenhair
Maidenhair Fern – 1-2′. Maidenhair is a deciduous, clump forming fern with pretty, finely textured, fronds, The foliage has an almost frilly appearance and spread like fingers at the top of the stalks. Stalks are reddish brown to black and feature a slight curve. Grow in moist shade.


native ferns ostrich
Ostrich Fern – 3′-6′. A tall, showy native fern which which typically grows 2-3′ tall in cultivation but may reach 6′ tall in the wild. Ostrich fern is a clump forming, rhizomatous, deciduous fern with a vigorous growth habit. It may become invasive under the right conditions. Ostrich fern is ideal for growing in ponds or fountains to achieve a taller height. To avoid it becoming invasive plant this fern in a container before setting it in a water feature.


native ferns royal
Royal Fern – 2′-3′. One of the largest ferns in non-tropical North America, Royal Fern commonly grows in clumps to 2-3′ tall but with constant moisture may grow to reach 6′. The unusual fronds shape gives this fern an almost pea family look. Spore producing inflorescence grow through the center of the plant and rise over the top, resembling groups of flowers, which is where it gets the common names of Flowering Fern.


native ferns sensitive
Sensitive Fern – 3′-4′. Sensitive fern is an unusual looking fern with large leaflets. It earned the name Sensitive Fern from the fact that it can be sensitive to drought and requires moisture. Sensitive Fern has narrow growing conditions of shade and water and may become invasive in its ideal habitat. It can be kept under control in dryer conditions. Sensitive Fern is a best pick for filling drainage areas or wet spots in the garden.

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