Closeup of a fern with frost along its edges
(Image credit: mablache)

Did you know that fern hardiness extends year-round in some places? Fern cold hardiness varies depending on your climate zone, but in many areas, you can grow varieties that provide year-round, evergreen foliage.

About Cold Tolerant Ferns

Ferns are beloved shade plants for many gardeners. Unlike most garden plants, ferns do not produce flowers. They are a truly ancient type of plant that has been around for hundreds of millions of years, reproducing through spores rather than seeds.

In the garden, ferns work well in shady areas where you may struggle to grow other plants. They provide interesting, feathery foliage that gives a tropical feel no matter what your local climate is.

Like all ferns, these hardier types prefer partial shade and moist. Rich, organic, and slightly acidic soil is best for most ferns, but there is some variety in soil type preferences.

Because hardy ferns will grow longer in your garden, it’s particularly important to be sure you have the right conditions for the specific ferns you choose. Make sure you understand a fern’s needs before planting it.

Hardy Ferns

When it comes to ferns, cold hardy means something different depending on where you live. If you garden in zones 7 and warmer, these species and fern varieties should give you evergreen foliage:

  • Christmas fern - Native to the southern U.S., this fern has leathery, dark fronds that grow about two to three feet high (0.6 to 0.9 m.) and wider than it grows tall. It can tolerate drier soil than some ferns and prefers more shade.
  • Southern maidenhair fern - These ferns are native to the south. They grow about 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm.) tall and have yellowish-green, rounded leaves on the wiry fronds. They need constant moisture in the soil and full to partial shade.
  • Ebony spleenwort - This is a smaller native species, not growing much more than 20 inches (50 cm.) tall and with dark green fronds. This is a good option for drier areas in the garden, as it does not like wet soil.
  • Hay scented fern - As the name suggests, this fern, when crushed, smells of freshly mown hay. It tolerates some drought conditions and grows 18 to 30 inches (46 to 76 cm.) tall. It has delicate, bright green fronds.
  • Holly fern - Holly fern has gloss, dark green fronds, a lot like its namesake plant. Also like hollies, they are evergreen in their native southern range. These ferns do not tolerate drought well, so water during dry conditions.
  • Southern wood fern - For a real statement, choose this tall variety that can grow up to four feet (1.2 m.). Southern wood fern is evergreen in its native south where it grows in along streams and in marshy areas. Save this one for wet, shady spots in your garden.
  • Male fern - Male fern is native in the south and has a classic, tall, vase-like growth habit. It can grow as tall as five feet (1.5 m.) and needs consistent moisture.
  • Japanese painted fern - Not native to North America, this is still a striking beauty in the winter garden. Diminutive in size, it only grows 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm.) tall. What makes Japanese painted fern so stunning is the coloring, which includes silver-gray, green, and rich burgundy.
  • Japanese tassel fern - This evergreen species has an upright growth habit, reaching up to three feet (0.9 m.). The leaves are dark and particularly lacy and delicate. Grow in light to full shade with steady moisture in the soil.
  • Korean rock fern - Like the tassel fern, this species has feathery, dark green fronds, but it is shorter, growing only to about 12 inches (30 cm.).

Keep in mind that fern cold hardiness is relative. Check each type against your climate zone to be sure it will grow year-round in your garden.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.