Six on Saturday:  Change Is in the Air

Dryopteris x australis, center, will last deep into the winter months while Dryopteris erythrosora, right, remains evergreen. The small Japanese painted ferns in front of them are deciduous and will soon fade away.

A change in the weather blows through our area this coming week, as nighttime temperatures finally drop down into the 40s. Cool nights signal that it is time to bring tender plants indoors and prepare for deciduous plants, like our lady ferns, to gracefully melt away from the landscape. 

There is plenty to do in the coming days as I dig tubers and haul pots back indoors.  Until then, we are taking time to enjoy the remaining color of beautiful fall leaves and flowers.  Cool nights seem to concentrate and intensify their hues.  They are even more beautiful in these last few days before they fade for the season.

Japanese Holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum

At the same time, I’m focused on garden plants that will remain bright and beautiful into the winter months, ahead.  There are plenty of plants that will remain beautiful through our mild winter, and others that will emerge for a short season in late winter and earliest spring.  This is the time to plant them, even as I’m digging out warm season plants to store for the winter.  One plant comes out and another goes back into the hole.

Anything that remains evergreen brightens up the brown/gray winter landscape.  And there are several evergreen ferns I rely on to provide some mass and structure in containers and garden beds.  Evergreen ferns, Italian Arum, Hellebores, Camellias, Ilex and Osmanthus are my favorites for cold hardy beauty from November through until March.

Cyrtomium fortunei, Fortune’s Holly Fern

I’ve been planting evergreen ferns and the first of our spring flowering bulbs this week.  I expect to pick up our main bulb order sometime next week, and then really get busy planting bulbs and Violas while getting on with fall clean-up and putting the summer garden safely to rest for the colder months coming. November seems to always prove a busy gardening time in our area. There is a lot more ‘digging in the dirt’ to accomplish before the first freeze!

Evergreen ferns offer a huge return for a relatively small investment.  These hardy perennials just get better each year.  While deer might eat the leaves off evergreen shrubs, and voles might snack on their roots, evergreen ferns will rarely be grazed.  Hellebores bloom for a few months and are impervious to wildlife grazing since they are so poisonous, but they cost three or four times the price of a little potted fern and require more space.  Most Hellebores are sold in gallon size pots.  The little ferns fill the bare spots nicely.

Dryopteris labordei ‘Golden Mist’ will grow to about 2′ tall and wide

For better or not, most of the evergreen ferns that thrive in our area are imported from Asia.  None of them prove invasive.  Our native evergreens, the Christmas fern and ebony spleenwort, don’t hold up as well to the weather as the Asian holly ferns and tassel fern. 

After several years of photographing our ferns throughout the seasons, my favorite is the wood fern, Dryopteris Erythorsora ‘Brilliance.’  I’m trying two additional trendy Dryopteris selections this winter for the first time.  Both have golden yellow emerging fronds, in contrast to the copper fronds of D. ‘Brilliance.’ 

I’m prepared to be dazzled by them.

Native Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides grows beside Asian Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum
Reliably Evergreen Ferns for Coastal and Central Virginia

Asplenium platyneuron, Ebony Spleenwort (native)

Cyrtomium falcatum, Japanese Holly Fern

Cyrtomium fortunei, Fortune’s Holly Fern

Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’

Dryopteris labordei ‘Golden Mist’

Dropteris wallichiana ‘Jurassic Gold’ 

Polystichum acrostichoides, Christmas Fern (native)

Polystichum polyblepharum, Tassel Fern

Let’s enjoy the color while it lingers….

With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week



  1. Do the evergreen ferns eventually get cut back prior to developing new growth? We need to groom ours, which seems like too much work. In my own garden, I cut some back to the ground so that they can regenerate with all new foliage. The native ferns, which are abundant here, are all evergreen; but so are some of the exotic ferns that I suspect would be deciduous in other climates. Tree ferns are of course evergreen, and do NOT get cut back, but need occasional grooming to remove old fronds.

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    • How gorgeous! All of your ferns are evergreens? Our Athyriums begin to go ratty as the weather cools and are destroyed by a hard freeze or two. Then I truly miss them. Several of our native hardy ferns are deciduous. I tend to leave the evergreen ferns alone unless/until they look bad and catch my attention. Then I’ll remove the offending discolored fronds. In general, I leave the Christmas ferns alone and let the old fronds mulch the area around them. They last quite a while even once the fronds recline. Ditto for the Dryopteris erythrosora. I never just cut all of the old fronds away. Even if they aren’t looking great, I figure that they are still producing food for the roots until they actually brown and wither. Then, they are feeding and protecting the soil. But mine is a wildlife-friendly, forested garden and I’m not showing off for anyone. In a more public place, it might be more important to keep up appearances. I think from the fern’s point of view, the old fronds protect the crown and the new fronds find their way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, they are all technically evergreen; although I suspect that some of the exotic sorts that were added to the landscapes would be deciduous in other climates. The native maidenhair fern can defoliate, but not in winter. It is at its best through the rainy weather of winter. Instead, it might defoliate if it gets too warm and dry during late summer. I would not cut all the fronds off a fern, except that I do not have the patience to groom them. When I see the new leaves coming out the top, I cut all the foliage below off.

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  2. Lovely Six. I’ve grown some ferns for years but greatly added to the collection last year with the addition of a ‘fern wall’. Polystichum polyblepharum is very near the top of my favourite ferns list – it looks good every day of the year doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it certainly does! But I am always fascinated by it in early spring as the new fronds come on. Mesmerizing! A fern wall is a wonderful idea. I’ll check your site later to see whether you have photos up. Have you seen the article about hardy ferns for Europe in the current Gardens Illustrated? A lovely selection there!


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