Containing ostrich ferns/tall shade plants

smordJanuary 3, 2010

Hi! I'm surviving the winter by planning the landscaping for my as-yet untouched backyard (will till whole thing under and start from scratch)

I'd like to plant a moist shade border along an ugly chainlink fence. It gets just a glimpse of sun ( about an hour in the morning) but is otherwise shaded by buildings. I'm thinking I'd like to plant ostrich ferns in back to screen the fence, but I hear they spread like crazy, and I want to plant perennials in front of them.

Any ideas for containing them? I I sink some sort of a barrier around them, how deep should it go and how strong should it be?

If that's not possible, what are good tall wet- tolderant shade plants I coul use as screen? (deer resistance is crucial....)



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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

Ostrich ferns really do spread heavily for us. They appear in the lawn etc, even though I remove a bunch every year. Some drought years they are even unpleasant looking, turning to brown by the end of July. There are other ferns you might investigate.

In wet shady areas I grow many things: candelabra primulas (which also spread), hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' and other similar ornamental grasses, chelone, various ligularias, hostas, cimicifugas, hellebores, epimediums, hepatica, and more...

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 11:15PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Consider cinnamon ferns. Much the same look and much, much slower spreaders.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 6:17AM
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Does cinnamon fern get as tall as Ostrich? Thanks!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 10:20AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I think in ideal conditions Ostrich fern can reach 6 ft. Not sure if cinnamon fern will do the same, but in most gardens both should be about the same size. Another very large fern is Goldie's fern. You might check it out.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 5:59AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you said: but I hear they spread like crazy,

ok newbie.. listen up ... ONCE YOU HEARD THAT ... and realize it is a problem for your garden ....

frankly.. you shouldnt have wasted the time typing up the post ... or should have title it .... non-invasive version of 2 foot fern ... or something like that

you are so lucky to be able to avoid all the problems we had to live thru and eradicate ...

there are a couple thousand ferns out there .. they have been around for a millenia ... if you cant find one that is tame enough for you.. DO NOT fall back to the one you heard about ...

now.. if you had a 2 acre hill that needed soil erosion control.. and you were 2 miles from the next neighbor.. well maybe this problem would be a solution .. eh???


good luck


ps: also.. when you hear something like that.. you find the latin name.. then google 'latin name invasive in NJ' [in your case] .... and find out if it is a real problem in your area .... i will do this one for you .. see link below

Here is a link that might be useful: 6th one down says --but is not overly invasive-- is that like sorta pregnant???

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 9:02AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Well, I have Ostrich fern, and in my yard they are not agressive spreaders. Yes, I occasionally find a runner popping up here or there, but they are easily pulled. I do not have very moist soil though - it is what I'd peg as "average" in terms of moisture and I find I have to supplementally water the ferns occasionally to keep them looking their best, so perhaps that is why I don't have a problem with Ostrich. Also, not even close to 6' - more like 3' or so in my yard.

Re: Cinnamon fern - eh. I don't find them nearly as graceful as Ostrich nor as lush. I keep the one I have, which has just never really done much, but wouldn't purchase another.

Lady ferns are GORGEOUS - very lush and elegant in habit. I favor "Lady in Red" :0)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 10:12AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

BTW: To hide a chain-link fence and the neighbors, I think you'd be better off with either shrubbery or ornamental grasses as your backbone to the bed. Ferns just really aren't going to ever block the view like shrubs or grasses will, and if you go with ferns you'll be stuck with an ugly view of the fence/neighbors when they go dormant, whereas grasses can be left standing all winter for seasonal effect.

Also keep in mind that high winds can wreck taller ferns - ostrich ferns directly in the line of wind are no match for a brutally windy day (unless there's a very thick stand of them), and if it's too hot and dry the ferns are going be toasted, even if in a shadier location - so there goes your living fence.

You would be better off doing a backdrop of various shrubs and taller grasses, then planting in front of those with other plants. That would be my plan, and I'd mix various shrubs (both deciduous and evergreen) and taller grasses for the backdrop to make it more visually interesting.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 10:20AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

good catch mx ...

to cover a fence ...

autumn clematis.. fragrant to boot .... maybe 30 feet ....


vining honeysuckle, especially Lonicera 'Dropmore Scarlet' ... hey it might even be invasive.. lol ...


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 12:13PM
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The main reason I'm considering ferns is that I seem to be having trouble finding tall plants that do well in full shade that's constantly wet. It seems most trees and shrubs I'm finding need a least some sun. That and I love ferns, and they're deer resistantish. (no hostas in this neighborhood!)

hi Ken- we've been chatting on the tree forum. The trick seems to be findingout whether ostrich fern is invasive here... Autumn clematis and honeysuckle are, but I think ostrich fern is more of a problem south of here..

I do like the neighbors and enjoy talking over the fence.. I really just want to distract the eye from the ugliness of the fence, and we"re never out back in the winter so it only needs to look good for eat-on-deck weather. ... I think there are some dryopteris that get pretty big.... An ideas?


