If you’re looking for a low maintenance plant to add a splash of green to your front porch, it’s hard to go wrong with the fern. They’ve been doing their thing for almost 400 million years now, and they stil look as great as they ever have.
In this article, I’m going to cover the best ferns for your front porch as well as some tips that will help you become more successful growing them.
The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is one of the most popular ferns that you can find. This fern is native to North America and can be found in many parts of the United States. The Boston fern can grow up to 2-3 feet tall and has a smooth, leathery surface. The Boston fern is used as an ornamental plant and can be found in many gardens.
Its easy to care for nature makes it a perfect fern for your front porch – being able to tolerate neglect and still look great. This is also sometimes called the sword fern – not to be confused with the western sword fern.
The Autumn Fern is a unique fern that has green fronds that turn a bronze color in the fall. This fern is native to North America, and can be found in moist areas such as riverbanks, swamps, and wet meadows.
Its color changing nature will make it a perfect addition to the decor on your front porch. They are damaged by frost, however, so make sure to protect them if they get too cold. Also, they don’t like extremely hot days, so make sure they’re well watered or take them in if the temperature starts getting into the high 90s or into the 100s.
The lady fern, also known as Athyrium Felix-Femina, is an epiphyte from the new world. This delicate plant grows in the moist and shady forests of Central and South America. The lady fern is a popular ornamental plant, prized for its graceful form and delicate foliage.
The lady fern is commonly grown in containers and works great as a plant for your front porch. They grow well from zones 2-9, so they’re hardy in most places.
The Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum) is a type of fern that is native North America, Central America, and other areas. It is a perennial plant that can grow up to 2 feet tall. The maidenhair fern is commonly used in gardens because of its attractive appearance and ability to grow in a variety of soil types – making it good for containers.
Maidenhair ferns are only hardy in zones 8-10, so bring them inside if the temperature gets below freezing.
Kimberly Queen Fern
The Kimberly Queen Fern (Nephrolepis Obliterata) is a popular fern that can typically be found at most garden centers – usually already potted in a nice, hanging planter. Kimberly queen ferns are hardy from zones 9-11 but can easily be taken in during cold nights to keep them happy year round.
These ferns typically get up to around 3′ x 3′ if you grow them for long enough and make great additions to your front porch.
Western Sword Fern
The Western Sword Fern, Also Known As Polystichum Munitum, is a fern that can be found in the mountains of North America. It is a very popular fern to grow indoors, as it can tolerate low light and low humidity levels. The Western Sword Fern is also known for its long fronds, which can reach up to 6 feet in length.
These make great potted ferns, being hardy from zones 3-8, but they are invasive in some areas, so check your local extension office website before deciding to retire them from the porch and stick them in the ground.
Royal ferns are unique ferns that are native to eastern North America. They are one of the most popular ferns to grow in gardens because of their attractive fronds and large, showy flowers.
These ferns can get up to 6′ tall by 3′ wide and do well in zones 3-9, so they can be grown in most areas without issue.
The Staghorn Fern (Platycerium) is a fern that can be grown as a potted or hanging plant. It has rather unique foliage compared to most other ferns. They can be quite expensive, but they have an aesthetic that few other ferns can offer.
Staghorn ferns get up to 3′ tall and do well in zones 9-12.
Japanese Painted Fern
The Japanese Painted Fern is a beautiful fern that is native to Japan. This fern is known for its brightly-colored fronds that are often used in traditional paintings. The Japanese Painted Fern is a popular ornamental plant in the United States and can be found in many garden centers.
They typically grow in zones 3-8, so they need to be protected from particularly hot days if you live south of that. Typically grows up to 2′ tall.
Birds Nest Fern
The Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium Nidus) is a fern that is native to Hawaii. It is a common sight in moist areas, such as bogs and moist meadows, and commonly grows up to 3 feet tall in captivity.
Being from Hawaii, it isn’t very cold hardy, so if you live north of zones 9-11, you’ll want to bring it inside when it gets cold.
The Cinnamon Fern is a fern known for the cinnamon colored hairs at the base of its fronds. The fern is native to the eastern United States, where it grows in moist woodlands and along streams. The Cinnamon Fern is a popular ornamental plant, and it is used in landscaping and gardening.
