Propagating ferns: how to grow ferns

The best ferns for your garden

Offering beautiful foliage shape and texture, ferns are easy to grow. Here Matthew Reese chooses the best ferns for your garden. Words Matthew Reese, photographs Jason Ingram

Ferns work well in many different garden settings but are the perfect solution for a shady garden. Few perennials have such a distinctive and instantly recognisable form as ferns, despite their huge variation in appearance and size.


The conditions under which ferns will flourish is also quite variable. Hart’s tongues or Asplenium scolopendrium, for example, often find their way from the flower border to gaps in walls and paving, and are tolerant of deep, dry shade, while the beautiful Osmunda regalis will thrive in wet conditions (even with its feet in water) and will make strong colonies of fronds more than 1.2m tall.

Don’t miss our guide on how to propagate ferns. 

The best ferns to grow in your garden


Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’

Fern: Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’
© Jason Ingram

Arching fronds and very reduced pinnae (individual leaflets). Needs careful positioning to be noticed, but it’s a fern that is worth the effort. 40cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.


Polystichum setiferum ‘Smith’s Cruciate’

Fern: Polystichum setiferum ‘Smith’s Cruciate’
© Jason Ingram

Another narrow-fronded fern mutation but much more substantial and robust than the Athyrium. It can take sunshine with enough moisture but is best grown in shade on humus-rich soils. 40cm. RHS H7.


Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Revolvens’

Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Revolvens’
© Jason Ingram

A substantial fern with matt, softly textured and slightly limp, mid-green pinnae held on arching fronds. Will tolerate some dryness once established. Best in dappled shade. 1m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.


Cyrtomium falcatum ‘Rochfordianum’

Cyrtomium falcatum ‘Rochfordianum’
© Jason Ingram

This fern with arching sprays of glossy foliage, is best grown in moist, rich soil but has done well in drier sites. 50cm. RHS H3, USDA 6a-10b.


Asplenium scolopendrium

Propagating ferns: how to grow ferns
© Jason Ingram

The native hart’s tongue fern with arching green fronds will self-seed in nooks and crannies. Remove old leaves in spring. 50cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.


Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

Fern: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum
© Jason Ingram

A fern that has unusual metallic grey-purple pinnae on small triangular fronds. Can be tricky and needs moist, free-draining soils. 30cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 3a- 8b.


Adiantum pedatum

Fern: Adiantum pedatum
© Jason Ingram

This dainty maidenhair fern casts airy fronds of delicate pinnae on thin black stems. Very beautiful and good for front of a border. 45cm. AGM. RHS H6.


Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Crispa Cristata’

Fern: Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Crispa Cristata’
© Jason Ingram

A cristate (crested) form of the native male fern. Looks good in May when the croziers are unfurling and into winter. 70cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.


Dryopteris sieboldii

Fern: Dryopteris sieboldii
© Jason Ingram

When grown well this fern’s foliage has large, green, palmate fronds peppered in striking sori (spore capsules). Needs moist, rich soil and part shade. 30cm. AGM. RHS H6.


Dicksonia antarctica

Fern: Dicksonia antarctica
© Jason Ingram

A fern that has huge presence in a garden with large arching fronds that form a radial core atop chocolate-coloured fibrous trunks. 4m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 9a-10b.


Pyrrosia sp.

Fern: Pyrrosia sp.
© Jason Ingram

An evergreen fern collected in northeast Himalaya. Initially thought to be tender, it has now survived three winters in the stumpery. Long ascending fronds are lustrous on the upper surface and glaucous underneath. 50cm. RHS H7.


Asplenium scolopendrium Cristatum Group

Fern: Asplenium scolopendrium Cristatum Group
© Jason Ingram

Cristate form of hart’s tongue fern with delightfully unruly foliage that catches the light on shiny, crumpled fronds. Once established will tolerate some drought. 30cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.


Dryopteris wallichiana

Fern: Dryopteris wallichiana
© Jason Ingram

In spring, this deciduous fern unfurls to produce fronds with striking, dark rachises (main stalks) and shimmering green pinnae. 1m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.


Polystichum polyblepharum

Propagating ferns: how to grow ferns
© Jason Ingram

A clump-forming fern with lovely, soft, broad fronds, the new croziers are particularly hairy, and the overall effect is a flatter congregation of fronds than most other ferns. 40cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b.


Asplenium scolopendrium Ramomarginatum Group

Fern: Asplenium scolopendrium Ramomarginatum Group
© Jason Ingram

An extraordinary fern with wonderful branched foliage. Grow in a sheltered site on good soil. 30cm. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.


Phlebodium aureum ‘Blue Star’

Fern: Phlebodium aureum ‘Blue Star’
© Jason Ingram

Normally used as a houseplant, the Phlebodium aureum ‘Blue star’ fern will persist in a sheltered site outdoors with handsome, blue-green fronds.50cm. RHS H7.