Leaves of the western sword fern have small, dark green leaflets arranged pinnately — featherlike — along a central midrib.
Where redwoods have dropped their needles for centuries, sword ferns grow in clumps that become quite substantial with age, reaching up to 4 feet tall and arching as wide, oftentimes hardly growing in the soil at all, there’s so much duff built upon the forest floor.
But in home gardens, sword ferns normally develop only a 2-foot height, a form that is both practical and pretty.
Their stature enlarges, however, if you add plenty of organic amendments to the planting site and coddle them for a year or so until their roots reach deep moisture.
As they become established and mature, it’s possible to withhold all summer water. Maintenance is an easy, once-a-year cleanup of browned fronds.
Many gardeners can picture an indoor sword fern garden filled with Boston and maidenhair. Perhaps a tropical forest bursting with wild ferns.
What about their garden? There might be a Western sword fern in that corner. But most people have misconceptions about how fragile and difficult ferns can grow.
There are different species of ferns, some that prefer to grow in cooler areas and others that like sunny and dry locations.
The biggest misconception about ferns is that they look the same and are boring because they don’t flower. It is impossible to be more wrong.
The definition of the Fern
Ferns have existed on our planet for 300 million years or more. The diversity of their forms has been amazing. We have over 12,000 species of Ferns today, with the majority being found in tropical areas.
John T. Mickel’s “Ferns for American Gardens” states that the front is the most prominent and conspicuous of all ferns. However, it is the stem that is responsible for the production and storage of roots and leaves.
The stems of most ferns are rhizomes, which creep horizontally on the soil surface or below it, sometimes branching. The plant’s essence and vegetative growth are at their growing tip, so they must be protected.
The stipe (leaf stem) and the blade (leafy part) are the two parts of a fern frond. The six types of leaf fronds are simple, pinnatifid (pinnate), pinnate-pinnatifid (pinnate-pinnatifid), bipinnate, tripinnate, and tripinnate. There are many varieties in the sizes of ferns.
Temperate climate ferns may not reach the heights of their tropical cousins (up to 60 feet), but tree ferns like Cyathea cooperi and Dicksonia Antarctica (Tasmanians) can grow up to 15 feet high and wide. This is in contrast to some maidenhair species, which only reach 6 inches.
You will also find a wide range of leaf sizes and shapes, as well as the display of fronds. They can be stiffly erect or have enough of a weeping habit to tip caressing the ground.
Some ferns may not be common green. The Japanese painted fern is a beautiful example of this, with its purple and silver colors.
The autumn fern is another option, with its bronze-colored fronds and bright red fruiting dots.
Pteris cretica variegated gems are among the most popular. albolineata is characterized by its wide swathes of white with a border of green.
There are many types of ferns. Here are seven that are most commonly found in the trade.
Polystichum – Western Sword Fern
Due to its California origin, P. munitum (or Western sword fern) is one of the most beloved ferns. It can withstand dry periods better than other ferns, so it is more successful at colonizing. There are also several varieties of P. Setiferum, which are known as hedge ferns.
Height and width: 3-4 ft
This group looks similar to the Western sword. It is best known for its arching Boston fern (N.exaltata). Two varieties are particularly notable: the variegated Tiger’ and golden Rita’s Gold. These can be grown outdoors or indoors. You can also try the N. cordifolia ladder fern, which has long pinnae and mint green leaves.
Height and width: 3-7 ft
D. erythrosora is the best way to add color to your fern collection. The genus also includes the golden male fern with its golden brown midribs, the Tokyo Wood ferns (D. Tokyoensis), and the shaggy field ferns (D. cycadina), which has a shuttlecock full of green fronds in a lance-shaped shape. D. arguta is the California woodfern. It can be difficult to find.
Height and width: 2 to 3 feet
These miniature tree ferns are among the most beautiful and distinctive of all ferns. B. is the leader. B. This fern is a fast-growing one. Its elegant appearance comes from its beautiful symmetry and palm-like appearance. B. chilense, hard fern, and B. spice (deer-fern) have distinctive charms. These upright species can grow up to six feet tall.
This large genus of semi-evergreen Brake ferns (280 species) is perhaps the most fascinating of all common ferns. It’s led by the striking P. cretica. albolineata, with its prominent white band at the center of each pinna. P. quadriaurita is another visually stunning species.
