Best Ferns To Plant (22 Fern Varieties For Your Garden)


Ferns have been around for over 380 million years, making them one of the oldest groups of plants on Earth. Their resilience, beauty, and a wide variety of species ensure that they will remain one of the most popular plants to own for many more years to come. 

Choosing the best fern to plant depends on many factors, including where you’re growing, size requirements, and style preferences. Some of the all-around favorites that grow in a wide range of environments include maidenhair ferns, leatherwood ferns, and royal ferns.

Although ferns are versatile and easy to find, they can be finicky if they aren’t given the proper growing conditions. In this article, we’ll explore the best ferns to grow based on your climate, skill level, and available sunlight. 

What Are The Best Ferns To Plant?

The best fern to plant depends on your climate, growing conditions, and personal preference. Fortunately, with at least 10,500 known species around the world, there’s a fern out there for everyone. Here are some examples of the best ferns to plant for your requirements:

Shade Garden

While many ferns thrive in the shade, Japanese painted ferns are a standout.

Japanese Painted Fern
Japanese Painted Fern tolerates shade, and its silvery-green leaves give it an inspiring appearance.

It can be difficult to find colorful plants that tolerate shade, so their silvery-green foliage with deep purple veins and midribs make these ferns a welcome addition to any shady spot. Japanese painted ferns are hardy in agricultural zones 5-8

Hot, Sunny Spots

Although most don’t enjoy full sun, ferns in the genus Cheilanthes are a clear exception.

Cheilanthes Fern
Lip Ferns enjoy full sun and will thrive in dry areas.

Also known as lip ferns, there are about 180 species of them that happily grow in full sun. Lip ferns are hardy in zones 5-8, and grow best in dry, rocky areas.

Cold Climate

Many people think of ferns as primarily tropical plants, but many varieties are well-adjusted to life in frigid temperatures.

Western Sword Fern
Western Sword Fern can survive in cool areas down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, including parts of Alaska.

The western sword fern, for example, is commonly found in Alaska and can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Western ferns are hardy in zones 3-8. 

Low Maintenance

Birds-nest ferns are commonly thought of as one of the more easygoing varieties.

Bird's Nest Fern
Bird’s Nest Fern is a low-maintenance plant that you can “set and forget”, since they can tolerate drought.

Although they are only hardy in zones 11 and 12, many growers in colder climates keep theirs outside for the growing season, as long as temperatures remain above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Birds-nest ferns are one of the more drought-tolerant varieties, but they do prefer higher humidity if you can manage it. 

High Maintenance

If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker looking to challenge your plant care skills, see if you can keep a Boston fern thriving indoors. Even the most experienced plant parents report having difficulty keeping this fussy fern happy.

Boston Fern
Boston Fern is notoriously difficult to keep, but it could be a fun challenge if you are up for it!

Despite its common name, Boston ferns are native to tropical areas and require high humidity, filtered light, and warm temperatures. In typical household humidity, Boston ferns often sport browning, crispy fronds. 

What Is The Easiest Fern To Grow?

When it comes to ease of care for plants, it can be subjective based on whether the growing environment is in your favor. That said, there are a few ferns that many people consider simple to care for:

  1. Blue Star Fern: These are popular houseplants, but they also do well in dappled shade outdoors. Blue Star Ferns are hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and are tolerant of dry climates. 
  2. Rabbit’s Foot Fern: These ferns are best grown as houseplants, as they are native to Fiji and won’t tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite their heat requirements, rabbit’s foot ferns are relatively easygoing plants, providing you give them bright, indirect light, and water when the soil is dry an inch below the surface. 
  3. Crocodile Fern: Native to tropical climates, crocodile ferns are another popular houseplant. They require indirect light, so it’s best to keep them a few feet away from a sunny window, or behind a sheer curtain to mimic the dappled sunlight they would receive in their native tropical climate. Although crocodile ferns enjoy having consistently moist soil, their thicker leaves make them slightly more forgiving when you neglect their water needs. 
Blue Star Fern
Blue Star Fern is a popular houseplant that also does well outdoors in dappled shade. They can tolerate cold and dry conditions.
Rabbit's Foot Fern
Rabbit’s Foot Fern are native to Fiji, and can only tolerate temperatures down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Crocodile Fern
Crocodile Ferns come from tropical climates and need indirect sunlight if kept indoors.

What Is The Best Fern To Grow Outdoors?

The best fern to grow outdoors entirely depends on where you live, your soil type, and where you’ll be planting. That said, there are two, in particular, that stand out as versatile, robust outdoor ferns:

  1. Ostrich Fern: Ostrich ferns are native to North America, Eastern Asia, and Europe. They are hardy in zones 3-7, although their fronds die back to the ground in the winter. Ostrich ferns are low maintenance and easily spread, filling out the space they are planted in quickly. 
  2. Leatherwood Fern: Also known as the Christmas fern, these plants are hardy in zones 3-9. Leatherwood ferns contribute winter interest to the garden since they are evergreen. The fronds will lie flat in colder temperatures, however, to protect themselves from the cold. 
Ostrich Fern
Ostrich Ferns are native to North America, Eastern Asia, and Europe. They are low maintenance and spread fast.
Christmas Fern
Christmas Ferns are evergreen, but their fronds lie flat in the cold weather.