It needs soil that is kept constantly moist and will typically grow to 2-3′ tall. It will grow in zones 4-9.
Not a true fern, asparagus fern is still a great fern-like plant with thin stems and delicate foliage that makes a great container plant for front porches. (Whether you’re wanting to hang it or put it in a planter.)
It produces bright red berries in autumn (and winter in warmer regions), which adds to its appeal. In larger containers, it makes a great companion plant for tall, spiky plants like Cordyline ‘Red Star’. It gets up to 3′ tall by 4′ wide and should be hardy under the cover of a porch up to zone 7 and in general between zones 9-11.
Another great non-fern ‘fern’ is the foxtail fern. This plant has almost perfectly round fronds with small spiky leaves that somewhat resemble a fox’s tail – hence the name. They can be somewhat invasive in certain areas, so are best planted in containers where they won’t escape.
Foxtail ferns are hardy in zones 9-11 but should be good farther north with a little protection, and they get up to 3′ tall.
5 Tips for Growing Ferns on Your Front Porch
Now that we’ve covered good candidates, lets talk about some things to keep in mind when deciding which fern to grow on your porch. These tips will make your life easier and reduce the amount of maintenance you have to do to keep your ferns looking great.
Select Appropriate Ferns for Your Area
One of the worst feelings in the gardening world is when you’ve had a group of ferns for months (or years) with no issues and then one day you have a particularly cold winter (or hot summer) day and all of your ferns die at once.
I lost all of my Australian tree ferns one afternoon while I was out when temperatures got into the low 100s and cooked them. Meanwhile, my boston ferns right beside them had no issues whatsoever.
Similarly, when we get particularly cold winter nights, my boston ferns all turn brown, whereas my asparagus fern is still as happy and green as it always was.
When selecting which ferns you’re going to put on your porch, it’s important to consider which zones the fern is hardy in and whether they’re reliable in your area. Your porch roof will afford them some protection from the cold and the heat of the sun, but selecting the right fern will save you from having to bring them inside every time it gets too hot or cold.
Use Self-Watering Planters
One of the best inventions for growing (most) types of ferns is the self-watering planter. Most ferns like continually moist soil, which means watering them can take up a lot of time. (And forgetting to water them can cause them to start turning brown and crunchy.)
Self-watering planters solves that issue by holding a reservoir of water and making sure the soil stays properly moist for them all the time. This is especially true for hot days where the plant will need more water anyway.
Mulch Your Ferns
Another way to help your soil retain moisture (especially when not using self-watering planters) is to put a light layer of mulch over the top of the exposed potting soil. This will reduce evaporation from the soil as well as reduce the chances that errant weed seeds will get into your pot and require being pulled out.
Don’t add too much mulch, though. A .5-.75″ thick layer of mulch should be fine. You don’t need as much mulch as you would normally add outside in your flower beds.
Place Your Ferns Carefully
Another important thing to consider is where you’re going to put your fern. Ferns need bright, indirect light to be happiest. (You’re basically trying to recreate the level of light that they get growing under a tree.)
What’s less commonly thought of is how much light the pot itself is getting. Pots don’t have the same thermal mass as the ground, so it’s important to keep them out of the sun. If the sun is able to directly hit your pot for extended periods (especially in the afternoon) it can easily start cooking the roots of your plant.
Because of this, it’s important to shade the pot itself from the sun if possible.
When you get them, ferns will typically be fertilized with a long lasting fertilizer that should keep them happy for the first 6 months or so. After that, you’ll want to start watering them with a water soluble fertilizer to give them the nutrients they need to grow.
Fertilize them once per month during the growing season, and use the fertilizer at half the strength recommended on the package.
Additionally, it’s important to flush the soil every so often to prevent salts from building up due to the use of fertilizer. This basically entails just taking it outside and giving it a thorough drenching with a watering can or hose to wash the salt out of the bottom of the pot.
Ferns make a great plant to put on your front porch, and a few large ferns on either side of your door is a great way to improve curb appeal. You just need to make sure that you’re choosing the right fern for your climate in addition to selecting one for looks.
With a little care, you’ll be happy with your ferns for years to come.