The best low-maintenance ferns for filling up shady spots in your garden, recommended by experts

 Ferns and moss covered stones on the floor of a chelsea flower show garden.
Credit: Future / Heather Young

If you're considering low-maintenance ferns that will thrive in the shade, knowing which species to choose can be confusing to an untrained eye they can look pretty similar.

Did you know there are around 10,000 types of fern? All have feathery fronds that slowly unfurl to provide gardens with vivid texture and structure. Some ferns are larger than life and some can be delicate and fluffy so there's plenty of scope if you are looking for small garden ideas or garden landscaping ideas for large outdoor spaces.

When looking for garden corner shade ideas these luscious and leafy plants make a sensible choice. But which types are easy to establish and where do they prefer to settle down in soil? To save you hours pouring over the RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers for hours, we have asked some garden experts their preferred plants when considering low-maintenance ferns for shade.

Low-maintenance ferns for shade

Ferns make fabulous additions to woodland garden ideas as they are super easy to grow, can tolerate both moist and dry environments and more often than not, do well in shady spots.

To expand your knowledge on the best bedding plants for shade we've asked garden experts what ferns to put on your list.

1. Blechnum spicant, The Deer Fern

Deer fern in a forest
Deer fern in a forest

'One of my favourite ferns for shade is Blechnum spicant, or the Deer Fern. It’s evergreen, so it retains its green coverage even in the winter which is essential for small gardens. This fern has a delicate stature as it’s low-lying, and explodes out of the ground like an underwater anemone when mature, but it also has a contrastingly tough indestructible Jurassic-looking leaf structure. Spicant means spiked, it's leathery, punkish and tough,' says Harriet Worsley of Worsley Design & Consultancy 

'I’ve planted it clustered around the bottom of water features or at the front of a border or in a shady corner. Try it with woodland flowers that also thrive in shade  - wood anemones, snowdrops and bluebells. '

Where to buy the Blechnum spicant or The Deer Fern

  • Thompson and Morgan: two types of the shining ladder-shaped Blechnum spicant to choose from.

  • B&Q: This Hard Deer Fern, is a durable trunk fern known for its resilience against harsh weather and pests. It comes in a 2L pot.

  • Grasslands Nursery: 3L potted Blechnums have a dark green foliage in summer, autumn and winter that will turn to a beautiful red with a mixture of dark green in spring.

2. Dicksonia antarctica, The Tree Fern

White paved path with outdoor armchair and firepit below a fern palm tree
White paved path with outdoor armchair and firepit below a fern palm tree

'Being from The Lost Gardens of Heligan, I would always say tree ferns! Dicksonia antarctica are magnificent, slow-growing, epic plants, capable of withstanding some frost down to -5C,' says Nicola Bradley, Head Gardener at The Lost Gardens of Heligan

'Patience is a virtue as they are very slow growing but at Heligan, we have one over 6 metres high.'

Where to buy the Dicksonia antarctica or The Tree Fern

3. Dryopteris wallichiana, Jurassic Gold

Jurassic gold fern variety growing in a forest
Jurassic gold fern variety growing in a forest

'Dryopteris wallichiana Jurassic Gold is an alpine wood fern with warm orange fronds. It’s happy growing in shady spots, both in borders and pots, helping you to brighten a dark corner. It’s fully hardy, so it doesn’t need any frost protection,' says garden expert, Fiona Jenkins at

Where to buy Dryopteris or Jurassic Gold

  • Webbs: With a 45cm spread this Dryopteris 'Jurassic Gold' is a stunning new introduction and winner of Best New Plant at The Chelsea Flower Show 2019.

  • Thomspon & Morgan: Dryopteris wallichiana 'Jurassic Gold' is an award champion also winning Best New Plant Introduction at the Hort Week Awards 2019.

  • RHS Plants: The Dryopteris wallichiana Jurassic Gold ('Hollasic') emerges in an eye-catching golden-orange

4. Polystichum setiferum, The Soft Shield Fern

Soft shield fern close up
Soft shield fern close up

'My go-to fern is Polystichum setiferum, the soft shield fern. This tough evergreen fern provides colour and weed suppression all year and will even cope with dry shade,' says Annelise Brilli, horticultural expert at Thompson & Morgan

'Polystichum setiferum plumosum densum is particularly recommended for its fine, lacy foliage.'

Where to buy Polystichum setiferum or the soft shield fern

5. Matteuccia struthiopteris, The Shuttlecock Fern

Ostrich feather fern close up
Ostrich feather fern close up

'These are disiducous, but I just love the colour of their newly emerging fronds. They are almost a vivid lime green. These look really beautiful if they are planted in a reliably moist soil,' says Crocus plant doctor, Helen Derrin.

Where to buy Matteuccia struthiopteris or The Shuttlecock Fern

  • Crocus: It is one of the best foliage plants for areas of moist, dappled shade. Try the ostrich fern planted in groups next to the water.

  • Hayloft: The majestic shuttlecock fern will add a touch of drama to your garden.

6. Asplenium scolopendrium, Harts Tongue

Harts tongue fern close up on forest floor
Harts tongue fern close up on forest floor

'For year-round colour, the evergreen Asplenium scolopendrium, commonly known as Harts tongue fern, is a good choice. It has glossy, striped fronds and is also fully hardy. Once established, it’s drought tolerant too,' adds Fiona Jenkins.

Where to buy Asplenium scolopendrium or Harts tongue


When should I cut back a fern?

If you are wondering when to cut back ferns, there is no need. Ferns do not need to be cut back. Their fronds naturally degrade, turn brown and fall as new foliage comes in. To keep the plants looking tidy cut away old dead leaves in winter or early spring.

What plants grow well with ferns?

When looking for companion plants for shade select other perennials that do well in woodland environments such as Hostas and caladiums. For added colour, height and texture team with Foxgloves and astilbe.

Meet the experts

Every corner of a garden deserves attention, so make sure you show some love to the most shaded areas with these feathery green beauties.