20+ Winter Hardy Fern Varieties

Ferns are the staple of many shade gardens. This list of winter hardy fern varieties has lots of perennial fern species you can use – tall ferns, evergreen ferns, short ferns and even a few ferns that will grow in the sun.

20 hardy fern varieties

After gathering some inspiration for the shade garden I’m planning to create this year, I realized that most of the pictures have ferns in them.

I love the lush look they give to the garden beds.

In the summer, I always have hanging baskets with Boston ferns and a few Japanese painted ferns in my garden, but I have never tried growing any other winter hardy fern varieties.

So I decided to do some research, and came up with a whole bunch of options.

Most of them are native plants that thrive in the shade…some are short, some are tall, some are evergreen and some will even survive in full sun! I didn’t realize that there were so many types of ferns.

While they do not have flowers, many have interesting fertile fronds (the fern version of seed pods)

Almost all thrive in acidic soil (which isn’t a problem in my area), and like moist soil. So I’ll need to make sure they’re well watered (which shouldn’t be a problem either as long as I set up some soaker hoses).

So here’s the list of winter hardy fern varieties I found.

best shade plants

Hardy Fern Varieties for Shade

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Northern or Common Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Northern or Common Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) ©bob - stock.adobe.com
©bob – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 8″ to 24″

The Northern Maidenhair fern is a native plant that likes moist but not wet soil and will not survive getting dried out. So watering is very important!

It has black stems that contrast with the light green foliage. And red fiddleheads in the spring that provide more color and interest.

This fern is quite easy to grow and spreads slowly by rhizomes. It can create quite a large colony if the conditions are right.

Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)

Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) ©skymoon13 - stock.adobe.com
©skymoon13 – stock.adobe.com

Light:Part to Full Shade
Zones: 7 to 10
Height: 6″ to 20″

The Southern Maidenhair Fern is a native plant that grows in moist, well-drained soil and is deer-resistant.

It’s a fairly short plant that doesn’t have the typical fern-shaped fronds, but the delicate leaves are very pretty.

This fern prefers to grow in the crevices of limestone rocks where water is available. Which makes it perfect for a shade rock garden.

But it can also make a beautiful ground cover if enough moisture is present.

However, if the plant doesn’t get watered enough, it will go dormant in the summer.

Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) ©duke2015 - stock.adobe.com
©duke2015 – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shad
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 18″ to 30″

Next on the list of winter hardy fern varieties is the Hayscented Fern. It’s another native fern that gets its name because the fronds smell like freshly mowed hay if they are crushed.

This fern can grow in all kinds of soil types and can even survive dry conditions once it is established.

When it is happy, it can spread quite aggressively which makes it a good option for naturalizing in a woodland area. But it may not be the best option to grow with other plants in a garden bed.

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera)

Broad beech fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera)
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: 12″ to 24″

The Broad Beech Fern is a native plant that has an interesting growth pattern. It puts up individual fronds along the length of underground rhizomes.

The plant can spread quite rapidly,  but dies back in the winter or if it gets too much sun.

It is resistant to both deer and rabbits.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) with fertile and sterile fronds ©bob - stock.adobe.com
©bob – stock.adobe.com

Light: Sun to Full Shade
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 24″ to 36″

Cinnamon fern is an easy-to-grow native plant that prefers medium to wet soil and can reach 5 to 6 feet high if given constant moisture.

.Sterile fronds are green and form a vase-shaped circle around the fertile ones.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads ©ClubhouseArts - stock.adobe.com
©ClubhouseArts – stock.adobe.com

The fertile fronds start as silvery, furry fiddleheads that turn into stiff chocolate brown spikes. Which add interest and color to the shade garden.

Cinnamon ferns are rabbit-resistant and are one of the few plants that will survive under Black Walnut trees.

Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyriumniponicum)

Japanese painted fern 'Pictum'

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 4 to 9 (depending on the variety)
Height: 10″ to 15″

Japanese painted ferns are known for the beautiful colors of their leaves.

Depending on the variety, the fronds can be silver and burgundy (like ‘Pictum’) above.

Japanese painted fern 'Ghost'

Or a beautiful blue-silver color (like ‘Ghost’).

Japanese painted fern 'Silver Falls' ©speakingtomato - stock.adobe.com
©speakingtomato – stock.adobe.com

Or pink-tinged (like ‘Silver Falls’).

Like most ferns, Japanese painted ferns like moist (not wet) soil. But once established, this hardy fern variety is actually quite drought tolerant.

For the best colors, plant it where it can get some morning sun.

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) ©HVPM dev - stock.adobe.com
©HVPM dev – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 5 to 8
Height: 24″ to 36″

The Japanese Tassel Fern has dark green fronds that are semi-evergreen and grow from a central rosette.

It isn’t an aggressive species. And it is deer and rabbit-resistant.

Spores of the Japanese Tassel Fern
Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz / CC BY-SA

New fronds have golden-copper hairs which is where it gets the name “Tassel Fern”.

Cut back the old fronds before the new ones come out to keep the plant looking fresh.

All of its outstanding qualities earned it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Tall Ferns For Shade

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) ©bob - stock.adobe.com
©bob – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 24″ to 60″

Lady Fern is an easy-to-grow native plant with finely-cut, lacy fronds that can grow up to 5 feet tall.

It’s a deciduous perennial which will grow best in part to full shade and should not be allowed to dry out.

There are Southern and Northern varieties, so pick the one that will do best in your area.

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Young ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) ©tamu - stock.adobe.com
©tamu – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 4 to 7
Height: 48″ to 72″

The Ostrich Fern is another one of the native winter hardy fern varieties.

