Ferns are Happy in Texas!!

Ferns are perennials and provide incredible texture and contrasting color to a garden.  Ferns are found in all parts of Texas, even naturally in Big Bend.  Ferns are in fact, a native Texas plant.

Ferns are deciduous but do not fret that they are deciduous and die back in the winter – you are not in the garden in the winter and when they return it is such a joy!

Ostrich Fern Dallas Arboretum Fern Garden
Incredibly beautiful ostrich fern.

Holly fern in the Texas landscape design

Holly fern in the Texas landscape design

Wood fern forest in Texas

Wood fern forest in Texas

Fern Garden Dallas Arboretum

Wood fern with a smattering of lilies and cast iron plant (aspidistra).

Artillery fern.  These grow from little white bulblets.  They do not return each spring but you can dig up the bulblets (just as you would a caladium bulb) and replant them.  At least in my experience.  Someone reported to me theirs return each year!  Hmmmm .. so not sure.  Ask at your nursery unless it’s Walmart or Lowes, their advice is questionable in my experience.

Foxtail Asapargus fern in landscape design

Foxtail Aspargus fern

Foxtail Asapargus fern

Foxtail Aspargus fern

 Rock fern nestled in the rocks.
Wood fern nestled under an oak with purple shamrock, azaleas and hydrangeas.  They all like the same soil and sunlight.

Gardening with Ferns

Ferns in Dallas Landscaping

Ferns in open beds such as this one are filled with two things, water retention pellets in the soil amended with organic matter and soaker hoses!

Wood fern in full sun!  In Texas!  Not sure how this is possible.  Clearly there has been significant soil amendment with water retention particles, organic matter and a bit of sand?  Typically ferns are best located in partial shade.

Ferns in open beds such as this one are filled with two things, water retention pellets in the soil amended with organic matter and soaker hoses!

Ferns in open beds such as this one are filled with two things, water retention pellets in the soil amended with organic matter and soaker hoses!

Beautiful wood fern nestled in in ivy bed above.

Wood fern can become invasive! So have a plan.

Texas perennial. Wood fern can become invasive! So have a plan.

Where are ferns born? The fern garden! Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower, but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Water Retaining Pellets for Fern Gardening

Water is the sine qua non of effective fern gardening.  Water retention pellets and crystals are a cost effective solution to keeping your ferns hydrated.

My Fundamental Gardening Tools

The fundamental tools for gardening for me are:  Osmocote fertilizer, a five pound pick ax, water retaining pellets or crystals and timer soaker hoses.  The little pick ax lives at my back door with my gardening shoes.  I use it to hack out a weed, pop a hole for a plant or trench for fertilizer.
I always use water retaining pellets for new plants with a bit of Osmocote.  I have tried the sprayer fertilizer feeder and other fertilizers, Osmocote is easy and always works. The soaker hose saves water and is much more effective than a sprinkler system.

Wood Ferns in Texas with Japanese Maple and Variegated Pittosporum
Word fern above is planted with perennials, Persian Shield and Purple Shamrock  not to mentions the lovely purple Japanese Maple and variegated Pittosporum.
Read more about varigated pittosporum here …
 Like all perennials, baby your ferns for the first two years while they establish a strong root structure.  These are tough little plants when placed in a nurturing environment and established.  In fact, some consider them invasive.

Purple Shamrock

Purple Shamrock with holly fern.  A popular combination.  Holly ferns are a bit hardier than wood ferns but less prolific in terms of spreading.

Read more about purple shamrock here …
Christmas ferns with dwarf nandina, purple shamrock and asian jasmine ground cover.
 Ferns with purple shamrock, spreading yew and Japanese Maple.  Seeing a trend!?!

Read more about yew family of shrubs here …
Fern Border. Shade Perennial Garden.

Agapanthus - Blue Flowering Lily in Shade Perennial Border

Agapanthus, boxwoods, caladiums and ferns.  After the agapanthus stops blooming the leaves are still lovely!

Japanese Yew hedge with Agapanthus after bloom period.

Japanese Yew hedge with Agapanthus after bloom period.  There are no ferns in this image but I thought it might be helpful to see mature and established Agapanthus!

Ferns are native to Texas! They are found naturally even in the driest areas of Big Bend.

Ferns that do well in Texas are:

  • Southern River (Wood) Fern
  • Dwarf River Fern
  • Japanese Holly Fern
  • Brilliance Autumn Fern
  • Beautiful Wood Fern
  • Southern Maidenhair
  • Sensitive Fern
  • Asparagus Ferns
  • Many other do well with proper placement.
Be Sure to See Dallas Arboretum Fern Garden Here.

Again you see ferns planted with yews and caladiums above.

Australian Sword Fern in Traditional Fern Urn

Emerald Queen - Australian Sword Fern - Classic Urn Fern Combination

Container Gardening with ferns. The Emerald Queen from Australia is a big favorite for fern urns.

Fern Urn


The Classic Fern Urn!
Traditional fern urn with Australian Sword fern.

