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Hardy Ferns for the Garden - Our Top Ten 

There is a fern for every spot in the garden, some are frost tender and will blacken at the slightest frost.

If you want hardy ferns for the garden, then you have to look for ferns that grow in similar habitats to whatever climates you have. Therefore in the UK there are many native ferns that are very hardy and a lot of varieties have been bred for their garden use.

The majority of hardy garden ferns like, water and humus rich soils, but not all!

10. Asplenium ceterach (Syn. Ceterach officinarum)

Common name ~ Rusty-back Fern

One of several hardy ferns for the garden and in particular is ideal for stone walls, and crevices, or at home at the base of a large boulder in a rock garden. A Hardy British Native fern that is more common in the south of England than the north. But don’t let that fool you, provide it with medium shelter and a dash of sunlight and it will thrive in most gardens. Evergreen fern with green lobed fronds, silver backed leaves. Grows to about 20cm across. Likes a gritty leaf mould based compost. Normally found in calcareous rock crevices.

Like this but cannot locate any?  Try Asplenium trichomanes or Athyrium filix~femina

9. Onoclea sensibilis sp.

Common name ~ Sensitive Fern

A small hardy garden fern, but creeping fern. Good ground cover for shady areas. Small upright stems branch from the rhizomes, giving a tufted appearance. Fronds on these ferns may get sunburned so dappled shade to full shade preferred. Rich fertile damp soil preferred. . Easily divided from established plants, simply lift the ferns and divide.

Like this but cannot locate any? Try Athyrium niponicum

8. Polystichum setiferum

Common name ~ Shield Fern

Many varieties of this species can be found, will grow on to almost a metre across. Rich feathery fern green fronds long and mid green grow on from spring each year. Evergreen fern, typical habit, large arching fronds and light brown mid-ribs, running through to the tips. Ideal for a sun dappled corner or a secluded corner position in the garden in full shade. A true hardy native of the UK.

If you really like this.  Search out a P. setiferum var.Divisilobum as this produces small bulbils along the stems, which may be taken off and planted on to get more.

7. Blechnum sp.

Common name ~ Hard Fern

An evergreen family of ferns that will tolerate the harshest of winters.

Thrives in wooded corners of gardens, and at the base of trees. Does not like lime rich soil. Rich green fronds, grows from a rhizome so does not need a lot of planting space. A great group of different forms to choose from but check as not all are frost hardy. Species worth looking out for low growing B. penna-marina, the cycad like B. tabulare and the wild looking B. spicata

6. Osmunda regalis

Common name ~ Royal Fern

As the name suggests a king amongst hardy garden ferns. Will grow to over 6 foot in height, with large reddish brown spikes of fertile fronds. Large pea like leaves on long upright stems. A show-stopper amongst hardy garden ferns. Ideal for a specimen plant in a bog garden. Grow in moist humus rich soil. Needs an adequate water supply, natural or applied. Enrich the soil with water retaining gels or add organic rich manure. If possible spend a bit more and buy mature specimens.

5. Matteuccia struthiopteris

Common name ~ Ostrich or Shuttlecock Fern

Fully hardy, rhizome type fern. Will divide after a few years, and new plants can be propagated from the offshoots. Loves dappled sunlit moist area’s of the garden. Spring fronds bring a lovely green glow when the spring sun hits the fronds. Looks best in scattered clumps, or at the edges of streams and water features.

4. Dryopteris wallichiana

Common name ~ Wallich’s Wood Fern.

Its not surprising that the Dryopteris are in 3 of the top 4 spots for hardy ferns in the garden. They are tough, big and bold and welcome whatever the weather throws at them.

Wallich’s Fern is a spring time beauty, throwing up long upright fronds of lime-green and yellow. The fronds have dark brown hairy scales along their undersides, making a striking entrance to dappled sun or full shade areas.

3. Asplenium scolopendrium

Common name ~ Hart’s Tongue Fern

Another British native species of hardy ferns. Likes alkaline soil, limestone crevices. Long leathery fronds undivided, gives it an appearance of small blades. Evergreen plant with a small rhizome, that allows division in older plants. Most good specimens from nurseries, will be at a size that can be split easily. Two plants for one!

2. Dryopteris affinis

Common name ~ Golden Male Fern

A plant that will stay evergreen in most climates, in others it dies back for the winter. Large shuttlecock fern with wide fronds, arching but very upright. Will grow in almost total shade. Lime green new fronds in spring will darken with age. A large fern growing to almost a metre in height and width. Easily split in spring using a sharp spade. Takes about 3 years to mature after splitting.

Like this? Try D. erythrosora for a reddish tinge to the young fronds.

1. Dryopteris filix~mas

Common name ~ Male fern, Buckler Fern, Male Shield Fern

Male by name and hardy by nature.

The typical British fern, the ‘cannot kill’ amongst garden ferns. Hardiest by far and will tolerate a vast range of sittings in the garden. This fern will thrive in, full sun through to full shade or wet boggy ground to driest of border soils. If there’s a space plant one it will just get on with it. A native of the whole of the British Isles and the most common fern found, after the despised Bracken. Seen in old woodlands and hedgerows, throughout. Large arching leaves spring up from furry brown fiddleheads in spring, a sure sign that summer is on its way. Leave old fronds on the plant to protect the crowns. Easily divided in spring, with a spade.

Garden Hardiness

Remember all ferns need some form of winter protection. Deciduous species that fade in winter and shoot up again in spring, should be protected by folding the fronds over the crown in winter and put an upside down plant pot on top, weighted down with a rock. This will also stop the crown being stood on in spring. A pile of hay can also be used to protect crowns, and mark positions. Potted plants, should be moved to a sheltered spot in winter away from winds which will dry them out too much.


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