Tips and Tricks for Growing Native Fern Plants in Shade Gardens

Tips and Tricks for Growing Native Fern Plants in Shade Gardens

If you want to add some lush greenery to your shade garden, native ferns are an excellent choice. These beautiful plants not only add a touch of elegance to any garden but are also low-maintenance and hardy. However, growing ferns can be tricky, especially if you're new to gardening. That's why we've compiled some essential Learn All The Tips for growing native fern plants in shade gardens.


Please stick with us as we cover everything from selecting suitable fern species to understanding their basic needs, such as light, water, and soil requirements. You'll also learn about some common problems ferns face and how to prevent and treat them. So whether you're a pro gardener or just starting, this guide will help you grow healthy, luscious ferns in your shade garden.

Selecting the Right Ferns for Your Garden

Ferns are an extensive group of plants, with over 10,000 species worldwide. When selecting the right ferns for your garden, it's essential to consider their size, shape, color, and texture. Native fern species are an excellent option for shade gardens, as they are well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. 

Here's an overview of some popular native fern species and their characteristics:

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)


Lady ferns are a leading choice for shade gardens due to their delicate fronds, which can grow up to 4 feet tall. They prefer moist, well-draining soil and can tolerate some sunlight.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)


Maidenhair ferns are known for their delicate, lacy foliage and black, wiry stems. They grow best in well-drained soil and thrive in cool, shady locations.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)


Christmas ferns are named for their evergreen fronds, which remain green throughout the winter. They can grow up to 2 feet tall and require well-drained soil.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)


Cinnamon ferns are distinct for their striking cinnamon-colored spore-bearing fronds, which appear in the spring. They prefer moist, acidic soil and can tolerate a little sun.

Considerations for choosing the suitable ferns for your garden:

  • Size: Consider the mature size of the fern species and ensure it fits in your garden space.
  • Soil: Ferns require well-draining soil, so consider the soil type in your garden before selecting a fern species.
  • Light: Ferns prefer shady conditions, but some species can tolerate some sunlight. Consider the amount of light your garden receives before selecting a fern species.
  • Climate: Native fern species are well-adapted to local climate conditions, so consider your region's environment when selecting ferns for your garden.

Understanding Ferns' Basic Needs

Ferns have specific requirements for light, water, and soil conditions. Here's all you should know about the basic needs of ferns for them to grow successfully.

Light requirements for ferns:

Most ferns prefer shady conditions, as direct sunlight can scorch their delicate foliage. Some fern species, such as the Cinnamon Fern, can tolerate partial sun but still require protection from the harsh midday sun. It's best to place your ferns in a location where they receive dappled light or filtered shade.

Water requirements for ferns:

Ferns require consistent moisture to thrive, as they don't have roots that can penetrate deep into the soil to access water. It's important to ensure the soil is evenly moist but not soggy. Avoid overwatering; it can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases. To maintain consistent moisture, consider using a drip irrigation system or watering by hand with a watering can.

Soil requirements for ferns:

Ferns grow best in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They require moist soil, not waterlogged, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. You can improve the soil's structure and water-holding capacity by adding organic matter like compost or peat moss.

Planting and Caring for Ferns

Planting and caring for native ferns in your garden requires attention to their unique needs. Proper planting and care will help your ferns thrive and create a beautiful landscape in your shade garden.

Tips for planting native ferns in your garden:

  • Choose a place with organically rich soil that drains well and is shaded.
  • Plant the fern at the same depth as it was in the container in a hole dug slightly larger than the fern's root ball.
  • After planting, give the soil a good watering to let the roots settle.
  • Cover the ferns with an organic mulch to help maintain moisture and control weeds.

Best practices for caring for ferns, including pruning and fertilizing:

  • Water frequently to maintain wet but not soggy soil.  
  • Fertilize using a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring.
  • Prune any dead or damaged fronds in the spring to allow healthy growth.
  • Divide large ferns every few years to prevent overcrowding.

Watch out for common fern diseases and pests, such as scale insects and fungal diseases. If you notice any issues, it's ideal to take prompt action to prevent the spread of the problem.

Common Problems and Solutions

Even though ferns require little upkeep, they occasionally have some common issues. Below we provide you a list of some of the most typical problems that ferns encounter, along with recommendations for how to prevent or resolve them:

Scale insects: 

These tiny pests can infest ferns and cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage. To treat, use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Fungal diseases: 

Ferns can be susceptible to various fungal diseases, including rust and leaf spots. To prevent, avoid overhead watering and ensure good air circulation around the plants. Use a fungicide according to the package directions if a disease is present.


Too much moisture can damage the plant and cause root rot and other fungal problems. Ensure that the soil is well-draining, and avoid watering too frequently.


Ferns require consistent moisture to thrive. The fronds may wilt and turn brown if the soil is too dry. To prevent this, water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist.

Nutrient deficiencies: 

Ferns require specific nutrients to thrive, including nitrogen and iron. A fertilizer application may be needed if the foliage turns yellow or pale.

You can easily maintain ferns in your shade garden in good condition and ensure their success by being aware of the typical issues mentioned above and implementing preventative or remedial measures.

Native ferns are an excellent way to add greenery and texture to your environment by cultivating them in your shade garden. You can build a stunning, low-maintenance garden that will be enjoyable for many years by choosing the appropriate fern species and being aware of their fundamental requirements.

While ferns may encounter some common problems, these can be easily avoided or remedied with a little tender loving care. Your ferns will grow and make a gorgeous addition to your yard with correct planting, consistent watering, and occasional fertilizer and pruning.

So why not give growing ferns a try? With their unique beauty and easy-care nature, they're a great choice for both experienced and novice gardeners alike. Whether you're trying to create a lush woodland oasis or add some greenery to a shady corner, native ferns are an excellent choice. Don't be afraid to experiment with different fern species and planting arrangements to create a garden that is uniquely your own.