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New York Fern Plants – How To Grow New York Ferns In Gardens

New York Fern Plants – How To Grow New York Ferns In Gardens


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By: Mary Ellen Ellis

New York fern, Thelypteris noveboracensis, is a woodland perennial that is native to and found throughout the eastern U.S. This is a forest plant primarily, and it also hugs streams and wet areas, so consider putting this native plant in your woodland garden or natural wetlands garden.

About New York Fern Plants

Ferns are the classic shade plant, perfect for those areas of the garden where other plants just don’t thrive. Growing New York ferns is a great option, as the plants are easy to maintain, come back year after year, and will spread to fill out space. These ferns produce trailing rhizomes, which help send up new fronds so that you get more each year.

Thelypteris is the marsh fern family of plants. It grows in marshy, wooded areas and by streams. The fronds are a yellowish-green color and rise to about one to two feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) tall. The leaflets are twice divided, which gives the New York fern a wispy appearance. New York fern supports toads and helps fill in gaps in woodland gardens where spring flowers don’t appear.

How to Grow New York Ferns

New York fern care is certainly not intensive, and these plants will thrive if you give them the right conditions. They need at least part shade and prefer acidic soil. They tolerate moist conditions but, once established, rarely need watering. Plant these ferns in a shady, wooded area; in a marshy area; or near a stream for the best results.

Expect your New York ferns to spread each year and to potentially out-compete some other plants. You can divide the roots to thin them out or to propagate and transfer additional plants to other areas of the garden. The drier and hotter the conditions, the less it will spread so keep this mind.

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Fabulous Native Ferns

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

One of the joys of spring is watching ferns unfurl. The fronds start with small fuzzy arcs in the early spring, just poking their little heads above the crown of the plant and slowly growing upward and unfurling like the unwinding of a spring. When I see these fiddleheads, I know spring is really here.

Unfortunately ferns get very little attention as a garden perennial. In most books about perennials, they aren’t even mentioned. This is probably because they don’t have flowers or seeds and somehow people don’t think of them as perennials. They are in fact perennials, reliably returning each year to add beauty, texture and even color to our gardens.

Many people have the misconception that ferns are difficult to grow. This stems from the fact that they seem exotic, tropical, and not appropriate for our cooler climate. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The north east has numerous varieties of native ferns in its woods and meadows. If they grow successfully on their own, how hard can it be to grow a few in our gardens?

Like with any plant, you need to match the conditions in your garden to the requirements of the fern. They are perfect for a moist shady location, but that is not the only suitable habitat. Some can tolerate quite a bit of sun and others will handle dryer soil. All the ferns love leaf mold mulch, which is logical considering in nature they grow in the woods. The important thing is doing your homework before you purchase a fern and find out just what conditions they prefer.

One of the advantages of growing ferns is their almost year round interest. From the spring unfurling, through the summer’s lush textured foliage, to the beautiful caramel and amber colors of the fall, ferns add a depth to the garden that cannot be achieved with the more traditional blossoming perennials whose flowers come and go so quickly. The green provides a resting spot for the eyes as well as making the colors of the blooms around them stand out.

Ferns have been growing for more than 300 million years! In most depictions of dinosaurs there are ferns in the background. In fact, in prehistoric times, they were a dominant part of the vegetation. Today there are about 12,000 species of fern worldwide and more than 50 species native to the Northeast.

The following are some native ferns that will grow well in our area. Adding native ferns is a good way to contribute to the sustainability of your landscape. The ferns mentioned below are generally available at nurseries and will grow well in our area. One of the most important features of ferns is deer don’t like them! That alone is reason to try a few.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides): If you want to try just one fern, the Christmas fern has the most adaptable requirements. It prefers rich, moist soil but will also tolerate dry soil. Christmas fern likes shade but will take partial sun if the soil is moist enough. One of the things setting this fern apart is the fronds are evergreen so you have the deep green color all winter. Christmas fern is not invasive. The clump slowly gets larger, staying 12 to 24 in. tall.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): This is a large fern, 24 to 72 inches tall and brings a stunning verticality to the landscape. Ostrich fern loves moist shade or part sun and will even tolerate occasional standing water. It’s ideal along a stream or near a pond. The fronds emerge from a central crown that looks like a dark brown, dead clump on the ground in the winter. This is the fern that has the tastiest fiddleheads and are as prized as asparagus in the spring. Ostrich fern can become invasive sending out new underground shoots so don’t put it somewhere it doesn’t have a little room to spread. If they do spread too much they are easy to dig up and share with a friend.

