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Ferns for Zone 5

I’m a SE Wisconsin resident (zone 5) and would I’d like to plant ferns in my yard, but I’m not sure what types will withstand our winter weather.

The possibilities are many. You may want to start with a visit to the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin. They are one of only a few nationally registered fern gardens in the country. This is a great place to see various ferns that thrive in northern regions.

When selecting ferns or any plant, winter hardiness is just one of the factors to consider. Match the fern to the growing conditions or make the necessary changes in the soil to match the plant’s needs. Most ferns prefer moist organic soils and light or dappled shade.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is an old-time favorite that can take over the garden. It’s commonly found in older landscapes where is grows to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Give it afternoon shade and moist soils to avoid scorched leaves and early-season decline.

Some better choices include members of the Osmunda group, such as cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamonomea), interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) and royal fern (Osmunda regalis). They’re all native to the eastern United States and grow 3 feet tall or more and 2 to 4 feet wide.

Most gardeners find the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum) and its close relative lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) easy ones to grow. The Japanese fern is a non-native species with silvery gray-green leaves and a purplish-red vein in the center. Remove any of the aggressive solid green sprouts that appear. There are many new varieties of the Japanese painted fern with more silver or burgundy to add a bit of color to the shade garden. The lady fern is native and its fine texture combines well with other shade plants.


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