Ferns are gorgeous and resilient plants, able to thrive in the most challenging of climates. While most ferns may look similar, there are more than 10,560 different species to choose from. They make excellent additions to any home and garden, so let's explore the most common types of ferns.
Popular Types of Ferns
Ferns can be cultivated for indoor and outdoor use and thrive in different environments with proper care.
The asparagus fern is a versatile plant that not only looks good but brings health benefits with it too. When used indoors during the winter, it can improve your home's air quality. It grows best in the shade and can flower small white flowers occasionally. While they may look soft to the touch, asparagus ferns are thorny. With proper care, your asparagus fern produces small red berries.
Australian Tree Fern
Australian tree ferns can grow up to 40 feet tall, so they're best for outdoor plants. They need to be watered weekly because over-drying can cause your fern to die. They prefer stable climates, so you don't want to plant this if you have different seasons that vary in temperature. This fern has large fronds that retain its color and do not flower.
Blue Star Fern
The blue star fern is the ideal houseplant. It doesn't need a lot of sunlight, it's extremely difficult to overwater, and it doesn't exceed one foot in height. The fronds are strong and broad with a dusky green color. For best results, use potting soil that doesn't retain water. You don't want the roots to be damp.
Bird’s Nest Fern
The bird's nest fern doesn't look like a typical fern, with long, thin plume-like fronds that almost look like leaves. The center also looks like a bird's nest. They grow attached to trees or buildings in the wild. While they can be grown in pots, bird's nest ferns prefer to be mounted on boards for maximum air exposure. If your bird's nest fern starts yellowing, remove it from the sunlight.
Boston ferns need to be placed in cool locations outside of direct sunlight. They also need humidity to thrive, so you'll often see these as houseplants or porch plants during the spring and fall. During the winter, mist your Boston fern to keep it humid. You can also place it on a tray of pebbles with water for best results.
Cinnamon ferns are green and gold that will help to breathe life into your garden. They can grow more than four feet tall, so they're best for outdoor use. Unexpected frosts can kill them, so make sure to plant them in temperate areas. Cinnamon ferns can be planted together or interspersed throughout the garden.
Cretan Brake Fern
Cretan Brake ferns look almost like a palm tree, with thin, green, and white leaves that hang over the center, though they don't have stems. Cretan Brake ferns do not need much humidity to thrive, and they are easy to take care of. Prune dead strands to promote new growth and to control the size.
Holly ferns are great houseplants as they don't require much sunlight. They will grow up to two feet tall and spread three feet wide. If you're planting a holly fern outside, make sure it's in a dark area of the garden. They are susceptible to low temperatures, so extreme cold can cause them to die.
Japanese Painted Fern
The Japanese painted ferns are beautiful, with silver, blue, and red hints. They thrive in the morning sun and require rich soil to grow. Consider putting compost in the soil to promote your Japanese painted fern's growth. If you have less than ideal conditions, it will require a lot of fertilization.
Maidenhair ferns love wooden, moist areas grown on their own in the wild or in a container to control their growth. They do not like being repotted, so be careful when moving this fern indoors. Avoid vents as they will cause your maidenhair fern to dry out. Unlike other ferns, they are more delicate, with feathery-like limbs that are soft to the touch.
Ostrich ferns thrive in the shade, providing tall, arching limbs that look almost like an ostrich feather. It requires a lot of humidity to thrive, so it's best as an outdoor fern. With proper care, Ostrich ferns can grow up to 6 feet tall, though their fertile fronds are smaller and will remain when the rest have dried up for winter.
The royal fern is a great outdoor plant, growing up to six feet tall and three feet wide. They are hearty, durable ferns, difficult for deer and rabbits to eat. They require room to grow, pruning, and moist soil for ideal growing conditions. They do not do well in the heat with dry ground.
Staghorn ferns often start as a houseplant, but they grow quickly and must eventually be relocated outside. They're typically mounted rather than potted, which can help prevent overwatering and promote growth. They, too, need humidity to thrive.
Some ferns can retain their color and fronds throughout the year, giving you a pop of color in the harshest of conditions.
Evergreen ferns retain the vibrant foliage throughout the year, no matter the season. When selecting an evergreen fern, be mindful of your environment if you have cold or snow. These ferns can also survive in the high sun, so you'll be able to enjoy their splendor all year long.
Other ferns are seasonal, blooming like other plants, flowers, and trees, only to return to hibernation as it gets colder.
Deciduous ferns bloom each year in the spring, so they lose their color during the winter. The plants are dormant during the winter, but that doesn't mean they're not active in their own way. They store up energy and chlorophyll to help it spring to life come growing season.
Herbaceous ferns return to the ground during the fall, losing their color and their entire body. They do not keep any wooden frame out during the colder months, so it may be difficult to remember where you planted the fern come next spring. Many professional gardeners mark their garden to ensure they don't plant over it.
Semi-evergreen ferns are a happy medium between those that fully shed during the winter and those that retain their foliage. They will shed, but not for as long as other seasonal plants, maintaining and growing their fronds without you even noticing it happened. Certain weather conditions and insect infestations can hasten this shedding.
Ferns have lived for millions of years, with the earliest records in more than 360 million years old fossils. They can grow between 2 millimeters and 25 meters in height and live up to 100 years.
While they can be found worldwide, ferns thrive in forests and areas that are moist and shady, like acid wetlands and tropical trees. They can also grow in rocks, as long as they face away from the sun.
If you live in more moderate climates, though, don't worry, ferns are adaptable plants that can easily live indoors and outdoors.
Ferns require little care, so they are a great set and forget it plant. They should be kept in rooms between 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). They should never be placed in direct sunlight lest you burn your fern. Instead, place them in indirect light so they can get the energy they need to grow.
Ferns should be watered once a week and kept in clay pots to help them retain moisture. Prune back any damaged limbs, remove any insects that could eat the roots, and fertilize your fern as it is growing.
If you're introducing a new fern to your outdoor garden, it's essential that you take care to foster its growth. Once it settles, it will require little maintenance, but it needs care initially to help it take root. Identify the type of fern you have and ensure you have the ideal growing conditions.
Your fern will require a lot of mulch to keep it getting its nutrients. If you're having a drought, make sure to water it, especially if you notice the limbs starting to droop or dry out. You'll need to manage growth as ferns can quickly take over your garden if you're not careful.