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina): Lady fern is one of the most common ferns in wooded areas of western New York and also one of the easiest to grow. It prefers moist, loamy soil and shade to partial sun. Lady fern stays 16-36 inches tall and it has an attractive, lacy appearance. It forms a lovely amorphous clump that won’t take over your garden and adds a feathery texture.

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea): This is a spectacular, rounded clump forming fern that gets 30 to 60 inches tall. Its fiddleheads are hairy and very decorative in spring. The spore fronds turn cinnamon colored when mature, hence its name. Unfortunately they don’t persist through the season but die back after releasing their spores, but they’re a show-stopper while they last. Cinnamon fern prefers moist to wet soil.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum): The maidenhair fern is one of our most beautiful native ferns, always lovely in a landscape. Its fronds unfold on wiry, delicate black stems. The green fronds form a double-sided swirl of leaves from the top of the stem. Maidenhair ferns grow 12 to 20 inches tall and prefer partial to full shade. They thrive in moist well-drained soil. This is not a fern that will grow in standing water. One of my favorite features of maidenhair fern is the deep burgundy color they turn in fall. Stunning!

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis): This is one of the ferns that will do well in full sun if the conditions are moist. It will also do very well in shade with normal garden soil. Sensitive fern has a pale green color and a single stemmed triangular frond with segments more coarsely divided. The spore fronds persist and look like little round balls on a stick. For this reason they are often used in fall arrangements. Sensitive fern grows to a height of 12 – 36 inches tall, and spreads readily given the right conditions.

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana): The growth habit of this fern is striking. It forms an upright clump similar to an ostrich fern but the spores appear as dark sacks mid-way up the stem, hence the name. People always ask what it is when they see it in my garden. Interrupted fern grows 24 to 48 inches tall and can tolerate relatively dry shade to partial shady conditions.

If you have the appropriate spot, give one of our native ferns a try. They will reward you with beauty throughout the growing season and for years to come.

Lyn Chimera is a master gardener with Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension.


About 25 percent of the plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

From the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the Piedmont region, and to the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina’s landscape is carpeted with a rich array of wildflowers and native plants. It is home to many species of trees, shrubs and flowering plants. Noted for its short, mild winters and sultry summers, North Carolina can also support many non-native species which are beginning to make their way across the landscape. Regrettably, some of these exotic immigrants are invasive and are threatening the native flora and ecology of the state.

According to the U.S Forest Service, Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42% of U.S. endangered and threatened species, and for 18% of U.S. endangered or threatened species. Invasive species compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. They displace and alter native plant communities, degrade wildlife habitat and water quality, and potentially lead to increased soil erosion.

The federal government has estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction, many of these through habitat loss. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human introduction. There are many benefits in growing native plants.

  • First, these plants are better adapted to soils, moisture and weather than exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world. They need less fertilizers, pesticides or use less water.
  • Second, they are unlikely to escape and become invasive, destroying natural habitat.
  • Third, they support wildlife, providing shelter and food for native birds and insects, while exotic plants do not.

Here is a list of North Carolina native ferns that are well-suited for plantings in gardens.

  • Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
  • When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependency.


How to Take Care of Ferns

Though these plants will tolerate full shade, they actually do best when also given a little dappled sunlight.

They prefer a richly moist soil as do many woodland species. Mix in some rich compost to about ten inches into the soil before you plant them, and they will flourish.

Make sure the soil is kept damp in dry spells and add slow release fertilizer from time to time. Mulching to protect the plants from cold weather is advised.

Shade loving fern plants thrive in rich, moist, humus soil with an acid PH. Ideally 1 part soil, 1 part clean sand and 2 parts peat moss. Adding compost mulch twice a year will keep the roots cool and moist in the summer and protect the rhizomes from freezing and thawing in the winter. Mulching will also help keep the soil PH near to an ideal reading.

These plants make a great addition to any shade garden. There are so many to choose from and many different types, shapes, sizes and colors.

Feeding and Watering Ferns

When in an open garden area ferns do not normally need feeding but do appreciate a mulch of well-rotted farm manure in spring.

If they are planted in poor soil however, they would benefit from a balanced fertiliser or some fish, blood, and bone in the springtime.

Water when needed to prevent soil drying out. Always apply the water to the roots and to prevent rot do not water the fronds or crown


Watch the video: Davallia Fern Growing On A Rock