Planting for success
impact. It can really cover ground, but don’t worry – if it gets out of hand, just eat it! Both are native to most parts of Canada.
Crown-forming: Male ferns and Wood ferns (Dryopteris spp.) are good examples. Many are evergreen, drought tolerant once established, and a few even take some sun given ample moisture. An additional bonus, the fiddleheads are adorned with shaggy or papery scales in bronze or gold hues. Crested golden male fern (D. affinis ‘The King’) is a deep-green, robust fern with tassel-looking fronds. Smaller in stature, fancy wood fern (D. intermedia) is one of our laciest-looking native.
Patch-forming: Lady ferns (Athyrium spp.) politely fill space gradually and can be divided every three to five years. Favourites include our native red-stemmed 'Lady in Red' (A. angustum) and Japanese painted fern (A. niponicum var. pictum) with fronds of metallic burgundy, silver and green that really light up shady spots. For best effect give these ladies a loose, moisture-retentive soil in bright to dappled shade.
When planting containerized plants, follow the rule-ofthumb “plant at the same depth as it is in the pot.” With bare-root plants or divisions consider the following: Colonizing and patch-forming ferns grow from underground rhizomes and should be planted just slightly below the soil surface. Crown-forming ferns should be planted with the crown above the soil surface. Burying it will cause rot and eventually kill the plant.
Ferns are easy to grow, very low-maintenance garden plants. Most appreciate moist, humus-rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil. However, as in nature, this ideal isn’t always available in the garden. If you have stony or seasonally dry soil, don’t despair. A site prepared with compost or leaf-mould and seasonal moisture-retaining top dressing of mulch are all that’s required. So, no matter what type of shade you have, there’s a fern for that place!
Iain Jack is owner of Fernwood Plant Nursery, an online mail-order nursery specializing in hardy garden ferns located in St. Margaret’s Bay, NS. www.fernwoodplantnursery.ca
Spring ostrich fern.