The color green symbolizes tranquility, peace, harmony. Can you envision it? The color, so closely intertwined with nature, implies new growth, fresh air, and vibrant health. Hopeful feelings rise as we search for any sign of the hue in our plants and turf when spring begins to emerge after winter. Ferns are green. With all these supposed psychological benefits from the color green, wouldn’t it make sense to surround yourself with an array of gorgeous ferns? How’s that for a lead in? 


Ferns offer a big punch of greenery with their interesting fronds. They come in a stunning amount of varieties and range in textures and appearance. You may be looking to soften up a shadier area in your gardens and choose a Plumosa fern for its airy, billowy fronds, or you may need an upright, “thriller” specimen for container arrangement and find that the Foxtail fern is a perfect pick. Ferns are second to flowering plants when it comes to diversity; most likely you will be able to find a fern that is perfect for you. Let’s take a look at a few ferns that I’ve always been ‘frond’ of. (Sorry, had to be done.)

4 Interesting Fern Specimens to Explore

Southern Maidenhair fern close up.

Southern Maidenhair fern: This fern has delicate fan-shaped leaves along attractive black stems on layer after layer of delicate fronds. Increasing its beauty is the golden color foliage takes on in fall. 

Part shade to shade (even deep shade) is best for the Southern Maidenhair fern. This means keep it away from afternoon sun, or areas that reflect afternoon sun, like concrete walls, or driveways. This fern is not drought tolerant, and needs evenly moist soil. A layer of mulch around the root zone is helpful to maintain soil moisture. 

The Southern Maidenhair fern is hardy to zone 7, but will generally die back in winter and re-emerge from its crown once warmer spring weather returns. Deer generally overlook this fern for plant specimens more appetizing.

Foxtail ferns up close

Foxtail fern: One of my favorite ferns is also one of our most popular fern specimens. The Foxtail fern has long, cylindrical spires for fronds. Each frond is covered tightly with tiny, needle-like (but soft) leaves. The fronds grow upright and resemble foxtails sticking up in the air. As mentioned before, these ferns make outstanding options for the centerpieces of mixed containers, or as stand alone specimens as well. 

Foxtail ferns prefer part sun, or all day filtered sun, just keep them away from the hot afternoon sun we get here in Texas. Grows best in rich soil that is evenly moist, but it will not tolerate standing water. Foxtail fern is hardy to zone 8b and will most likely die back to its crown in winter and pop back up in spring. 

Birdsnest fern in the ground.

Bird’s Nest fern: if you have a spot in your landscape with a warm, humid, moist environment, and you want a gorgeous fern specimen, you might be interested in a Bird’s Nest fern. This fern has long, glossy fronds that have a delicate wave along the edges. It grows nice and full all the way down to the crown.

Part sun to full shade is best for Bird’s Nest fern; too much sun and you will risk a sunburn! This fern is less cold tolerant than the aforementioned specimens, but keeping that in mind, it is adaptable to its environment and can make excellent indoor plant options when placed in indirect, brightly lit areas (keep away from heaters or air conditioners that could dry it out). 

Collage of plants

Lady fern, particularly ‘Lady in Red’ fern: These ferns have the typical looking fronds you would expect on a fern with bipinnately compound leaves. The ‘Lady in Red’ variety has a beautiful, maroon/red stem that runs the lengths of the stems for a gorgeous contrast to the green leaves, but when fronds first emerge, they are an antique-red color before they turn green heading into maturity.

Part sun to full shade is required for this fern to grow to optimum health. A note to be mindful of is that this fern is picky about its soil type. It craves rich, acid soil and needs regular moisture; soil amendments may be required. Pine bark mulch can help conserve moisture while adding acidity to the soil as it slowly breaks down. Lady fern is hardy to zone 3a.

Ferns are versatile and can be outdoor (protected) specimens, happy in the ground, containers, or hanging baskets. They can also green up your indoor spaces in indirect light areas. Some take more light exposure than others, be sure to research your variety.

A few of my other favorite ferns that we have carried are: Crocodile fern (the fronds have a reptilian pattern that is incredibly realistic), Rabbit’s Foot or Squirrel Foot fern (need I say more), Lemon Buttons fern (cute as a…button), Heart fern, Blue Star fern, Plumosa fern, and the list goes on and on.

Don’t take my word for it. Next time you are at Rainbow Gardens, take a walk through the greenhouse and see what fern speaks directly to you. 

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy