The US Department of Agriculture puts out an amazingly detailed “Plant Hardiness Growing Map” where you can analyse down to you zip code what the conditions are for your area. Seems great but odds are you already know how cold it gets so you want to know what ferns will grow best where you live. In this article we cover which states are the best for ferns to grow in. We put together a less detailed but easier to view breakdown of some popular fern varieties and where they grow the best. But remember all of these ferns will grow inside if you have the room and desire to put them there.
Holly ferns (Polystichum spp.), native to the eastern United States, get their common name because their tough green leaves often persist through winter so they can be cut for Christmas decorations, making them valuable garden plants. Clip last year’s leaves off the plants in early spring before new growth appears. Learn more about holly fern.
The maidenhair (Adiantum ) is probably one of the most common ferns you will see in garden center’s across the country. There are two main types of maidenhair though. The northern and southern varieties. Both grow fronts about 2 feet or less and have very delicate stems and leaves. The difference between the two lies in where they are comfortable growing and their leaf structure. Fronds and leaves grow out in a king of horseshoe shape. The southern maidenhair fern (A. capillus-venerus) can’t handle the cold as well as its northern cousin. Like all ferns it craves humidity and is also needs consistently moist soil. I am told that the southern maidenhair looks slightly better than the northern and cooks better as well.
Cinnamon fern (O. cinnamomea) will grow in anything from shaded areas to full on sunlight however you will need to water them the more sun they get. Cinnamon ferns do well in any marshy area across a swath of the middle latitude states. They get their name from the 3 feet tall shoots that grow out of their main leaf system. These spore bearing fronds look completely different than the other fronds of the plant. The spores grow off of these shoots and turn a cinnamony brown after some time. Plant these guys in the spring and make sure you give them enough space to spread out as they grow (probably at least 2 feet from anything else.
Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are great for creating a green blanket across an area. These ferns can grow about as tall as a person and you can use them to hide an otherwise unsightly patch of your yard or block the view or a septic pump. They are the only fern I know of to receive an Award of Merit from the British Royal Horticultural Society. The award of Merit is like a best in show award given to a plant (yes a plant can get a medal). Like cinnamon ferns you need to give these guys room to expand. They don’t do so well in the southern states especially in any kind of drought condition. Ostrich ferns have those beautiful curly fiddleheads that you often see in pictures. You can even eat them. If you want to know other kinds of ferns you can eat check out or section on edible ferns here(link)
Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina (L.) Roth) look great in a garden or around the house. While they have never won any royal medals they were the forest services plant of the week once (http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/athyrium_filix-femina.shtml) They grow to about 2 feet tall but it is a wildcard in regards to width. I have seen some grow rather tall and narrow and some spread out several feet wide. They go great around the sides of the house because they a very low maintenance and relatively slow growers (in other words you get what you pay for in regards to the size you buy the plant). One negative thing that I have found about the lady fern when growing outdoors though is that it looses its leaves after the first frost. While every year I know they will grow back plants without leaves always make me sad.