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GSU Botanical Garden
Not just for hanging - ferns have a place in the garden too
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    What could be more welcoming than a house with a lush Boston fern hanging by the front door? Because we’re often drawn to those ferns first (their size alone calls out for attention), it’s easy to overlook the many other ferns available to gardeners and how they can be used in the landscape.
    Ferns aren’t just for hanging. They make wonderful bedding and accent plants, and can even be used as “foundation” plants. And since many ferns are hardy in Southern gardens, there’s no need to worry about bringing them inside in the winter months. Even some tender ferns can be easily protected from damaging frost with mulch. The one limiting factor in growing ferns in the garden is shade. Ferns are naturally found in woodland areas with at least some shade, dependable moisture, and rich soil.  However, most ferns will tolerate some level of sun during the day from full sun to part shade. If you don’t have a lot of shade in your garden, the safest place to plant is on the north side of your home. Typically, ferns do most of their growing in the fall and spring and just try to get through the hot, dryer summer months.
    With their lacey foliage and different shades of green (some ferns even have a silvery or blue cast), ferns look good paired with bold plants in the garden. Try ferns with dwarf palmetto, native azaleas, and hydrangeas. They also pair well with perennials such as gingers and hostas and annuals such as inpatiens and coleus. Some ferns spread by rhizomes and can be used effectively as a ground cover. Be careful where you place it, however, because it can spread to unwanted areas in your garden. If you’re interested in making a bolder statement with ferns, Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), which can grow to 3 to 4 feet in both height and width can be used as a foundation plant. The new leaves on this fern are a coppery-pink color, turn green in the summer, then a beautiful rusty-brown in the fall. Ferns in the Dryopteris family are mostly evergreen. A new selection of the native lady fern is northern lady fern (Athyrium filixfemina var. angustum forma rubellum). This fern is really stunning in the garden with its brilliant red-violet stems topped with lacy, light green foliage. This fern likes part sun to light shade. Another unusual fern is the crested Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Apple Court’). The green leaves on this fern have purple, silver, and green markings but what makes it really stand out is that the leaves are crested both up the sides and onto the tip.
    If you have the shade and space, a fern garden gives a landscape an almost ethereal feel with the different leaf textures and colors that can be grouped and mixed. Ferns typically like moist, well-drained soil that is acidic to neutral. No matter what soil type you have – clay or sandy – work organic matter or composed pine bark in your planting area. For clay soils, it will help drainage; sandy soils with organic matter hold moisture more effectively. Once established ferns need very little care, especially those native to the coastal plain.
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