Most garden ferns flourish in a shady position, where many more flamboyant plants fail to thrive. They are fascinating and beautiful plants, and their elegance and architectural impact makes up for what they lack in colour. You can use them in a mixed border, like any other perennials, but an area devoted solely to ferns looks especially effective – and very natural.
There are many different types of attractive fern to choose from, some with bold arching shuttlecocks, others forming delicate lacy clumps. Select a mixture of shapes and sizes to make the fern border more interesting, and if you are worried about bare ground in winter, choose mainly evergreen species.
Planting a fern border
Ferns are easy to grow as long as they are given the right conditions. Most prefer a moist, shady or partially shady site, and it pays dividends to prepare the ground thoroughly. Spring is a good time to plant.
Planting a fern border
1: Most ferns need a moist, humus-rich soil, so fork in as much garden compost or rotted manure as possible. This is especially important if the area is shaded by trees, or a wall that also casts a rain shadow, where the soil is usually dry.
2: If the soil is impoverished, add a balanced fertilizer and rake it into the surface. If planting in late summer or winter, do not use a quick-acting fertilizer. Wait until spring to apply, or use a controlled-release fertilizer that will release the nutrients only when the weather is warm enough for growth.
3: It is very important that ferns do not dry out, especially when newly planted. Water the pots thoroughly about half an hour before planting, to make sure the root-ball is wet enough to start with.
4: Make a hole large enough to take the root-ball, but if the roots are very tightly wound round the pot, you will need to carefully tease out some of them first. This will encourage them to grow out into the surrounding soil. If the plant is in a large pot, you may have to use a spade instead of a trowel.
5: Firm in carefully to eliminate any large air pockets that could allow the roots to dry out. Then water thoroughly so that the surrounding soil is moist down to the depth of the root-ball.
6: To help conserve moisture and maintain a high level of organic matter in the soil, mulch thickly with peat moss, leaf mould or garden compost. You will need to freshen the mulch each spring.