Are you looking for a way to add texture and color to your shade garden? Ferns with colorful leaves are a great way to do both. Many people only think of the color green when considering ferns, which causes them to overlook several varieties.
Choosing ferns with colorful leaves provides your garden with bright options, but most of them are also hardy in several different growing zones. Ferns are a brilliant choice for every outdoor garden, as these lustrous beauties add character and color wherever they are added.
Most fern species require very little care, as long as they are planted in the best location. These low maintenance beauties require very little sunlight, little to no pruning, and moist soil conditions.
When purchasing ferns, look for full and healthy plants with vibrant fronds. Some of the more fragile types might offer gray or olive green fronds, but the bright green color returns quickly upon watering.
- How do Ferns Differ from Other Shade Plants?
- Brilliant Ferns with Colorful Leaves for Your Garden
- Brillant Ferns with Colorful Leaves – Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum)
- Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)
- Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
- Rosy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum) – Ferns with Colorful Leaves
- Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
- Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
- Ferns with Colorful Leaves – Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
How do Ferns Differ from Other Shade Plants?
One of the most significant differences between ferns and other plants commonly found in shade gardens is their leaves. In contrast to fast growing vines, shrubs, or flowers, leaves of ferns are known as fronds and consist of smaller leaflets known as pinnae.
These small leaflets are why fronds strongly resemble feathers, and the feather appearance is more noticeable in some varieties of ferns than others. Another difference between the two is that with ferns, there are no flowers, fruits, or seeds.
The only way for a fern to reproduce is through spores, which spread through sporangia. In most ferns, sporangia are on the backside of fronds, but in other species, they are found on fertile fronds whose primary purpose is to make spores.
If a fern produces fronds, the sterile ones, often referred to as fiddleheads, sprout from the crown in the early spring. They are named fiddleheads because they have a curled appearance as they first begin to grow.
These sterile fronds are a medium green color and remain on the plant until the first freeze. Yellow or brown colored sterile fronds indicate damage to the fern. Fertile fronds don’t start growing until the middle of summer.
When they first appear, they are tightly curled together and a greenish color. As the fronds continue to grow, the green color changes to a dark brown, and they reach up to 12″ tall.
Unlike sterile fronds, these withstand freezing temperatures but do fall over during the winter. The following spring, the drooped fronds release the spores for new plant growth.
Whether you choose sun and heat tolerant ferns or those that do better with more shade, choose a variety to give varying splashes of color throughout your yard.
Brilliant Ferns with Colorful Leaves for Your Garden
When it comes to a shade garden, most gardeners opt for the hosta or other shade-loving plants, but those don’t always provide color. Increase the number of bushes with color and brightly-hued foliage in your shade garden with these brilliant ferns with colorful leaves.
Brillant Ferns with Colorful Leaves – Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum)
The Japanese Painted Fern is related to the Lady Fern and earned its name from the red-tinged silvery fronds. The coppery tint only appears when grown in a semi-sunny location. These beauties are ground cover ferns as they only reach a maximum of 18″ tall. They spread through rhizomes.
When selecting a planting location, avoid areas with full sun, as they do best with shade for protection from the afternoon sun. Leave fronds on the fern after the end of the growing season, and trim them off next spring as new growth begins to appear.
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)
During the early spring, new fronds of the Autumn Fern emerge in a bright orange, almost salmon color, with some offering a rose-tone. As growth continues, the colors of this wood fern change to dark green.
These evergreen ground cover ferns add some intense color to landscapes with full or partial shade. Once mature, the Autumn Fern grows up to 30 inches wide and up to 24 inches tall.
Not only is the Autumn Fern drought-tolerant once established, but it is also deer resistant, making it an excellent border choice. It adapts to a variety of planting conditions and is well suited for ground covers.
Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Northern Lady Fern grows best in the northern parts of the United States, while Southern Lady Fern grows well in the south’s heat. Both types of Lady Fern grow arching fronds that reach up to 48 inches.
The lacy-cut, light green foliage grows upright from a circular clump. When choosing a planting location for Lady Fern, observe it for a few days before to ensure it meets the right conditions.
Lady Ferns require loamy soil with partial shade with dappled sunlight. Avoid overly wet areas to prevent root rot; it prefers evenly moist soil.
Rosy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum) – Ferns with Colorful Leaves
The Rosy Maidenhair Fern stands out with its rosy-pink, glossy fronds that turn dark green once fully mature. With dark green stems, the hand-shaped fronds grow up to 18 inches tall with a spread of 24 inches.
The Rosy Maidenhair does well in warmer temperatures, and although it prefers partial shade, it handles more sunlight than other Maidenhair varieties. This fern handles dry conditions better than other ferns, too.
Maidenhair ferns are excellent indoor plants for bathroom areas, as well. Grow them as hanging plants or set them on the lip of the tub.
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
The Ostrich Fern features large fronds that resemble ostrich plumes. The blue-green colored fronds begin emerging in the early spring. As it grows, it changes to a bright green color until fall when they turn gold.
When selecting a planting location, find one with evenly moist and organically rich soil. Never let the earth dry out, as it leads to browning of the foliage and slower growth.
Tougher than other ferns, the Ostrich Fern tolerates some sunlight but prefers shadier conditions.
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
The apple green fronds of the Boston Fern have a sword-like appearance as they arch downwards from a pot. There are different varieties of the Boston Fern that provide lacy or frilly looking fronds in apple green, while others offer a more golden color.
Boston Ferns are an excellent houseplant, but require extra humidity during the winter when grown indoors.
When growing outdoors, select a location that offers high humidity with dappled sunlight, as they do better with indirect rather than direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist.
Ferns with Colorful Leaves – Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
The Christmas Fern is named for the parts of the fern that stay green all year long. The fronds are dark green, measuring about four inches wide, and grow up to three feet long.
The fern can grow both indoors and outdoors and provides your yard with year-round interest. When growing the Christmas Fern outdoors, little care is required.
Select a planting location that offers part to full shade, but some sunlight is okay. The Christmas Fern requires moist but well-draining soil. To help retain moisture in the soil, cover the ground with a layer of mulch.
Thank you for taking a minute to learn about some of the most colorful ferns for your woodland garden. If you found any of our fern suggestions helpful, please share our ideas on the best ferns with colorful leaves with others on Facebook and Pinterest.