Use ferns to add beauty in shaded garden areas

Published 9:40 am Monday, February 26, 2024

By Eddie Smith
MSU Extension Service

If you wonder what plants can be used in shaded areas of your landscape, I suggest that hardy and low-maintenance ferns are a great choice for adding lush, green foliage.

Ferns come in a variety of sizes, textures and colors that can add visual interest to darker areas of the landscape. While we can grow lots of ferns in hanging baskets and pots, picking the ones to plant in the ground is a bit trickier.

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Let’s explore some cool ferns that do well planted in the ground and are perfect for adding a touch of magic to your shade garden.

Imagine a fern that’s both bold and beautiful, and you’ve got the Autumn fern. It’s not very tall and has frilly leaves. The best part? The leaves start off a green-copper color and then turn a deep, lush green as the seasons change.

The Autumn fern is a reliable friend for your shade garden, always looking good and providing a pop of color.

It is a deciduous fern that typically grows up to 2 feet tall and wide, preferring partial to full shade and well-drained soil. It is deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, making it a great choice for many different types of garden settings.

If you’re into evergreen ferns, the Japanese Holly fern is a winner.

I love this fern because its dark green fronds are shiny and look a bit like holly leaves. Fronds are pinnately lobed, which means lobes are arranged on either side of a central axis, and their sharp, serrated edges give the plant a spiky texture.

This fancy fern is a favorite for folks who like their gardens to look good all the time.

Japanese Holly fern typically grows up to 2 feet tall and wide, preferring partial to full shade and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. It tolerates a wide range of soil types but does best in slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. It is relatively easy to care for and a great addition to shady gardens or landscapes.

If you are looking for a native plant, the Southern Wood fern is a great selection.

These plants are bright green with leaves that appear lacy and sit on woody stems. The little leaf parts are paired up along the stem and have a fancy, serrated edge. As you move up the stem, the leaves get smaller, creating a cool pattern.

The Southern Wood fern is a natural decoration that adds texture and interest to shady areas.

So, if you’re thinking about creating a charming shady space, consider the Autumn, Japanese Holly and Southern Wood ferns. They each will bring their own style to your garden, adding different colors, textures and shapes.

Watch your shade garden turn into a beautiful and timeless place filled with nature’s green beauty.


[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Eddie Smith is a gardening specialist and Pearl River County coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He is also host of the popular Southern Gardening television program. Locate Southern Gardening products online at]