It is known as a silver fern because of its distinctive silvery-white centers. Although they can tolerate extreme shade, Pteris species are extremely hardy and thrive in subtropical climates.
Height and width: 18 to 6 feet
Maidenhair Ferns are one of the most beloved ferns. They include the Southern maidenhair (A.capillus-Veneris) and the Western native five-finger fern (A.pedatum).
With their delicate, shimmering leaves and dramatic dark stems, they are trendy. A. raddianum, also known as delta maidenhair, is even more delicate.
It comes in various colors that span from pale green to deeper shades of A. ‘Ocean Spray. The majority of evergreen species are common. This is a great addition that can be grown quickly.
The Japanese painted fern, A. filix Femina (lady) fern, and a mixture of these species make up this diverse group. Ghost, with its spectral, whitish-green foliage and upright habit.
The deciduous nature of Athyrium means that you can only enjoy the pleasure of seeing them come back in spring.
Lady ferns can grow to 4 feet, while A. Niponicum is less than afoot. This makes them an excellent ground cover.
Landscaping with Ferns
One of the easiest methods to add interest to your shade garden is to use ferns. You can either use a mix of ferns or a single species to create a mass planting. Some ferns are also great for feature plantings.
Use the vibrant Nephrolepis species, the Nephrolepis species, or the Dryopteris variations for a foundation planting.
Each one has enough height to fill in an area. They can be used together or separately.
Woodwardia Fimbriata, a giant chain fern, can be added to the back of a bed of ferns. It can go up to 6 feet tall and creates a lush backdrop.
You can use ferns to create unique borders. Larger stones can be used to create a contrast in color and shape and strengthen a natural theme. Bark mulches offer a visual contrast that is different but still effective.
You can also use lower-growing ferns in a rock garden to soften the rock wall’s front. You can also insert them on the middle levels to add cool and verdant accents to the gray stones.
Many flowering partners can add color to fern beds, such as bleeding hearts, Lenten roses, and wild phlox.
The centers of attention
You can use any number of ferns as focal points for your garden.
There are also tree ferns that make excellent corner denizens due to their arching height. Blechnum make a great addition to semitropical gardens. Both B. spicant (or B. gibbum) are known for their palm-like habit, lime green leaves, and B. gibbum.
When you need a smaller focal point, Pteris species is the best choice. P. cretica var. is a striking specimen with its architecturally lance-shaped fronds and white bands. Albolineata can be used as a stand-alone plant or as a contrast to a mixed fern garden.
Pteris is one of many ferns that look great in containers. Gardeners have the option to choose how they want their plants to look: upright or cascading; sturdy or delicate; dramatic or subtle.
Ferns can be mixed in with other fern species or mixed with flowering plants.
Multipurpose tends to be overused. However, those well-versed in the many available ferns can attest to their endless possibilities for use in local gardens.
Are you looking for information about growing ferns in your area? You can start here.
John T Mickel, “Ferns For American Gardens,” (Timber Press $6.83)
“Fern Grower’s Manual,” Barbara Joe Hoshizaki, Robbin C. ( co Timber Press $48.87).
History of Ferns
Victorian England was awash with ferns. David Allen’s 1968 book, “The Victorian Fern Craze,” covered the subject. This period saw ferns as a popular motif on pottery, silverware, and picture frames.
Ralph Benedict, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s editor of The American Fern Journal, was a pioneer in cultivating and teaching western ferns.
Ferns became more visible after Kathryn Boydston, a Michigan native, created Fernwood, a nature center that focuses on ferns at home. In 1954, she founded the American Fern Society’s Spore Exchange.
This was a significant development that allowed for many more species of fern to be grown.
More than 700 species of ferns have been propagated by the Society, of which 200 are hardy. F. Gordon Foster is widely believed to be the greatest American benefactor in the fern world. He wrote “Ferns To Know and Grow,” which was the bible of fern cultivation.
He was an avid advocate of the wonders of these different genera and eventually donated his collection of living Ferns to the New York Botanical Garden.
These plants are now the core of the extensive collection’s hardy ferns. This and other spore collection benefits meant it was no longer necessary for wild ferns to be cultivated to sell them.