Container Gardening

Classic fern urn demonstrating the “Rule of THree” with ferns as the upward plant, sweet potato vine is the middles plant and variegated ivy is the draping plant … well sweet potato vine works both world, middle and draping. Sweet potato vines are so aggressive they will overtake this planting if not cut back, way back. Black sweet potato vine is less aggressive.

Boston Fern

Boston Fern

Boston fern on delicate white stand.

Container assortment includes Boston fern.   NASA’s Clean Air Study reports Boston Fern not only removes toxic formaldehyde (a carcinogenic air pollutant emitted by every day household products) better than any other plant. It also removes xylene and toluene. See the report here:  https://archive.org/details/nasa_techdoc_19930072988
Turquoise Fern Urn

Turquoise Fern Urn

Thick broad ferns perfect accent for blue urns that give new meaning to fern urns.



Maindenhair Ferns

Maidenhead Fern in Texas

Maidenhair Fern in Texas

The Maidenhair fern brings more than green to your garden.  The wonderful rust color provides exciting contrast to the often chartreuse color of the Maidenhair fern. Texas Ferns
Ferns in Texas
This beautiful greenhouse mix of ferns can be transplanted to your garden.
Ferns in Texas a Natural

Texas Ferns

Fern Greenhouse

Texas Ferns

Fern Greenhouse

 Ferns in Texas

Ferns in Texas do well if they are kept watered in drought season, July through September.  Many ferns are natural and indigenous to Texas and even found growing in the wild in Big Bend.

Consider amending your soil with both organic matter and water retention particles.

Ferns require shade and water and come back each year.  They are lovely planted in beds of shaded vinca major, with hostas or elephant ears.

These are classic combinations that are both pleasing to the eye and work well in similar environments.

Ferns in Texas Landscaping

Clearly the soils for the full sun wood ferns had had soil amendment to include organic matter and water retention particles.

Texas Ferns

Below is a shade perennial garden including Wood Fern

Wood Fern with Mahonia - Shade Perennial Garden

This shade perennial garden includes mahonia with wood fern. Because mahonia can become leggy you often see it combined with fern, more often holly fern but this works nicely, too.

Fern Gardening in Texas

Ferns in Texas

Large Ostrich fern or sometimes called “Macho Fern” lines this bed.

The best pH for your soil is pH 5.5 to pH 6.5.  A good soil mix is the best predictor of success with ferns.

River Fern Rich and Moist Soil:  Ferns require a rich, well-drained, moist soil.  Mulch with rotted leaves.  Just sweep them up in the fall, let them rot and mulch your ferns!  

Ferns spread by underground rhizomes, some more aggressively than others.  Generally, ferns need very little fertilizer, potted ferns are the exception – fertilize them with a good liquid fertilizer once a month. 

Maidenhair Fern

Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) — Black stems set off round chartreuse leaflets.Maidenhead ferns do well in Texas because the like limestone and alkaline soils and is ideal on the edges of ponds. Keep shaded and moist it is deciduous; 1-2’.

 Fountains and Ferns

 Fountains and ferns are a natural combination.  Here are my suggestions.

 Fern Garden in Highland Park

If you live in Dallas and want to see these ferns thriving go to the fern garden in Highland Park for a lovely evening walk.  See information here at the Highland Park website on Flippen Park:  http://www.hptx.org/index.aspx?NID=737 .  This is a lovely strolling area for the evening.
Maidenhead Fern Texas

Maidenhair fern in Highland Park Fern Garden.

Maidenhair fern in Highland Park Fern Garden.

Maidenhair fern in Highland Park Fern Garden.

Maidenhair fern at Fern Garden Flippen Park: Highland Park, Texas

Ostrich fern at Fern Garden Flippen Park: Highland Park, Texas

Maidenhair fern at Fern Garden Flippen Park: Highland Park, Texas

Maidenhair fern at Fern Garden Flippen Park: Highland Park, Texas

Fern Garden Flippen Park: Highland Park, Texas

Flippen Park in Highland Park. Fern Garden shares this information about their fern garden: “Soil Amendments – To make the soil the most effective, we added organic material to the existing soil. This organic material consisted of part AquaSmart, which is a super-absorbent polymer-coated sand product that is available in the form of a straight additive for increased moisture retention and growth of plants, flowers, trees, and grass/turf with water savings estimated at up to 60%; part expanded shell and part compost material.”


Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.


Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.

Highland Park Fern Garden.

Holly Fern – Aspidistra – Yew

Holly Fern - Yew - Aspidistra
Holly fern above nestled in with spreading yew shrubs and aspidistra.

Hydrangeas with Wood Fern

Shade gardening with Red Bud, Hydrangea and Wood Ferns.
  Mop Head Hydrangeas and Wood Fern
River Fern or Wood Fern.  Thelypteris kunthii (Desv.) Morton Wood fern, River fern, Southern shield fern, Kunth’s maiden fern, Normal shield fern.It is important to know that River Fern comes in a dwarf variety if you have limited space growing only 12 to 24 inches tall, which places it in the height category of the Christmas Fern and the Japanese Sword Fern.

