Ferns for Mississippi Gardens

This is an image of ferns.Referred to as 'nature's lacework', ferns provide beauty and utility for shaded Southern gardens. These ground-hugging perennials do not offer flower or fruit, but their myriad forms, leaf sizes, leaf colors, and unique textures provide a wealth of interest for difficult garden sites.

The amount of variation in ferns is surprising to most gardeners, as are the many cultivars and types suitable for planting in Mississippi's climate.

How to Grow Ferns

Ferns are surprisingly easy to establish and maintain. One of their few requirements is to be planted in a shaded area, particularly one that is protected from the hot afternoon sun. Most cultivated ferns prefer a loose well-drained organic soil, but there are native cultivars well suited to poor or even wet soil types. Ferns should be planted in the spring, after all danger of frost is passed. Loosen the top four inches of soil in the area that the ferns are to be planted, and mix in well-cured compost or peat moss into the soil. The loose soil will allow fern rhizomes (an underground horizontal stem that roots at the nodes) to quickly spread and colonize the planting area. Do not disturb any existing tree roots that may be uncovered, instead simply plant the ferns around the existing roots. Cover the area with a thick layer of leaves or mulch to retain moisture. It will be important to make sure that ferns are kept moist until they are fully rooted and established. The addition of a soaker hose hidden in the mulch provides an easy method for frequent watering. Once mulched and established, ferns require little watering, fertilizing, or further care. Only during extreme droughts will additional watering usually become necessary.

Planting Compositions with Ferns

Since most ferns have very fine textured leaves, they can be effectively combined with bold, coarse-textured shade plants. Cast iron plant, bear's breech, dwarf palmetto, gingers, split-leaf philodendron, umbrella plant, and aridisa are examples of broad leaf plants that provide striking accents to ferns. Different fern types can offer a lighter green or darker green leaf color, and some even have a tinge of silver or blue. Variegated plants such as variegated vinca, ajuga, variegated Algerian ivy, hostas, ligularia, and other perennials can provide color accents for a primarily green garden. Since some ferns spread aggressively by rhizomes, such as sword fern, it is suggested to choose accompanying plants accordingly.

Ferns Types for Mississippi

Although the variety of ferns suitable for growing in Mississippi is fairly extensive, the following abbreviated list features commonly available types.

Scientific Name Common  Name
Onoclea Sensibilis
Hypolepis repens
Woodwardia (Lorinseria) areolata 
Polystichum acrostichoides
Thelypteris (Macrothelypteris) torresiana
Osmunda regalis
Phegopteris (Thelypteris) hexagonoptera
Microlepia Strigosa
Dryopteris erythrosora
Diplazium esculentum
Athyrium filix-femina
Athyrium goeringianum (niponicum) “Pictum”
Polypodim Polypodioides
Sensitive or Bead Fern
Flakelet Fern
Netted Chain Fern
Christmas Fern, Dagger Fern
Torres or Mariana Maiden Fern
Royal Fern
Southern Beech Fern
Asian Fern
Autumn Fern
Vegetable Fern
Lady Fern
Japanese Silver Painted Fern
Resurrection Fern

These factsheets were written by Robert F. Brzuszek, Assistant Extension Professor, The Department of Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University.

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