Ferns add texture and interest to your home and garden, whether they mingle with other plants or stand alone as beautiful specimens.
Staghorn, also known as elkhorn ferns, are eye-catching when they’re mounted on a wall and grown as houseplants. In USDA Zones 9-10, these evergreens can live outside year-round, where many gardeners hang them in trees. Staghorns ( ) are epiphytes, non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants and take in water and nutrients through their fronds. They need bright, indirect light and seldom thrive under artificial lights indoors. When the weather is hot, water them once a week by misting the entire plant or soaking it in water just long enough to saturate the roots. Reduce watering during cooler weather. When your staghorns are actively growing, feed them with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer as directed on the label; feed less often when the plants are dormant in fall and winter.
(), with their arching branches, are perfect for hanging baskets on porches. But keep them out of direct sun, which can scorch them. They need a cool location and indirect light. They also require high humidity if they’re grown as houseplants, so mist them a couple of times each week. Don’t let their soil dry out and feed them with a houseplant fertilizer at half-strength while they're actively growing, from spring to fall. If your fern drops a lot of its foliage while overwintering indoors, cut it back and it will regrow. Left outside, Boston ferns are evergreens in Zones 9-11.
() brighten shady spots in the garden with their fan-shaped fronds held on shiny, black stems. They're deciduous perennials that thrive outdoors in full to partial shade and moist, well-draining soil rich in organic matter (in nature, you’d find them in the humusy, slightly acidic soil of woodlands). They’re more demanding when grown indoors, as they dislike the dry air in most homes. To enjoy them as houseplants, mist them daily, put their pots on top of some pebbles in a tray with a little water, or keep them in a bathroom or near a kitchen sink. They'll need a location with indirect morning or afternoon sunlight.
( make attractive houseplants and adapt well to most homes. They need bright, indirect light and should be kept away from drafts and vents; hot, dry air will make the fronds turn yellow and die. This fern can grow up to 12" tall, but you can snip off tall stems, if desired, to control its size. Keep its soil slightly moist and raise the humidity by putting the container on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water, or mist it regularly. While the fern is actively growing, feed with a half-strength, balanced houseplant fertilizer every couple of weeks. In the garden, use it alone or in masses to add interest and texture to shady rock gardens or woodland areas. It's hardy in Zones 8-10.
Most homes are too dry for ferns, especially when the air conditioning is on in the summer or the heat is on in winter. Fortunately, Austral Gem bird's nest fern ( hybrid x ) can adapt to low humidity. It's not a messy houseplant; unlike many ferns, its fronds don't produce spores that will drop on your tabletops and floors. After the last spring frost, give 'Austral Gem' a vacation outdoors in full shade. Hardy in Zones 9-11, it's evergreen in a shady garden and forms clumps of foliage up to 20" tall and 24" wide.
The smallest of the Boston ferns, lemon button ferns () give off a citrusy scent when you crush their leaves. Grow these pretty ferns with button-like leaflets in containers or terrariums and give them filtered shade; they can’t take direct sun. If your home is dry, mist your fern regularly or place it on top of some pebbles in a tray filled with a little water. To avoid root rot, don't let the bottom of the pot touch the water. Hardy in Zones 10-11, these evergreens grow about one foot tall and wide. Outdoors, use them as a groundcover or in a border, or plant them along the edges of paths.
In hot summer climates, Japanese painted ferns should be planted in partial to deep shade, but they can take morning sun elsewhere. These deciduous perennials, ( have soft, silvery fronds with hints of blue or violet-red and they're hardy in Zones 4-8. Give them moist soil that is rich in organic matter and mulch them. Don’t let water stand around their roots, which can cause the roots to rot. If your fern needs a boost, feed it with a liquid plant food at half-strength. Mix these ferns, which grow 18" to 24" tall, with colorful heucheras, hostas or shade-loving flowers in your garden. If you grow them as houseplants, they'll need high humidity and a spot in a bright window that doesn't heat up from the sun.
Kimberly Queen Ferns () are sometimes called sword ferns because of their narrow, upright fronds. Use these practically carefree Australian natives as elegant specimen plants in an indoor location that gets medium light and high humidity. (You'll probably need to mist them often or keep a small humidifier going.) They're also easy to grow outside, where they’re hardy in Zones 9-11 and grow to 3' tall and 4' wide. They prefer shade to part sun in the garden; plant them in well-drained soil and keep them moist. Fertilize a couple of times a year, if you wish, but these ferns don't need a lot of plant food.
True to its name, autumn fern () takes on fall-like bronze tones in autumn. It also boasts coppery-green fronds in spring that become brighter green by summer. Give these colorful ferns, which are hardy in Zones 5-9, part to full shade and shelter them from strong winds and long periods of hot sunlight. Feed them lightly with a slow release fertilizer when new growth appears, following the directions on your product. Autumn ferns grow 24 to 30 inches tall in slightly acidic, rich, moist soil. In frost-free regions, they remain evergreen, but in areas with cold winters, they can be semi-evergreen or deciduous, depending on how low the temperatures go.
Native leatherwood ferns () earned their common name for their leathery, blue-green fronds held on arching stems. Give these shade-loving perennials, which are hardy in Zones 3-8, full to partial shade and plant them in average to moist soil that drains easily. The plants form clumps that grow up to 2' high and wide, but they don't spread. Use them in woodlands, rock gardens or native plantings, or combine them with colorful wildflowers and heucheras. They also make lovely specimen plants, thanks to their vase-like shapes.
The roots of rabbit's foot ferns () are fuzzy rhizomes, which climb right over the edges of containers and resemble the soft feet of rabbits. In nature, the rhizomes help attach the plants to trees. These ferns are hardy in Zones 10-12 and can be grown as attractive houseplants that mature about 18" tall and 20" wide. They need bright, indirect sunlight and should be kept slightly moist. Mist the rhizomes as needed to keep them from drying out, and don't cover them with soil, which leads to rotting. Feed with a liquid houseplant fertilizer at half-strength every couple of weeks when the plants are actively growing.
Rumohra adiantiformis. This is an excellent permanent ground cover fern for relatively small spaces. The leathery, triangular evergreen fronds make excellent cut foliage for floral arrangements. Spread is relatively slow by stolons that grow in the humus. Plant ferns in moist soil rich in organic matter.
Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum ), named for the pointy tips on its leathery leaves, is a drought-resistant plant native to Africa and Asia. This fern thrives in low light, so it's ideal for shady areas under trees. It's such an attractive, yet low-maintenance, plant that the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) chose it as one of their Plants of the Year in 2007.
Macho fern comes by its name honestly. This big, brawny fern sports bright green fronds with bold, broad leaves and makes its relatives, Boston fern and Kimberly Queen fern, look little by comparison. Macho fern is ideal for large urns or planters where it has room to flex its graceful 3- to 4-foot-long fronds. It's ideal for decorating shaded or partly shaded front porches, patios, and other outdoor living areas. In the fall, you can bring your macho fern indoors and place it a bright spot out of direct sun to grow as a houseplant.