Last Updated on 10/07/2023 by Barney
If you’re looking for plants that thrive in dry shade, look no further than ferns! Evergreen ferns are some of the best plants for shaded areas with dry soils.
Watching the new fronds unfurl in Spring is a wonderful spectacle and a sure sign that Winter is finally over, Spring has arrived!
There are many different species to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that will fit your needs. In this blog post I recommend 9 of the best evergreen ferns for dry shade. I also provide tips on how to care for these plants.
#1. Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)
A stunning fern that is perfect for a shady border in the garden is the Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum).
This evergreen fern grows in a clump with gracefully arching fronds. The leaflets are dark green and deeply lobed, giving the plant an attractive lacy appearance. It does best in part to full shade and moist soil.
#2. Soft shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum)
The soft shield fern is a beautiful fern that grows well in the shade. It has a lacy texture and a soft green color. This fern does well in a dry soil, making it a great choice for gardens with heavy shade caused by evergreen or deciduous trees.
The soft shield fern is also one of the hardiest ferns available, making it a good option for cold climates
#3. Dryopteris erythrosora (Copper shield fern)
Otherwise known as the Autumn fern, Wood fern, the Copper Shield Fern is hardy & evergreen, tolerating both full sun or part shade. This fern has deep green, leathery leaves with a reddish copper colour along the veins. The Copper Shield Fern grows 40 – 50cm tall and does well in moist soil but will also tolerate drier conditions once established.
#4. Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
One of my favourite species for year round interest is the western sword fern. This hardy fern does well in both moist and dry soils, making it a versatile option for your garden. The fronds are dark green and lance-shaped, reaching up to 60cm in length.
When planting in dry shade, be sure to give the fern plenty of organic matter to help it retain moisture.
The western sword fern is a great option for those looking for a durable, low-maintenance evergreen fern. Caring for this fern is easy – all it needs is regular watering through the drier months.
#5. Scaly male fern (Dryopteris affinis)
Dryopteris affinis, a British native fern that is found throughout the UK. A truly adaptable fern that can be grown in most positions including full sun.
The fronds emerge a yellowy-green colour turning to a dark green as they mature.. The leaves have a scaly stem and underside giving the fern its common name, the scaly male fern.
Dryopteris affinis prefers part shade but will also grow in full sun if regularly watered.
This fern is easy to grow and does well in most soils. It is a good choice for the shaded areas of your garden.
#6. Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
The Christmas fern is a resilient fern that can tolerate dry shade conditions. It has attractive fronds that remain green throughout the winter, making it a perfect choice for gardens with limited sunlight.
The fronds are curled, giving the fern a festive appearance during the holiday season, hence its name.
Growing to a height of 40 – 50cm, the Christmas fern is a versatile addition to any garden. It can be used as a groundcover, planted in containers, or even as an indoor plant.
#7. Common polypody (Polypodium vulgare)
Polypodium vulgare is very much suited to being planted under trees in dry shady areas. It is a shade tolerant fern that will grow in partial shade to full shade. This hardy fern does best in moist, well-drained soil but can also tolerate drier soils if they are improved with organic matter.
Once established, Polypodium vulgare requires little care and can spread by rhizomes to form colonies.
Planting the common polypody under trees is a great way to add shade tolerant foliage to the garden and it will help keep the soil moist by providing shade.
It can also be used as a ground cover in shady areas or along the foundation of a building.
#8 Hart’s tongue fern ‘Cristatum Group’ (Asplenium)
A common but unusual group of ferns native to the UK
The Asplenium fern is an evergreen, fully hardy plant that thrives in full to partial-shade. The medium-sized fronds are tough and unlike other ferns have a solid appearance. The irregular serrated edges are similar to lettuce leaves.
This fern grows in a vase shape to around 60cm in height.
#9. Shaggy wood fern (Dryopteris atrata)
Growing to 1m in height Dryopteris atrata is a gorgeous large fern for the middle or back of the border.
Technically atrata is a semi-evergreen fern but it will stay evergreen in all but the harshest of winters. It might be my favourite fern of them all.
A superb showstopping architectural fern that looks stunning planted as a single specimen or in groups.
Being a large fern it is great for covering large spaces and will keep weeds at bay.
Planting ferns is a great way to add some extra greenery to your garden. It’s also a good way to improve the soil quality, since ferns are nitrogen-fixers.
To plant , you first need to prepare the ground. Remove any weeds or debris from the planting area, and then loosen the soil.
When planting make sure to dig a hole that is twice as wide as the pot and incorporate plenty of organic matter in the planting hole. Backfill with soil, firm down and water.
Planting can take place at anytime during the year but best to avoid planting in the middle of summer, when they’re most likely to dry out before establishing.
As with all new plants watering in the first season is essential for the plant to get its roots down and establish.
Once established you should water ferns when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch although the varieties listed above will be just fine in periods of little or no rainfall.
To prune back the old foliage and encourage the fern to grow bushy and lush, use sharp secateurs and cut back the fronds to the base. Make sure you dont take too much off or you will stunt the plant’s growth.
If planting in poor soil a Spring time sprinkle of blood, fish & bone is recommended. Liking a slightly acidic soil ferns will benefit from a mulch of leaf mould, yet another great reason to make your own leaf mould mulch.
What to plant with evergreen ferns?
Evergreen ferns look great planted with deciduous ferns, perennials and shrubs that thrive in shade. Some attractive companion plants for the dry shaded border are :
– Bleeding hearts
Q. Do Ferns grow in Winter?
Ferns are dormant in winter , so they will not grow at this time. However, you can plant them in the Autumn so they have time to get some roots down and establish before winter.
Q. What is the difference between semi evergreen and evergreen?
The difference between semi evergreen and evergreen ferns is that evergreen ferns remain green all year , whilst semi-evergreen ferns can lose their leaves in a harsh winter. This means that if you are looking for a plant that will always be green, then you should choose an evergreen fern.
Q. Do ferns grow back if you cut them?
Yes. Part of the regular maintenance and pruning is to cut the older, tatty fronds to the base. These are soon replaced with new fronds unfurling from the base of the plant.
If you are looking for an easy-to-care-for plant that will thrive in difficult areas, such as dry shade, evergreen ferns are a great option. With their lush foliage and delicate texture, they can add beauty to any landscape. Go on, give them a try!
Looking for patio planting? Be sure to check out my article on evergreen ferns for pots.