Last Updated on 10/07/2023 by Barney
Ferns and tree ferns are undoubtedly some of my favourite plants in the garden. But the real joy is pairing them with the right companion plants, those that thrive in the same conditions ferns grow in.
Some ferns prefer moist soil whilst others like drier soil but one thing they all have in common is they prefer a shady garden.
For new planting to thrive it is important to not only choose other shade-loving plants but also take the following growing conditions into account:
Take a good look at your soil type
Is it moist soil or particularly dry soil which is normally found under trees and around garden walls? Identifying this will make help in making the right choice of companion plant.
Is the border in dappled shade or full shade? Knowing this will help in selecting the right companion plants. No point spending your hard-earned cash for the plants to fail and end up on the compost heap within a season.
Deciduous & evergreen ferns with their architectural fronds ferns add much-needed interest to the shade garden, especially in Winter. However, they need to be paired with lovely plants that enjoy the same conditions for a planting scheme to be a show-stopper.
1. Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Looking for a beautiful and easy-to-care-for plant to add to your garden? Look no further than coral bells, or Heuchera.
Planted at the front of the border these stunning plants work extremely well as companion plants with ferns, creating an eye-catching combination that will have all your neighbours green with envy.
Whether you’re looking for elegant shades of purple or bright pops of colour in your garden bed, these versatile plant combinations are sure to delight and provide year-round interest.
One fern I like to pair with heucheras is the Autumn Fern (dryopteris ethyrorsora).
2. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Enjoying the same conditions as ferns, Lily of the Valley is a great plant to add to your garden if you are looking for something that looks great with ferns. With its delicate white flowers and dark green foliage, Lilly of the Valley is a beautiful and versatile plant that can be easily incorporated into your planting composition.
With their wonderful flower plumes in shades of pink, red, and white, astilbes are an excellent choice for adding some colour and texture to your garden. Pair them with ferns for a lush, verdant look that is sure to catch the eye. Whether you choose heucheras or heucherellas, these plants will thrive in shady areas when grown beside ferns.
Astilbes are a great choice if you’re looking for beautiful flowers that also bring important nutrients to your soil. Their root systems help improve drainage by breaking up clay soils and increasing water absorption in sandy soils.
Astilbes will grow in the shade but prefer semi-shaded position and moist soil for a better display of flowers.
Being an evergreen perennial Hellebore plants are an absolute must for winter interest.
With their unique flowers, these beautiful and hardy plants can add colour and texture to your garden all year round, creating gorgeous displays in the winter months when other flowers have long since gone dormant.
Whether you prefer bright colours or soft pastels, these versatile plants are sure to provide the perfect addition to any garden bed and contrast beautifully with the bright green fronds of many ferns especially those of the Hart’s tongue fern .
A great plant to use in combination with ferns, as they share many of the same characteristics.
Both types of plant feature delicate, feathery leaves and a lush green color that adds a touch of sophistication and elegance to any garden or indoor space.
Additionally, both plants are easy to care for and thrive in moist soil conditions, making them ideal for beginners looking to add some greenery to their home or outdoor space.
A stunning, large perennial with bold leaves and beautiful flowers, ligularia is a great plant to use behind ferns & for underplanting tree ferns. With the dramatic foliage and vibrant blooms, ligularia adds a bold pop of colour to any garden or landscape.
It’s also very easy to care for, making it an excellent choice for both novice and experienced gardeners alike. Whether you’re looking for plants that look great with ferns or are simply looking for a low-maintenance option that will add some eye-catching appeal to your outdoor space, ligularia is sure to be a perfect choice!
Ligularia are moisture-loving plants and will suffer from leaf scorch if planted in direct sun.
Brunnera is another favourite of mine to pair with ferns, as the two plants complement each other perfectly.
With their bold, textured, heart shaped leaves and delicate, early spring flowers, Brunnera adds a touch of elegance to any garden. It’s incredibly easy to care for and low maintenance – making it the perfect choice if you’re looking for a fuss-free addition to your shaded garden.
I know keeping the slugs at bay can be problematic when growing Hosta’s but I love the look of hostas paired with ferns.
These low-maintenance plants come in a variety of bright, beautiful colors and are well-suited to shady spots and containers. Whether you plant them individually or combine them with other shade-loving plants, Hostas make an excellent addition to any garden that is looking for some lush greenery.
Hostas are also low-maintenance, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time caring for them. They require little sunlight, which makes them perfect for shady gardens and containers, and they come in a variety of shapes and colours that can brighten up your outdoor space.
Being evergreen I find the Japanese tassel fern pairs very well with Hostas.
Patio garden? No problem. Hostas also look awesome when planted next to pot planted ferns.
9. Bleeding Heart Plants
A favourite of mine for creating a woodland garden or for adding colourful accents to other types of gardens are bleeding heart plants.
With their delicate, arching leaves and showy pink or white flowers that dangle like hearts from the stems, these beautiful plants are a great choice for creating a lush, verdant look in your garden.
Whether you choose to plant them as part of a mixed flower bed or as a focal point in an area of your garden that gets plenty of shade, bleeding hearts are sure to add a lovely pop of color and texture to your outdoor space.
With so many varieties available, you’re sure to find one that perfectly complements your other plants and suits the needs of your particular garden.
10. Japanese anemones
With their late seasdon tall white or pink flowers anemones lend themselves to creating a woodland border when paired with ferns.
The nodding flower heads on stems up to 1m high create the perfect backdrop to ferns for a vibrant late season display.
11. Pachysandra terminalis.
Forming a dense carpet of evergreen variegated foliage this jap spurge is a perfect companion plant for ferns. With its dense growth and variegated leaves, pachysandra terminalis adds much-needed brightness to borders in partial to deep shade.
Most ferns look great when popping out of a blanket of pachysandra and it also works as a natural weed suppressant.
What more is there to love about this plant?
Companions for tree ferns
If you’re lucky enough to own a large tree fern then choose companion plants that won’t be dwarfed by the height of tree ferns.
I have planted plenty of tree ferns in my time and I think one of the best combinations is to underplant large tree ferns is the shuttlecock fern – ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).
It is a large fern and the upright growth habit contrasts well with the canopy of fronds the tree fern produces. Other medium-sized woodland ferns are also very effective at creating a woodland feel.
It’s a Wrap from Me
Growing ferns is essential in a shaded garden for providing winter interest and structure throughout the year. Pair them with the right plants and shrubs to create a beautiful planting composition.
There are many other plants to choose from when pairing with ferns. The above are some of my favourites.