Think of green ferns instead of flower power for containers or hanging baskets!
Ferns are some of the planet’s oldest plants…having existed over 300 million years ago. Most ferns prefer shade or indirect light, humidity and moisture. You won’t get a rainbow of colorful flowers with these prehistoric beasts, but their gorgeous, lush fronds will more than make up for blossoms. Relatively simple to maintain, these plants thrive with consistent watering, added humidity and a dose of fertilizer to keep them looking their best from spring until frost. Ferns are naturals in containers! Show off their shape by placing containers on tables, plant stands or anything that will bring them off the ground. Or, allow them to spread out in hanging baskets on porches, balconies and in garden beds. Usually, containers in neutral tones and with bold or simple shapes will allow this exotic, green plant to become the focal point. And, if you grow attached to these beauties, you can bring them indoors as houseplants for the winter.
Tip: Keep them happy. Remember that hanging baskets dry out faster than other types of containers, so check them often by checking the soil. It should be just damp to the touch but not wet. (Photos: Clockwise from top left... Kimberley Fern, Birds Nest Fern, Staghorn Fern & Foxtail Fern.)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exalta ‘Bostoniensis’): It’s hard to imagine a Southern or Victorian porch without the classic beauty of feathery, Boston ferns. Whether you prefer them in hanging baskets in a row or potted in a container raised with a pedestal, they look their best when the fronds have enough room to drape luxuriously. To keep your fern lush and healthy, feed it once a month with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. Boston ferns love high humidity, so a little misting can’t hurt outdoors in summer or indoors in winter.
Mature Size: Up to 3’ fronds, when mature. Diameter of plant can vary.
Light: Bright but indirect sun
Water: Keep the soil consistently moist, but never allow it to stay soggy. If kept outdoors in a container or hanging basket, it will probably need to be watered every day during the summer.
Health: Boston ferns are very effective in removing toxins in air.
Tip: For greening up faded ferns, mix 1/4 cup Epsom salt to a gallon of water. Water fern deeply. Wait 3-4 days for added green color. (Easy care... but leaf edges have a tendency to brown if not consistently watered.)
Kimberley Fern or Australian Sword Fern (Nephrolepsis obliterata) Top Left: The upward arching form of this fern makes it a natural for displaying in containers near doors or flanking an entryway. They are big and beautiful and best of all…this fern is very tolerant of low light and low humidity. For those who want to give up because nothing will thrive under a shaded front porch, this fern will turn your thumb into a bright green. The Kimberley fern grows large & upright so these ferns look tidy in pots.
Mature Size: Up to 3+ feet tall…size can vary.
Light: Partial sun
Water: Needs regular moisture, but never allow soil to stay soggy. If kept outdoors in a container or hanging basket, it will probably need to be watered every day during the summer.
Best features: More heat tolerant than Boston fern. Doesn’t drop its foliage.
Bonus: One of the easiest ferns to grow.
Tip: Trim brown, crunchy fronds back to base of plant. (Easy Care... One of the easiest ferns to grow outdoors.)
Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) Top right: A carefree fern with wide, apple-green fronds that form an upright, clumping plant. Foliage can be flat, wavy or crinkly. In its native land of Southeast Asia, it is epiphytic or grows high up on the trees in the rainforests.
Mature Size: Fronds mature up to 18 inches long and more... grows quickly.
Light: Bright, natural light. It can handle a small amount of direct light. A perfect plant for covered porches on east or west side of house. Also, makes an excellent lowlight houseplant.
Water: It’s a jungle plant that prefers evenly moist but well-drained soil. Damp but not soggy. Likes added humidity.
Best feature: It thrives beautifully in our humid, Midwest summers.
Bonus: Plant an exotic container by pairing ferns with bromeliads and orchids. Use as a focal point in shady or filtered sun garden bed. Plant container with ferns and dragon wing begonias for height and color.
Tip: Add a layer of mulch on soil’s surface… along with misting… to retain moisture. Fertilize every other week with a water-soluble plant food. (Easy Care)
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium spp.) Bottom right: Staghorn ferns, like orchids or bromeliads, are epiphytes or air plants that get their moisture and nutrients from the air. These ferns are cool and artsy with wide & flat, prehistoric fronds that look like the antlers of a staghorn deer. Actually, the plant has two types of fronds: the sterile fronds are flat, round and located at the base of the fern. The fertile fronds are irregular, lobed and rise from the plant. Spores will appear on the antler-like fertile fronds. Staghorn ferns will grow in a pot, on a wall mount or in a wire or hanging basket because they like good air circulation.
Mature Size: 2-3 feet in diameter
Light: Bright, natural light but no direct sun.
Water: Water plant approx. every 7-10 days. If mounted on wood or wire, submerge fern in a bucket of water for a few minutes or spray it with distilled water. If in a pot, pour a good amount of water over the leaf and shield fronds and lightly water roots.
Bonus: More plants! When 'pups' appear at the base of the fern, remove and mount or plant the 'pups' in the same way as the parent fern.
Temperature: Most ferns make great houseplants because they like warm temperatures. Move them outside when temperatures warm up in the spring and move them indoors before temps fall below 40 degrees.
Tip: Touch the leaves as little as possible because the leaf coating can be damaged from excessive handling. (More Challenging Care)
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’): These are the real superheroes of the 'fern' world. Although technically not a fern, it is a member of the Liliaceae family. This fern look-alike has finely textured, needle-like foliage that trails as fronds mature—mounding and spilling over containers' edges from spring to frost without any problems.
Mature Size: 12 to 24-inches tall and wide.
Light: This fern does best in part sun to shade. It can take full sun, if pot stays consistently moist.
Water: Regular watering will insure that the leaves won’t turn yellow to crispy brown—especially when planted in hanging baskets. Keep the roots moist.
Best features: This fern is light and airy with a bright green color that complements almost any color of flower or foliage. Its fine texture mixes well with flowers in mixed containers but it is equally as pretty ‘going solo’ in hanging baskets on as shaded front porch or balcony.
Tip: Watch out for thorns along the stems. (Easy... if you don’t let it dry out.)
Foxtail Fern, Ponytail Fern or Emerald Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyers’') Bottom left: Love the foxtail fern* for its drought resistance, soft and plume-like, bright-green fronds and low maintenance qualities. The foxtail fern thrives outdoors in the summer but can also flourish indoors in a pot in the winter months.
Mature Size: 2-feet tall x 3-feet wide.
Light: Does well in partial shade or partial sun.
Water: Water regularly-- once a week but more in summer’s heat and/or when planted in hanging baskets and smaller containers.
Best features: In spite of its softness, this fern can grow into a bold, sculptural plant in a hanging basket, window box or a container.
Flowers and fruit: It can develop tiny, white flowers in spring and small, red ornamental berries in the fall. (Easy Care)
*Not a real fern but a member of the Liliaceae family.