It’s a large plant that can add a tropical feeling to any garden.

Large ostrich fern fronds growing in the wild ©ehrlif - stock.adobe.com
©ehrlif – stock.adobe.com

This fern can be a little aggressive so plant it where it can spread.

The fiddleheads are edible.

Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris Ludoviciana)

Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris Ludoviciana)
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 6 to 10
Height: 36″ to 48″

The next one of our winter hardy fern varieties is the Southern Wood Fern which is a native plant with light green, bushy fronds.

It thrives in heavy, wet soil, high temperatures and humidity.

Because of this, it’s an excellent ground cover choice for Southeastern shade gardens.

Evergreen Fern Species

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) ©HVPM dev - stock.adobe.com
©HVPM dev – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 4 to 9
Height: 24″ to 36″

With its frilly evergreen fronds, the Autumn Fern provides color in your garden all year round.

It has coppery pink fronds that emerge in the spring.

They mature to deep green in the summer.

And finally turn bronze in the fall.

It makes a great ground cover in your shade garden

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium spp.)

Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
©simona – stock.adobe.com

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones
: 6 to 10
Height: up to 30″

The Holly Fern has stiff, glossy, dark green fronds that look like holly (which explains the name).

As well as making a good border plant or ground cover, it also grows well in containers.

And will survive the salt air and saline water found in coastal areas

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 36″ to 60″

The Male Fern is a tall perennial that makes an excellent specimen plant. It is semi-evergreen in colder climates and evergreen in warmer regions.

Like most ferns, this plant requires consistent moisture to stay healthy.  But other than, it’s easy to grow.

Protect it from wind to keep the large fronds looking good.

This fern variety is also rabbit-resistant and will grow in clay soil.

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 18″ to 24″

The Marginal Wood Fern is a native plant that features grayish-green, deeply cut, leathery fronds.

This fern forms a non-spreading, vase-shaped clump that makes an excellent addition to the shade garden.

With its evergreen leaves, it works well in groups or as a specimen plant.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones:
Height: 24″ to 36″

The Christmas Fern is a native leathery plant that has glossy, green fronds year-round.

Which is how it got its name…it stays green all the way through the holidays.

This is a clumping form that does not spread and works well with other plants in the shade border.

Christmas fern is also deer, rabbit and drought resistant (once established).

Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Light: Full Shade to Part Sun
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: 36″ to 72″

Next on our list of winter hardy fern varieties is the Western Sword Fern.

It has glossy, leathery, dark green, evergreen foliage that forms large clumps with many long fronds in shady areas.

This fern does better than most in dry, arid conditions (after the first year) and is deer resistant.

Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsus-simense)

Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsus-simense)
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Light: Part to Full Shade
Zones: 7 to 9
Height: 10″ to 15″

The Korean Rock Fern is a small, well-behaved, evergreen fern that makes a great addition to the front of your shade garden border.

Its shiny dark green fronds are a good contrast for other shade perennials with chartreuse or silver leaves.

This fern is poisonous if ingested so avoid it if you have pets that like to chew on plant leaves.

Ferns for Sun

Although most of the ferns in this “for sun” list prefer to be grown in the shade, they can do quite well in the sun provided they have enough water.

Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron)

Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron)
Photo by Doug McGrady / CC BY 2.0

Light: Part Shade to Sun
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 6″ to 20″

Ebony Spleenwort is a small native fern that has some very un-fern-like characteristics.

It is the only one of the winter hardy fern varieties that prefers drier conditions, rocky soils and can grow in the sun.

The name “ebony” refers to the stalk that turns black with age.

With this fern, the sterile and fertile fronts look like totally different plants. The sterile fronds are 2″ to 6″ long and are evergreen. The fertile fronds are 12″ to 24″ long and are deciduous. It’s almost like two plants in one 🙂

Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana L.)

Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana L.) ©duke2015 - stock.adobe.com
©duke2015 – stock.adobe.com

Light: Full Shade to Sun
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 20″ to 40″

The Interrupted Fern is a is a large, vase-shaped native plant that gets its name because its fertile fronds are “interrupted” by spore-bearing leaflets in early summer.

They are fairly flexible in terms of soil and sun.

Apparently, these ferns prefer dappled sunlight, but can also grow in full shade and even in full sun. They occur on both wet and fairly well-drained sites and acid to neutral soil.

It’s very similar to the Cinnamon Fern (above) but more flexible in terms of growing conditions.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)

Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) with fertile and sterile fronds ©duke2015 - stock.adobe.com
©duke2015 – stock.adobe.com

Light: Full Shade to Sun
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 36″ to 72″

Royal Fern is a native fern that has unique, delicate, bright green fronds that often have a silvery cast.

While it prefers the shade, this plant will grow in the sun given lots of water.

It likes water so much, it can actually tolerate growing in standing shallow water.

Southern Shield Fern (Thelypteris kunthii)

Southern Shield Or Wood Fern (Thelypteris kunthii) ©Libin - stock.adobe.com
©Libin – stock.adobe.com

Light: Sun to Full Shade
Zones: 6 to 9
Height: 24″ to 36″

The Southern Shield Fern is a native plant has gracefully arching fronds that are lime to medium-green in color and look like stereo-typical fern leaves.

This winter hardy fern variety is deer resistant, and loves heat and humidity. Which makes it perfect for the South.

It makes a good ground cover which is evergreen in frost-free areas and semi-evergreen everywhere else.

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Do you have any other suggestions for winter hardy fern varieties? Tell us in the section below.

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