Delicate-looking maidenhair ferns love high humidity, and Victorian gardeners provided it by growing them in Wardian cases, terrarium-like structures made of glass. To give these plants the moist air they crave, mist your fern daily or keep it on top of some pebbles in a tray filled with a little water. These feathery beauties can be finicky, demanding moist, well-draining soil and indirect sun. Don’t let them dry out completely or stand in drafts
Feathery leaves earn Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) its common name. The bright green leaves unfurl to a regal size of 3 to 6 feet tall. This native fern spreads quickly to colonize an area, making an eye-catching groundcover. It grows best in shade to part shade, but in consistently moist soil, it thrives in full sun, too. Deer- and rabbit-resistant plants grow 3 to 6 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 3-9.
Ferns are a go-to perennial for shady conditions, and Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) is a real showstopper. Silvery leaves with purple-red veins and stems stage a striking show. Best silver color develops in light shade—a little sun helps bring out the hue. Keep soil consistently moist for strong growth. Rabbit-resistant plants grow 12 to 18 inches tall by 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8.
Also called sword ferns, Kimberly queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterate) make elegant specimen plants, thanks to their straight, upright fronds. These nearly-carefree Australian natives are happy indoors if they’re kept in medium light and given sufficient humidity (if your air is too dry, try running a small humidifier nearby). Outside, they’re hardy in zones 9-11. Indoor gardeners love them because they help purify the air, but you can also enjoy them outdoors in warm weather months.
Austral Gem™ Bird's Nest Fern adapts to the low humidity levels found in most homes. Dark green, feathery fronds make it an attractive addition to your windowsill garden, and it doesn't produce messy spores that scatter on tabletops and floors. If you move it outdoors after the last spring frost, give it full shade.