If you have shade, consider these two must-have ferns: the Tiger fern and the Blonde fern.
The Tiger fern is a Boston-type fern with gold to chartreuse variegation that has a pattern similar to a tiger's stripes. The Tiger fern was chosen as the best new foliage plant when it made its 2003 debut at the Tropical Plant Industry Expo in Florida.
But it is the Blonde fern that was the darling recently at Mississippi garden and patio shows.
The Blonde is also a Boston-type fern, with fronds a bright chartreuse gold. A similar fern in the market is called Rita's Gold, and it has won awards and accolades. Some catalogs tout it as compact, while Blonde exhibits a more typical habit. Both are outstanding.
At ahome I visited recently, the ferns were like big lanterns glowing in theshade. The first was hanging from a pergola in combination with large, palmate-leaved fatsia; aucuba with spots that echoed the color of the fern; Siam Ruby banana with lime green variegation; holly fern; and hot pink begonias. The combination was stunning.
Whether you buy the Tiger fern or the Blonde fern, remember they do best in areas with shady to high-filtered light. Hot afternoon sun will scorch the fronds.
All these ferns require watering, but too much water is more harmful to ferns than too little. Give them a deep soaking, and then let them get slightly dry before the next watering. Feed them with a dilute, water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks while they are actively growing.
These ferns are incredible in hanging baskets, but at our experiment station, we are going to take the next step and place them in the landscape. We will be planting 6-inch containerized plants in woodland landscape beds with gingers, mondo grass and hydrangeas. In another area, we are going to try them as understory plantings to large plantain-type bananas.
Norman Winter is a garden lecturer and author of "Paradise Found: Growing Tropicals In Your Own Backyard" and "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South."