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Ferns for the shade garden

Shady Garden Ferns
Shady Garden Ferns
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Lady ferns, Asplenium filixfemina, are a creeping fern and can be found growing near rocks in moist alkaline soil. They only grow 5 – 12 inches tall and are very useful in moist rock gardens. The lady fern is a native Kentucky plant, is one of about 180 species of lady ferns that range throughout most of the world. Lives in zones 3-8.

Shady garden ferns
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Maidenhair ferns, Adiantum pedatum, are lacy and fairly easy to grow. It is a very beautiful fern. Plant in an area that gets some morning sun and partial shade during the day. It likes moist well-drained soil that is mulched with maple leaves and can grow in alkaline soil. This is the most recommended fern and has horizontal, circular fronds and can grow to 20 inches tall. Here is a great article on the Maidenhair fern in zones 2-8, so is perfect for the Bluegrass Region.

Ostrich fern, Matteuccia stuthiopteris, is a huge, vigorously spreading fern that can grow to 5 feet tall. It grows in moist soil and shade and should not be planted very deep. Lives in zones 2-8.

Rattlesnake fern, Botrychium virginianum, gets its name from the fertile section of frond, which is reminiscent of a rattlesnake's rattle. It grows well in moist, rich soil and 8-30 inches tall. Lives in zones 3-8.

Walking Fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum, has very unfern-like fronds. When the tips touch moist ground, a new fern can grow; the fern thus "walks" across the ground. Grows best in shaded limestone, moss-covered outcrops and can grow 6-12 inches long

All ferns are perennials in the appropriate habitat and most thrive best in moist soil and shady areas. Ferns are thought to be the Earth's oldest plants and vary in size from a few inches high to the 80 feet tall tree ferns. Most species grow from simple underground stems, slowing spreading into large clumps of fronds.

Here are some Kentucky Nurseries that specialize in native ferns and plants:

  • Habitats Native Plant Nursery, LLC

Jacob Bartley, P.O. Box 265, Silver Grove, KY 41085 Tel: 859/442-9414 Email: Web: They specialize in local-genetic native plant seeds and select containerized herbaceous perennials and shrubs for wetlands, meadows, prairies, and woodlands. Serving Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and the surrounding region, our services include habitat assessments, design, installation, and management for a variety of habitat restoration projects including constructed wetland treatment systems and native landscapes.

  • Jane's Native Seeds

311 W. Campbell St., Frankfort, KY 40601 Tel: 502/750-1571

  • Shooting Star Nursery

160 Soards Rd, Georgetown, KY 40324 Tel: 502/867-7979
E-mail: Web:
Nursery-propagated wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines, wetland plants. Wildflower and prairie grass seeds and seed mixes. Free 25-page catalog.

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