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Add Ferns for Summer Interest

By Doug Jimerson and Karen Weir-Jimerson

Add lushness and traditional style to your summer porch, patio, or balcony with ferns. Versatile ferns offer shade- and sun-loving varieties that improve the view when hanging on a porch, combined with pots of colorful annuals, or displayed in classic wire plant stands. Here are 11 simple ways to add fantastic ferns to your garden, yard, and patio. Plus, check out our growing tips and fun facts about the three most popular fern varieties.


Mix Containers
Ferns make a classic pairing with exuberantly colorful pots and flower-packed window boxes. Pop a large Boston fern into a tall container to add green lushness to a porch or entryway. 

Here, a Boston fern complements the bold, fiery colors of croton, lananta, and annual geranium. But ferns play just as well when paired with soft, cool colors, including pinks, purples, and white. In fact, one of the most fabulous things about ferns is that their neutral green fronds play well with any color scheme and garden or decorating style. They also look right at home in just about every type of container, from modern and contemporary to country casual. 











Go Classic
Upright, elegant Kimberly queen fern makes an ideal container companion for a traditional-style seating area in shade or partial shade. Elegant, timeless patio seating is simple: gray all-weather woven-wicker chairs with white cushions, a wire chandelier, white finials, and a green fern. It’s so simple and so classic!

Because ferns are so inexpensive, they're ideal for decorating any outdoor space, especially if you need a last-minute spruce up before a party at your outdoor space. And their versatility also makes an elegant fern an ideal hostess gift! 











Top a Table
Make an instant impact by simply placing a pretty vintage tablecloth on a small table and topping it with a Boston fern. Ferns’ lush leaves add visual coolness to summer porches. 

Because Boston ferns are available in a wide range of sizes and container types (from hanging baskets to urns), you can incorporate them into practically any deck, patio, or balcony with ease. And it's easy to get a consistent, cohesive look when decorating your porch by repeating ferns in your decor. For example, use a fern on a tabletop, and use another in a hanging basket. 















 
Add Height
Ferns provide gorgeous backup color to a pair of vintage white concrete planters. An elegant Boston fern, set into an antique wire stand, adds height and texture where needed.

As long as your container has drainage so excess water can escape, you can grow ferns in any type of container, including concrete like this one, plastic, ceramic, terra cotta, clay, wood, and metal. Or, repurpose items from around the house to create customized containers oozing with charm to display your favorite ferns.











Adorn a Bench
How easy is this? Just set a fantastic Boston fern on a stone bench in a woodland garden for instant ambiance. This fern thrives under the dappled light from nearby trees. And elevating your Boston fern like this makes it easier to water, so you don't have to bend over to maintain  it. You can get the same look (with a smaller plant) by placing a fern on your favorite outdoor tabletop.
















Combine Flowers and Foliage
Dark green, verdant ferns make ideal container partners with lighter-leafed coleus varieties. Ferns offer long fronds, so they don’t require elaborate containers. They can grow all summer in the grower’s pots you bought them in. 

Here, a Boston fern makes for an excellent planting partner for bright red begonias and colorful coleus in shade. We're especially fond of pairing fine-textured ferns with plants like coleus that have a bigger, coarser texture for the fun contrast. 

You can also pair ferns with other shade-loving annuals, including impatiens and wishbone flower, as well as with shade-loving perennials such as hosta, ligularia, liriope, and lungwort.








Layer Textures
Sun-loving Kimberly queen fern makes an elegant garden entryway plant when combined with old-fashioned rambling roses and lady’s mantle. 

While ferns fit beautifully into any garden style, they're particularly stunning when you have a cottage/country/Victorian style. Lacy fern fronds have a classic elegance that naturally pairs well with roses, foxglove, daisies, and other informal plants. 













Perk Up a Porch
Hang it up and call it a porch! Hanging Boston ferns add lovely lushness to summer porches. Just keep an eye on them in windy weather and make sure they don’t dry out.