You will quickly recognized the lime to medium green colors, the arching nature of the fronds showing at intervals along the rhizome. The foliage is crisply cut and tapering.  The fern will bronze in the fall to complete the autumn colors. This is a shade garden plant that complements a water garden habitat.

Propagation:  Easy, easy, easy.  Spreading types are easily propagated by division in early spring just as the new growth begins to show. Some ferns are invasive while others are slow growing and clump-forming.  The common wood fern below is easy to grow and always returns.

Holly Fern with Japanese Maple and Oak Leaf Hydrangea in the background
Shade gardening with Holly Fern and Japanese Maple

Lachman Hosta (True) Love Story

A new fern garden!  The hosta Lacy Bell which is a Lachman Hosta with creamy-white margins.
I love the Lachman Hostas — or maybe I just love their story.  Two horticulturalists who lived in Amherst, Mass. married and began hybridizing Hostas in the 1970’s.  Some of the best variegated hostas come from their work: William and Eleanor Lachman.

What a sweet life.  Read about them here.

Newly Planted Fern Garden

Wood Fern

Traditional wood fern when located in a happy location can become invasive.
You can see the ferns below under the Nandinas.  If you find yourself in a shade garden situation, and this happens with the growth of trees, employ texture rather than color.  The Fairy is the blooming rose and Rosemary is on the left.

This is an incredibly hardy Texas garden filled with plants that thrive in Texas, and that’s the goal right?  A successful, creative, attractive garden.

Dallas Landscaping and Gardens - Lee Ann Torrans

Japanese Sword Fern

This was the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year.  It is hardy but very low growing rarely getting over 18 inches tall.  This is why most images are from the top down.  Its silvery grey fronds have dashes of purple and red.  It’s a slow grower and prefers evenly moist soil.  That’s asparagus fern in the lower left coming up very late and the last of the ferns to pop up.


Emerald Queen – Australian Sword Fern

Australian Sword Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata), also known as Emerald Queen, is a very attractive plant with sword-shaped leaves that remain sturdy in windy areas. It grows vigorously and is a tough and adaptable plant. It seems to have no problem taking the heat in Texas (or presumably, Australia!).

Its upright and dark green fronds make it perfect for interior planters or large pots. This plant was introduced in the heyday of foliage plants by several companies as Australian Sword or Kimberly Queen.

“Macho Ferns” below

Ostrich fern in bed and sword fern in urn.

Ostrich fern in bed and sword fern in urn.


Ostrich fern in bed and sword fern in urn.

Ostrich Fern

 The jumbo Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) –  ’The King’ – is an invasive spreader – beware and/or enjoy! When well-watered, the height of this fern can approach seven feet. The fronds turn a golden yellow in autumn.

Underground runners “run” out forming surrounding colonies making this very useful for a quick cover. The fiddleheads are used in of gourmet restaurants: in fact, it’s the state vegetable of Vermont! The Ostrich Fern won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The fern normally prefers northern climates, but this selection will do well in the southeast as well. Zones 2 and higher.

Boston Fern

Christmas Fern with Purple Shamrock
Purple shamrock with ferns. Dallas Landscaping - Lee Ann Torrans
 The Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) continues to be evergreen even at Christmas time.This is an adaptable species that will grow in almost any situation – shady, rich or poor soil, rubble or compost etc. – but surprisingly, it does not thrive west of the Rockies.  This is a low growing fern (like the Japanese Sword Fern).  The plant height varies from 1 to 2 feet, and will gradually colonize an area even in poor soil.

Mahonia and Japanese Holly Ferns – Classic Combination

Leatherleaf Ferns April in Texas
Nandina Planted in the background behind the holly fern for a more traditional look.
Mahonia and Leather Leaf Fern
Ferns and Mahonias are fast friends because they like the same growing conditions!  Did you know Mahonias were cousins to Nandinas?
Wonderful combination of Holly Fern, Banana Trees, Mahonia and Coral Bells.
Banana Tree, Holly Fern, Mahonia
Tender new growth in late March of the Japanese Holly Ferns.  Because its leaves are sturdy and thick this will be one of the first ferns to pop up after a dark winter.

Mahonia and Ferns

Mahonia is really a shrub but it works well with this group. Mahonia and leather leaf fern are the classic combination.

Mahonia is related to Nandina.

Texas Mahonia   Texas Mahonia Mahonia with Cherub

Elephant Ear with Pansies and Ferns

  Ferns - Landscape and Gardening Dallas Texas Lee Ann Torrans
Elephant ears return each year and are a wonderful complement to ferns.

Hostas are a great complement to ferns.

  Hostas in Texas

Wood Fern with spreading Yew


Ostrich Fern

Wood Fern


Hostas are a Natural with Ferns

Hostas in Texas do well!

Hydrangeas and ferns appreciate the same growing environment and work well together.