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Ferns for Containers

Ferns make excellent container plants for both indoor and outdoor use. Their foliage is variable and provides interesting colors, textures, sizes, and shapes. There are very small delicate ferns and very large ones like the tree ferns. A grouping of ferns is especially useful in hot places where their lush greenness can provide a cooling effect. 

Here are five ferns that grow well in containers.

East Indian Holly Fern (Arachnoides simplicior var. variegata)
The yellow stripe running down the mid-rib of each pinna makes this easy to grow fern a standout. It grows very slowly but in time can ready 24 tall and wide. It is good indoors or out and takes light frosts.

    Type: Semi-evergreen
    Size: 24” H x 24” W
    Light: Indirect to low light
    Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Western Maiden Hair Fern (Adiantum aleuticum)
This delicate, airy fern is characterized by wiry black stems and triangular frond segments. It tolerates a range of light conditions and can be tucked into a container with other plants as a filler. The generic name refers to the fact that the leaves shed water.

    Type: Deciduous
    Size: 30” H x 3” W
    Light: Full sun to partial shade
    Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Squirrel’s Foot Fern (Davillia mariesii)
A native of Southeast Asia, squirrel’s foot fern is cherished for its furry rhizomes that grow over the edges of its pot for all to see and touch. They are epiphytes in their native environment which means that they grow on and over the substratum rather than in it. For best growth it needs moist soil.

    Type: Evergreen
    Size: 16” tall x 12” W
    Light: Full shade
    Hardiness: Zones 10-12

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
For a large bold look, try a royal fern. Its majestic appearance immediately catches the eye and adds an architectural quality. A native of bogs and swamps royal fern requires moist to wet soil.

    Type: Deciduous
    Size: 2-5’ H x 3’ W
    Light: Bright shade
    Hardiness: Zones 5-11

Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica)
This large fern needs a big container but will create instant drama on shady patio or walled garden. The bright green arching fronds have a fine lacy texture and can grow 3-6’ long. They grow at the top of a stem-like structure that is actually a rhizome. Needs wet or constantly moist soil.

    Type: Evergreen
    Size: 6’ H x 4’ W
    Light: Partial shade to shade
    Hardiness: Zones 9-11

Ferns should be planted in a light soil with plenty of organic matter. The like consistent moisture and high humidity so appreciate misting. Their foliage combines will with other ferns, annuals, and perennials so they can be used with a variety of other plants. Although most ferns can be grown in the same container as perennials and annuals they are best grown in a container of their own so that their unique water and nutrients needs can be met.