It's helpful to protect your ferns in especially windy weather by taking them down out of the breeze. And to reduce watering on especially hot summer days, give your ferns a break from the sun by keeping them in a shaded spot. 













Create a Vignette
Here’s an easy pedestal: Upend a blue enamel bucket and set your fern on top as a pedestal. The blue bucket picks up the color of the nearby veronica. The generous nature of ferns makes them easily posed in a garden. 

Garden Design Tip: Incorporate ferns and other potted plants into your garden beds and borders to add extra height, interest, and drama. Plus, because containers are portable, you can pop them around your garden as necessary if different areas could use a boost when plants go in and out of flower. 














Line Up on a Ladder
An old-fashioned stepladder makes an excellent stage for ferns because it allows the fronds to drape gracefully without dragging on the ground.

You can create a cohesive look with Boston ferns like we did here, or add a little extra excitement to the planting by using different sizes or varieties of ferns. 













Parade on a Pedestal
Fill in the area beneath a tree by setting a fern on a perch. This fern is seated on a large piece of architectural salvage surrounded by shade-loving perennials such as hosta and coral bells. 



























Ferns 101
Try three popular ferns to add elegance to your summer outdoor spaces.

Boston Fern
First discovered in 1894, Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is a semi tropical plant that turned up in a shipment of other sword ferns on their way from Boston to Philadelphia. Its arching, dark green fronds were an instant hit and the plant quickly became a Victorian favorite, sharing the stage with other parlor plants such as cast-iron plant, snake plant, and palm.

Ideal for urns, plant stands and hanging baskets, Boston fern has become the icon for gracious summer living, particularly in South. Its fronds gently idling in the breeze, lush baskets of Boston ferns are a cooling sight on porches throughout the country.

Growing Tips: Place your Boston ferns where they will receive bright, indirect light and avoid planting them in full sun. They also like consistent moisture so water them whenever the soil surface starts to feel dry to the touch. Remember, ferns growing in baskets dry out faster since they are more exposed to drying wind. Feed Boston ferns every two months with a liquid houseplant fertilizer and, in northern climates, bring your plants indoors before frost. During very hot, dry weather, soak your fern in a bucket of water once a week. This will insure that even the center of the root ball is receiving moisture.

Fun Fact: Boston ferns will help keep the air inside your home clean. The plants help reduce toluene and xylene from the air.

Kimberly Queen Fern
A tough Australian native, Kimberly queen Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata) can take some abuse, tolerating dryness a bit better than other ferns. It is a gorgeous plant with stiff upright fronds often attractively marked with small, circular tan spores on the underside of each leaf.  The plants also don’t drop leaves as often as other ferns which makes it great choice for use inside the home. Use Kimberly queen ferns to flank an entry or line them up along a garden path.

Growing Tips: Kimberly queen ferns aren’t as fussy about light as other ferns. In fact, you can grow them in the sun as long as you keep an eye on them in case they begin to burn out as summer temperatures begin to rise. Water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Because they can grow 3 feet tall they are at their best showcased in an urn or planter rather than in hanging baskets. Like Boston ferns, Kimberly Queen ferns will also help remove toluene and xylene from your home’s atmosphere.

Fun Fact: Kimberly Queen ferns are hardy outdoors from zones 9-11 where they make excellent landscape plants. Gardeners in other zones should bring this fern indoors before frost.


Macho Fern
The macho fern looks like a Boston Fern on steroids! It develops big, bold fronds that can grow over 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Because of its large size, macho fern makes a bold statement grown in a big hanging basket or large urn. Its lush, dark green symmetrical fronds are simply sensational.

Growing Tips: Place your macho fern in a partially sunny location where it is protected from strong winds. Feed the plant every few weeks through the summer with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. In the north, bring your macho fern indoors before frost. Because these plants grow so large, they don’t often thrive indoors in very low light conditions. Like other ferns, the macho fern helps remove toluene and xylene from the air.

Fun Fact: Macho ferns are actually native to areas of Southeastern North America and are considered a threatened species in the wild.

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