8 Ferns to Grow Indoors and Out - Backyard Boss
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8 Ferns to Grow Indoors and Out

Ferns have beautified the planet for about 360 million years. With more than 10,400 species —about 380 are native to North America — you are spoilt for choice when choosing ferns to grow indoors and out. These low-maintenance beauties can live for decades and are available in a wide range of colors, sizes, and shapes.

No matter where you grow ferns, conditions — such as lighting and humidity — will determine how well these companion plants or standalone stars do. Here are eight ferns for you to consider.

Ferns to Grow Indoors

Two of the biggest challenges for indoor gardens are dry air and poor lighting. Most ferns prefer medium to low light and need lots of humidity. However, ferns that have tough, leathery foliage thrive better indoors because they lose water less rapidly.

Boston Fern

Boston Ferns for indoor gardens
Image credit: Yercaud-elango via Openverse

Not surprisingly, Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) tops the list. Its bright-green, leathery leaves with slightly serrated edges grow on splashy fronds that shoot out in every direction. A super easy fern to grow, its appeal as a houseplant goes back to the Victorian era when it was a staple in parlors.

Native to the Americas, it’s known for its air-detoxifying powers. Some of the most common cultivars are Bostoniensis, Bostoniensis compacta, Verona, and Fluffy Ruffles.

Boston fern flourishes in moist soil that never dries out and temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Give it lots of humidity and bright, indirect light.

Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit's Foot Fern in hanging basket
Image credit: Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia Commons

For homes with dry indoor air, rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia solida var. fejeensis) is a great choice as it tolerates low humidity better than other ferns. It gets its name from its fuzzy rhizomes that resemble fluffy bunnies’ feet.

Because its rhizomes creep along the soil, cascade over the edges of the pot, and develop fronds along the way, it’s beautifully suited to growing in hanging baskets.

Rabbit’s foot fern needs a peat-based soil mixture, indirect lighting, and temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Between waterings, let the top ½ inch of soil dry out. However, despite its low-humidity tolerance, it enjoys occasional misting.

Bird’s Nest Fern

Bird's Nest Fern Asplenium nidus 'Crispy'
Image credit: wallygrom via Openverse

Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) has distinctive, simple fronds that are light-green, leathery, and crinkled, and more reminiscent of some banana leaves. Indoors, its fronds can grow as long as 2 to 4 feet long.

It’s debatable how this fern got its name. It could be because of the fuzzy rosette from which the overlapping fronds emerge. Or, because when the fronds age and turn brown as they die, they create a bird’s-nest-like effect.

Consider growing it if your home has low to medium light. It thrives in fern potting mix and lots of humidity. A bathroom or kitchen is a comfy home for it.

Holly Fern

Holly Fern's dark green leaves
Image credit: harum.koh via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Africa and Asia, this fern gets its name from its glossy, deep-green, waxy leaves with pointy tips, similar to those of holly plants. It likes dry, indoor conditions and soil that dries out between waterings. However, during its first year, it needs consistent watering to develop a deep root system.

Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) grows to about 2 feet tall and spreads to as much as three feet wide. It dazzles in pots, hanging baskets, and as a companion in floral arrangements. It likes low temperatures, partial to full shade, and a treat of all-purpose fertilizer in late winter.

Ferns to Grow Outdoors

Ferns’ natural habitat is the great outdoors, so just about any will thrive outdoors. However, most ferns prefer shade and slightly acidic to neutral, well-draining soil. Other factors to consider when choosing your fern are zone hardiness and whether it is evergreen or deciduous.

Lady Fern

Lady Ferns growing in a rock garden
Image credit: brewbooks from near Seattle via Openverse

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of the most popular ferns for outdoor gardens. Native to North America, it is plush with lacy, bright-green fronds and spreads quickly, making it great for borders or groundcover.

As a deciduous fern, it loses its leaves every fall before new ones emerge in spring. It also produces edible fiddleheads in spring that taste like a blend of asparagus, artichoke, green beans, and broccoli.

Lady fern is low-maintenance and grows to 3 feet tall and wide. It likes rich, moist soil and full to partial shade. However, it tolerates sunnier gardens as long as its soil is moist.

Hardiness zones: 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a

Pro Tip: If you like the look of lady fern but have a drier garden, try growing Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) instead.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern outdoors
Image credit: Ryan Somma via Openverse

With metallic, silver-gray fronds tinged with blue and burgundy red, Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) stands out from its mostly green kin. It is more compact, growing to just 18 to 20 inches tall and wide.

Whether in a fully shaded or sunny garden, this deciduous fern thrives, but its foliage awes best in light shade. Place it along borders, ponds, or in rock, cottage, shade, or woodland gardens.

Like most ferns, Japanese painted fern does well in acidic soil, but it also tolerates slightly alkaline soil. It likes rich, well-draining, and consistently moist soil.

Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

Hay-scented Fern

Hay-scented Ferns outdoors
Image credit: David Eickhoff via Wikimedia Commons

Although not valued for their scent, ferns have given their names to a category of fragrances known as “fougère.” Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) has leaves that smell like fresh hay when bruised or crushed, or when they are drying out in late summer and fall.

Reaching up to 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide, it grows vigorously through rhizomes and is great for ground cover. However, it is considered invasive. Also deciduous, its leaves turn yellow and then brown in autumn before falling.

Once established, hay-scented fern thrives in most conditions — full sun or partial shade, dry or moist well-draining soil, and even salty spray.

Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Ferns Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Image credit: Cranbrook Institute of Science via Openverse

If your garden is boggy, give cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) a try. It’s named after tall cinnamon-colored, spore-bearing fronds that sprout up in spring between its resplendent green fronds, which can reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

In fall, its leaves transform into a golden color. Like lady fern, it also bears edible fiddleheads. However, left unpicked, its fiddleheads grow into impressive, arching fronds.

Cinnamon fern is low maintenance and is at its best in moist, rich, well-draining soil.

Hardiness zones: 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a

Feeding Your Fern Frenzy

Any of these ferns will beautify and add a touch of whimsy to your indoor or outdoor garden. Best of all, they require little work from you to work their magic.

Keep in mind that ferns reproduce by spores that look like dark brown or black spots on the underside of their leaves. Don’t mistake them for pests or a disease. You will need them to reproduce your ferns and grow your collection.

Got a favorite fern? Share it in the comments below.