Ferns are elegant foliage plants that capture the eye without the aid of flowers. They are shade-loving, are generally considered deer-resistant, and make excellent additions to the woodland or shade garden. There are many species of ferns in the world, only a few of which can survive with relatively little water. These select few hardy low water ferns can make an excellent addition to many Bay Area shade gardens.

Plant ferns in humus-rich soil and keep consistently moist for the first couple of growing seasons. Provide a wind-protected site that gets part sun to full shade. Use a mulch to minimize their water needs. Low water ferns require regular water until they become established in the landscape, for the first year or two, after which time they will require only occasional watering. Ferns appreciate but do not require bimonthly applications of nitrogen rich fertilizer, such as Fish Emulsion throughout the growing season.

Low water ferns should be planted in late autumn once air temperatures start to cool. Cool air temperatures and warm soil temperatures stimulate root growth. Strongly rooted ferns are quicker to establish in the landscape and more likely to survive our dry Bay Area summers.

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery offers a number of ferns that will do well in the low water Bay Area Garden. Consider checking these out the next time you stop by.

Cheilanthes sinuata (Wavy Cloak Fern)
An olive green furry foliaged fern that is considered truly drought tolerant once established. Wavy cloak fern can be grown in partial to full sun and should be given good drainage to help combat our wet winters.

Polystichum munitum (Western Sword Fern)
This stately fern can reach up to five feet in height. A California native Polystichum munitum is an excellent candidate for growing under coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens).

Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern)
A colorful fern that produces coppery-red new fronds that fade to a glossy green as they mature. Autumn Fern makes an excellent accent piece in the shady garden border.

Polypodium californicum (California Polypody)
Tolerant of heavy clay and readily forms small colonies by spreading underground rhizomes. Polypodium californicum survives summer drought by going dormant during summer months making it an excellent option for growing beneath oaks trees (Quercus spp.).

Happy planting to all.

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