Evergreen Ferns

November 4, 2016

When the seasons start to change, evergreen ferns can be your constant that will continue to look good throughout fall and winter. With our wet climate, ferns are relatively easy to grow and maintain, making them an ideal plant for the Pacific Northwest. While there are always exceptions, it is best to plant ferns in the shade so that they will be protected from the sun during the hottest part of the day. Most ferns will also prefer moist soil that has good drainage.

Autumn Fern (Dryopertis erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)- This fern’s most notable feature is its coppery pink new growth in the fall which matures into dark green. The Autumn Fern adapts easily to wet or dry conditions after it’s been watered regularly in its first season of growing. It grows in a vase shaped form and gets to be about 2 feet high.

Autumn Fern (Dryopertis erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)

Autumn Fern (Dryopertis erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)


Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)- The Japanese Tassel Fern gets its name from its new growth. As it emerges and starts to unfurl, the new growth looks like fuzzy tassels and then flattens and matures into dark, glossy green foliage. It prefers sun spotted shade and well-drained, but moist, soils. This fern will get to be about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)

Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)


Holly Fern (Cyrtomium fortunei)- The Holly Fern grows anywhere from 12” to 24” with upright and stuff branching. Its foliage is dark green and the fronds look similar to holly branches. This fern does well both in the ground and in containers and prefers full to partial shade with soils that have good drainage.

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium fortunei)

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium fortunei)


Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)- While this fern prefers moist soils, it’s also good to know that it can tolerate dry(ish) soils after it’s been established which makes this fern a good option for a low-maintenance garden. The Christmas Fern has leathery, light green foliage and forms in a fountain-like clump. As the name suggests, this fern will be green at Christmas time and its pinnae (the leaflets), look like stockings!

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) by Missouri Botanical Garden

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) Photo Courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina)- This mat-forming fern only grows to be 6-15” tall and works well as a groundcover due to its spreading nature. The young fronds have a dark reddish tinge to them which mature into dark green. To get the best color, it should be planted in a spot that will let this fern get some sun (i.e. under a tree with high branches) and in moist soils. It is good to know that the Alpine Water Fern can handle dry conditions with occasional watering and is one of the more drought tolerant ferns.

Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina) by Plant Systemics

Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina) Photo Courtesy of Plant Systemics

Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)- One of the biggest differences in this fern from the others on this list is that it has big, tongue shaped fronds. The fronds form in clumps, arch over, and are bright, rich green in color. It grows to be 12-18” and must have very well-drained soils.

Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)


Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)- The Sword Fern is one of the hardier evergreen ferns on this list making it low maintenance as well. Its sword-like fronds can grow to be 4 feet long with glossy green foliage and its clumping form can spread anywhere from 3 to 6 feet. This fern prefers partial to full shade and moist soil but it will still look good in warm, dry weather.

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)


Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Polypodium pseudoaureum ‘Virginia Blue’)- This fern has distinct icy blue foliage that will get its best color if planted in the light shade. When new growth emerges, it has orangey colored rhizomes that are fuzzy and will crawl on the ground to help it slowly spread. The Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern does best in moist soil that has good drainage and pairs well with plants that have dark green foliage.

Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Polypodium pseudoaureum ‘Virginia Blue’) by Casa Flora

Virginia Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Polypodium pseudoaureum ‘Virginia Blue’) Photo Courtesy of Casa Flora


Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata)- New growth on this fern comes out bright red to burgundy to orange throughout spring and summer and matures to dark green and will stay green in our region all through winter. It is best to plant this fern in full shade and moist, well-drained soils. While it can be planted right in the ground, the Jeweled Chain Fern will also look good planted at the top of a wall where it can drape down over it.

Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata) by Hardy Fern Foundation

Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata) Photo Courtesy of Hardy Fern Foundation

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)- Looks can be deceiving with this fern’s delicate texture. It is quite touch, cold hardy, can tolerate drought, and various growing conditions. The stems on the Maidenhair Spleenwort are dark brown and its fronds have small shell-shaped leaves that are green and leathery. This fern does best in full shade or partial sun and moist soils but will also grow well in or on a rock wall and in dryer than normal soils.

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) by Patrick J. Alexander (USDA-NCRS Plant Database)

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) Photo Courtesy of Patrick J. Alexander (USDA-NCRS Plant Database)

Do you have a favorite go-to fern for year round interest? Let us know in the comments!



Organized under Plants I Dig, Shade Gardens. Labeled as .

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