    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 3:15PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Native plants aren't invasive by definition. They can't cause problems by invading ecosystems they are foreign too. They can be, and often are, extremely aggressive garden plants, though. Ostrich fern isn't an exception to that. It is an extremely aggressive garden plant in areas it gets enough water.

To put things in perspective, here irrigated ostrich ferns are trying to get through a brick wall. If we let them go, they would probably succeed. My guess is that anything successfully used to contain bamboo would contain ostrich ferns, but that does get into some fairly heavy-duty stuff.

Here, winterberry and lindera do reasonably well in forested squish. They do get some sun when the trees drop their leaves.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 4:11PM
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If you get only one hr. of sun I don;t think you're going to get autumn clematis to flourish. I get 2-3 hrs. sun on my back fence and my autumn clematis doesn't bloom heavily and doesn't spread. My ostrich ferns are very tame--they don't get much moisture (under a big crabapple tree) unless I water them. Also, they're only about 2 feet tall. Miriam

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 6:30PM
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pillowgarden(Z5/6 UT)

Have you considered trying Aruncus dioicus... Goatsbeard? I have some on the north side of my house that once established grow 4-5 ft. every year. The soil stays moist all summer long in that spot. They look like a tall astilbe.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 1:54AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Caphalanthus, Buttonbush, likes wet and shade. And it's native. There's even a cultivar called, I think, Sputnik.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 6:09AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i kinda figured the clematis might not work ...

but i was trying to get this newbie to think outside the fern box she has created in her mind..

there are a multitude of understory plants... perhaps within the WOODLAND category which will fit the given location...

IF she can get past this fern fixation ... its not that fern itself is bad.. or the ostrich in particular ... but there are thousands of options beyond such ...

i would also caution.. since she has only been in this garden for a short time ... that just because it was damp last year.. does NOT mean that is how it will be next year ... weather tends to cycle.... and you should NOT make assumptions too easily ...

when i moved here 10 years ago .. i planted 40 bare root six to 8 foot oaks,ash, redbuds.. etc ... and thank God.. it rained every 4 days all summer. ... the ONLY thing that helped me PROPERLY water them on 5 acres ... i learned a lot about dragging hoses that year.. lol ... since then .... that has never happened again ... and i am glad.. i invested in some irrigation lines with spigots around the yard... rather than bank on ma nature ...

soooo ... to the newbie ... dont make presumptions... and dont get fixated ... a new post giving the parameters ... without fern in the title.. might get you 1000 more options.. or not.. who knows.. lol ...

the water issue might be directly related to the home building.. and the impact on soil structure.. and that might change over time ...


    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 9:00AM
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Thanks everyone - I'm looking up all of these plants. I have a Goatsbeard in front but it isn't really established yet so I don't have a feel for how big it will be. Is it 4'=5' only when in bloom?

I strongly doubt it will always be as wet as it was this past summer, but the property is intentionally graded for all the water to flow to this spot where I'm considering ferns, and most of the houses in the neighborhood have trouble with flooding, so there will definitely be times when the area is wet. The question is how consitent that will be. Of all the places on the property, this is where the water will be. If I water any part of the property, any runoff will end up here.

Ideally I'll find some plants that can handle wet but don't have to be wet. Partly I'd like to put plants here that would help absorb runoff so it doesn't all flow to our neighbors.

I've definitely been cured of my Ostrich fern fetish. I think what I will do this year is try out a number of different perennials and see which ones do the best. I'll definitely hae to try cinnamon fern just because I love it, but I won't plan on having huge ferns to cover the fence.

Does anyone know anything about Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker'? It seems to be called Loosestrife, but it's a different genus than the notorious purple loosestrife.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 1:28PM
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Yikes! Nevermind about the Lysimachia ciliata...a little more searching told me to avoid it....

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 3:03PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

How many hours of sun does that spot getting during high season - direct and indirect?

I personally just would not do all perennials to hide an ugly view, because in my zone (and yours) you're going to be looking at the ugly object you're trying to hide for a good 6 months or so of the year - so what's the point of camoflauge if the object is in plain site for 1/2 the year.

There are shrubs that will do well with a couple hours of sun. Yews, hydrangeas, winterberry hollies, Clethra are a few that pop into mind - but it all does depend on how much sun hits the area. None of them will do well with only 1-2 hours of sun, but 3-4 hours of sun and they might do fine.

Or, you could just put up something tall and decorative as a screen - perhaps some bamboo screening panels or something like that.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 3:30PM
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Unfortunately it really only gets about an hour of direct light :(. It mustget a decent amount of indirectlight (I don't know how to measure that) because some sort of lawn is growing there now. I think perennials or deciduous shrubs would be ok since we really don't see that fence at all when it's too cold to sit outside. We"re really only out there may-September, and none of our windows face it.

I really wish I could use hydrangeas, but we have a toddler and plan to adopt another dog so I'm ruling out plants that are known to be highly toxic, which includes hydrangeas and yews. Minor toxicity is ok- they'll always be supervised ( too many hawks and bears to let a small dog out alone)

I like the idea of winterberry and clethra....

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 9:36AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

If the lawn is growing well and green in that area, you probably have enough (indirect) sun for shade-tolerant shrubs. :0)

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 9:53AM
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