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Ferns for grace and beauty

A guide to the northern maidenhair

Ferns are one of those groups of plants that I just can’t get enough of. I often have a hard time deciding which one to use. With hundreds to choose from, you can imagine the dilemma. To make it easier, I always let the environment, location, and mature size be my ultimate guide.

Many ferns need very specific conditions to thrive, and the northern maidenhair fern is one of them. It must be planted in a location where the soil is rich, moist, and well-drained. Maidenhair ferns, shown above, do not like heavy clay soils. They also need to be planted in an area that is moderately shady or wooded.

Known for being one of the most graceful and beautiful ferns, they can grow 12 to 24 inches tall throughout Kentucky. They will spread slowly and are wonderful additions to the natural garden. The fine texture is a welcome addition to an area with lots of broad-leaf textures such as heuchera, hosta, hydrangea, or brunnera.

While northern maidenhair ferns are readily available, I often see them struggling when planted in less than ideal conditions. If you don’t have the perfect soil or location in your landscape, consider growing them in a container. While they will need to be watered frequently, it is easier to provide them with rich soil and keep them in a shady spot. Make sure your container is freely draining—the picky maidenhair fern does not like to be water-logged.

If you are growing them in containers or terrariums, you might also consider one of the many non-winter hardy or tropical maidenhair ferns. These can be found at your local garden center with the tropical or houseplants and can have subtle differences in their leaf shape and color. Northern maidenhair ferns can be found in the shade-loving perennial plant section and are winter-hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8.

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.

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