Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

Do you have additional gardening questions? Please contact us. Here's how.

Horticulture Questions and Answers

Which ferns are good for this area?

Hardy ferns, native to woodland floors, bring a special peaceful quality and attractive texture to shady gardens. Most ferns thrive in well-draining soil that is evenly moist and high in organic matter, just like their native woodlands and ravines. Note that there are some ferns that are native to swamps and wet ground. The ferns described here prefer organic well-draining sites.

In the garden, use hardy ferns in shady or partially shady sites as focal points or in massed plantings. They combine well in designs that also include hostas, astilbes and other shade-loving perennials. Hardy ferns also go well with impatiens, that popular annual that blooms all season long in shady sites.

Most ferns suitable for the home garden require a slightly acid soil that has a pH of roughly 5.5 to 6.5. The exception to this is the Southern Maidenhair fern, a native species that grows among limestone rocks and requires a sweeter soil with a pH of 7.0 to 8.0.

Perhaps the finest of all our hardy ferns is another native, the Christmas fern. In the wild or in the garden, this fern is nearly evergreen, thus its name. The 12- to 20-inch fronds remain green through the Christmas season and well into the next year. Last year's fronds finally collapse just before the new season's fronds begin growing. Soil should be slightly acid, and full of leaf mold or Canadian peat moss. Christmas ferns prefer a soil that is constantly moist but not soggy, but is tolerant of drier sites. If the site and soil suit the Christmas fern, they will grow into large handsome colonies.

The Marginal Shield fern, commonly found in the Ozarks, and some of its cousins in the genus Dryopteris are good garden prospects. The plants in this genus are known for being easy to grow. These ferns are fairly adaptable, thriving in varying degrees of shade. In height they will grow about 18 to 24 or more inches, depending on the location, soil and moisture. Woodland sites and shady rock gardens are ideal for the marginal shield fern.

Maidenhair ferns with their horseshoe-shaped fronds on wiry stems are prized for their airy and delicate-looking foliage. This maidenhair requires slightly acid soil. Southern maidenhair ferns, close relatives also prized for delicate airy foliage, require a sweeter soil with a higher pH. Both maidenhairs are Missouri-Illinois natives that are beautiful in garden settings. Both prefer sites that are constantly moist yet well draining.

The Japanese painted ferns are prized by many gardeners, especially the colorful variety pictum. Midribs and frond stems of this variant are dark red, the red slowly merging into gray-green leaflets. This Asian native has compact growth and spreads slowly, making it a good prospect for shady-border plantings. It has been bred into other varieties of several sizes and types. All are handsome.

These are but a few of your possible choices for garden ferns. Never collect ferns from the wild. All of the species discussed in this message are easily propagated in the nursery trade and readily available locally.