Ferns naturally have a calming and sophisticated feeling that can elevate even the most densely shaded areas of your yard. The wide variety of sizes and foliage colors make ferns some of the most versatile plants for use in a garden of any size or theme. Asian-inspired zen gardens, minimalist modern, traditional cottage, rain gardens, woodland, wildlife-attracting, and tropical oasis garden designs all benefit from the foliage texture and year-round interest of ferns. Even though ferns are often thought of as shade-loving plants, there are plenty of varieties that will tolerate part shade and even part sun exposure during the early morning or late afternoon.
The easiest way to pair ferns with shrubs, perennials, or annuals is to look for plants that share the same growing preferences. Plants that enjoy full to partial shade, well-draining but consistently moist soil, and a soil pH that is slightly acidic to neutral pair perfectly with ferns.
Shrubs To Plant With Ferns
Ferns make a great ground cover to help hold moisture in the soil and suppress weeds under trees and shrubs. Broadleaf evergreens such as Rhododendron, Azalea, Huckleberry, Mahonia, and Barberry make a great backdrop to ferns even in the winter months when other herbaceous perennials have gone dormant. Red Twig Dogwood, False Spirea, Elderberry, and Hydrangeas are a few deciduous shrubs for adding a flowering element along with interesting foliage textures.
Perennials To Plant With Ferns
Perennials make a great companion for ferns. Depending on the overall look that you are trying to achieve, combine plants that have contrasting foliage or calming flower colors like blues, cream, and pastels. Ferns are beautiful as a backdrop to lower-growing spring bulbs like crocus, English bluebells, checker lilies, and dwarf daffodils. Wild ginger, bleeding hearts, Brunnera, bishop's cap, and columbine are early blooming perennials for color until early summer. Choose Astilbe, Hosta, coral bells, and cranesbill to provide color alongside the ferns long into fall.
Annuals To Plant With Ferns
Annual plants can also be good companions for ferns. Many of the most commonly available annuals will grow well in full sun or partial shade. The earliest blooming plants are referred to as hardy annuals. Pansies, Violas, Sweet Alyssum, and Lobelia can take temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit and can serve as a temporary ground cover with ferns. Coleus, Impatiens, Torenia, Fuchsia, and Fan Flower are more tender annuals that thrive in the summer heat and will bloom to the first frosts of fall.
Best Companion Plants For Ferns in Containers
Ferns look lovely planted in containers for decorating porches, shady decks, and patios. Their shallow fibrous roots allow them to be grown easily for years in planters. Use upright varieties of fern as the focal point to give your container an elegant feel. Use plants that will tolerate part shade to part sun and appreciate well-draining potting soil. Try combining Queen Fern as the thriller element, Scaevola as the filler plant, and Supertunia petunias as the spiller plants for a container that blooms from early summer to the first frost in fall.
Plants Not To Grow With Ferns
The only plants that do not grow well alongside ferns are plants that thrive in drought conditions and require full sun exposure. Cacti, succulents, and Mediterranean plants like lavender, rosemary, and oregano languish in the shady, damp conditions that ferns prefer. Aggressively spreading or self-seeding varieties of ornamental grass also do not pair well with ferns. Although most grasses appreciate regular watering and some shade, their root systems may spread and compete with the ferns for space and moisture. Smaller grasses can be a good choice though, as long as they are clumping types that are sterile or low seeders.
Best Plants To Grow With Ferns
The best plants to grow as companions for ferns are those that thrive in well-drained but moist soil, partial to full shade, and acidic to neutral soil. Hydrangea, Japanese-painted ferns, coral bells, and Caladiums make a stunning plant grouping in a shady garden bed, while remaining relatively low maintenance.