Before you shop for outdoor ferns, it’s best to decide exactly where you’ll be planting. Although there are many cold-hardy varieties, few will flourish if they aren’t given the proper environment.

Take note of how much sunlight your fern will receive per day, and how much time and effort you can devote to watering and maintenance. You should also consider whether you’d prefer an evergreen plant, or if you’re okay with one that dies back to the ground in winter. 

What Is The Most Beautiful Fern?

Although it’s impossible to pick just one fern out of thousands of beautiful species, there are several varieties that often top many lists as some of the best-looking plants. Here are just a few examples: 

  1. Tricolor Fern: A popular houseplant with beautifully multi-colored fronds, the tricolor fern is hardy to zones 9-12.
  2. Rosy Maidenhair Fern: These beauties have blush-colored fronds and are hardy to zones 8-10.
  3. Staghorn Fern: Staghorn ferns are hardy in zones 9-12 and known for their unusual growth habit. These ferns are epiphytic, which means that they are not grown in soil, but can be mounted on driftwood or planks.
  4. Autumn Fern: Hardy in zones 5-9, the autumn fern has stunning multicolored fronds that die back in winter.
  5. Cotton Candy Fern: Hardy in zones 9-11, cotton candy ferns have lush, fluffy fronds that can grow to around 5 feet tall outdoors.
Rosy Maidenhair Fern
Rosy Maidenhair Ferns are hardy to Zones 8 to 10, and have blush-colored fronds.
staghorn fern
Staghorn Ferns are hardy to Zones 9 through 12, and they grow on trees.
Autumn Fern
Autumun Fern is hardy to Zones 5 through 9 and has multicolored fronds that die back in winter.
Cotton Candy Fern
Cotton Candy Ferns have lush foliage and can grow 5 feet tall.

What Is The Hardiest Fern?

When it comes to cold tolerance, there are a great number of ferns that can withstand harsh conditions. Here are some examples of the hardiest ferns that can tolerate extreme cold:

  • Marginal Wood Fern: Zones 2-8
  • Cinnamon Fern: Zones 2-10
  • Royal Fern: Zones 2-10
  • Narrow Beech Fern: Zones 2-7
Marginal Wood Fern
Marginal Wood Fern is hardy to Zones 2 through 8.
Cinnamon Fern
Cinnamon Fern is hardy to Zones 2 through 10.
Royal Fern
Royal Fern is hardy to Zones 2 through 10.
Narrow Beech Fern
Narrow Beech Fern is hardy to Zones 2 through 7.

What Kind Of Ferns Come Back Every Year?

Perennial lovers around the globe have no shortage of ferns to choose from since tons of species return reliably each spring. Here are several fern varieties that return bigger and better, year after year:

  1. Lady Fern: Hardy in zones 3-9, lady ferns have soft, lacy fronds that prefer moist, partly shady conditions. 
  2. Male Robust Fern: These ferns are hardy in zones 4-8, enjoy part to full shade, and can reach impressive heights of up to 5 feet tall. 
  3. Northern Maidenhair Fern: These beauties have light green fronds with black stems, and grow in shady areas of zones 3-8. 
Lady Fern
Lady Fern is hardy to Zones 3 through 9, and it has soft, lacy fronds that like moist soil and partial shade.
Male Robust Fern
Male Robust Fern is hardy to Zones 4 through 8, tolerates full to partial shade, and can grow up to 5 feet tall.
Northern Maidenhair Fern
Northern Maidenhair Fern is hardy to Zones 3 through 8, with light green fronds and black stems.

What Is The Best Place To Plant Ferns?

Although there are thousands of species of ferns that live in different climates throughout the world, the bulk of them have similar location preferences. You will need to look up the requirements for the specific plant you choose, but in general, most ferns need:

  • Filtered light: Most ferns enjoy dappled sunlight, similar to what they would receive through tree canopies. If you live in an area where they grow naturally, you’ve likely seen ferns scattered throughout wooded areas on a hike or nature trail. Most do not tolerate dense shade or full sun. A shade garden that receives at least a couple of hours of sunlight (preferably morning sun) is ideal for many ferns. 
  • Humidity: Most ferns truly thrive at around 70% humidity. Although they can be acclimated to lower moisture levels, browning leaf tips are common when they are consistently kept in low humidity. 
  • Water: Many species of ferns like to be consistently moist, but never soaked. In general, you shouldn’t let more than the first inch of soil dry out on a fern. When you water, make sure you do so until water flows out of the drainage holes of the pot. 
daylight
With most ferns, you cannot go wrong with providing dappled or filtered sunlight. Most also like humidity around 70%.

Conclusion

With such an enormous volume of species to choose from, ferns are the perfect plant to test out multiple varieties in your garden and inevitably find one that suits your needs and environment.

Although it’s a good idea to follow the recommended growing guidelines, remember that no two plants are the same. In the gardening world, knowledge comes from experience, trial, and error.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information. 

You can learn about 10 ferns for full sun here.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide page here. Enjoy!

About the author:
Kathryn is a plant enthusiast and freelance content writer who specializes in home and garden topics. Based in New York, you can get in touch with Kathryn at https://kathrynflegal.journoportfolio.com/.

Kathryn F.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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