10 Best Ferns for Hanging Baskets 2023
Some of the most versatile and low-maintenance plants, ferns are often used as living décor for indoor and outdoor locations. As they’ve been around for centuries, belonging to one of the oldest groups of plants on earth, they have evolved to survive in a variety of conditions. Many of them have roots that are capable of thriving in the ground or on the surfaces of trees and rocks.
Their tolerance for a wide range of substrates makes them ideal for cultivation as wall-mounted features or as basket plants. When provided with optimal ambient conditions, their complex fronds can lengthen and cascade beautifully over the edges of their containers. This creates a stunning, textural effect that seems to defy gravity and lighten the mood of just about any space.
The best ferns for hanging baskets are those which have a bushy and fairly compact growth habit. Many of these require a surprisingly small amount of substrate relative to the spread of their foliage. Some may also prefer a porous, yet sturdy material on which their epiphytic roots can remain anchored. The species listed below are known for producing stunning foliage from a hanging setup.
1) Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
The lady fern is a striking species with a preference for temperate conditions. As it is remarkably hardy and able to tolerate temperatures as low as -20˚C (-4˚F), it is a fine choice for indoor or outdoor locations. It is a ‘cespitose’ fern, which means that its lengthy fronds neatly arise and form a clump from a single central point. This foliar orientation makes it ideal for hanging baskets that confine the roots and crown.
This elegant fern’s common name alludes to its delicate, feminine appearance and to the “female” arrangement of its reproductive structures (i.e. sori). These are restricted to the undersides of its leaflets on fertile fronds. Fully grown fronds possess a highly dissected structure; leaflets are further divided into even smaller pinnae.
The bright, yellow-green fronds of the lady fern can grow as long as 35 inches (89 cm) and have a spread of about 10 inches (25 cm) wide. Undeniably showy, the gracefulness and complexity of their features are accentuated when the plant is suspended in a basket. Partial shade, which is preferred by the delicate leaves, and regularly moistened roots should allow for rapid leaf production.
2) Maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum)
One of the most popular types of ferns to grow in indoor locations, the maidenhair fern is named for the appearance of its leafstalks. Dark, fine, and shiny, the leafstalks bear triangular leaflets with attractively curved outer edges. Young leafstalks remain upright, but they are eventually weighed down by the growth of more leaflets. Over time, as they lengthen to about 12 inches (30 cm), they may gracefully droop over the edges of a pot or container.
Unlike the lady fern, the maidenhair fern is quite sensitive to notably cool temperatures, which can cause its fronds to die back. In temperate zones with harsh winters, it will need to be overwintered in a warm room that receives bright, indirect light and moderate humidity levels. Hardy to USDA zones 10 – 11, this neotropical fern is sensitive to dry conditions.
Once outdoor conditions stabilize in late spring or summer, a mature maidenhair fern can be brought outdoors and hung in a protected area. Given proper conditions and protection from scorching sunlight, it should produce its eye-catching fronds year after year. If you’re in search of the best cultivars of this species, look for ‘Kensington Gem’ and ‘Brilliantelse’.
3) Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
The Boston or sword fern is one of the most popular houseplants in the US and Europe. This stunning species comes in many eye-catching varieties, some of which have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Evergreen in moist and shady environments, this lovely fern favors conditions in swamps, humid forests, and floodplains throughout its native range.
In the wild, the Boston fern typically grows as an epiphyte on the frequently moistened bark of mature trees. It can also thrive in damp and rich soil, but it may suffer when its roots are exposed to waterlogged conditions or frequent flooding. Indoors, it can grow to impressive sizes – especially in hanging baskets that are exposed to bright, filtered light or partial shade. Light fertilization should hasten its production of new fronds.
Apart from being a desirable indoor plant due to its textural and deeply-colored foliage, this fern’s general popularity has soared because of its non-toxic profile. Safe to grow around pets and children, the Boston fern is a no-fuss and low-maintenance choice for households and shared public spaces. If you need to brighten up a corner of your home, consider investing in one of this fern’s many cultivars.
4) Kimberley Queen fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)
A close cousin of the Boston fern, the Kimberley Queen fern is not as sensitive to low humidity levels as many other popular houseplants. This makes it an ideal choice for homes in temperate regions, particularly those with non-regulated indoor humidity levels. Known for its ease of care, it thrives best in areas with mild temperatures all throughout the year.
This feathery fern is a great choice for indoor baskets as its size can easily be maintained. Its new fronds arise from the center of the plant and eventually unfurl to arch over the edges of a pot or container. Under bright, filtered light, the fronds become a rich and vivid shade of yellow-green. To maintain their quality, indoor temperatures should be maintained between 16 – 24˚C (61 – 75˚F). Healthy plants will produce sori along the margins on the undersides of their pinnae.
Although the Kimberley Queen fern is not known for being fussy, it is sensitive to being exposed to too little or too much water. Ideally, its substrate should be allowed to dry out in between watering periods. Excess water can lead to the growth of microbes that may encourage root and crown rot. Placement in a hanging basket with well-draining soil should help ventilate the crown of the plant.
5) Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
A member of the Dryopteridaceae family of wood ferns, the Japanese holly fern is popular as an ornamental plant. It is frequently grown in the temperate gardens of USDA zones 7 – 10, where mild ambient conditions promote the growth of its eye-catching fronds. Unlike the fine leaflets of many common ferns, those of this species are quite large relative to the full size of the frond. Leathery, shiny, and bright green, they are slightly sickle-shaped and occur in pairs.
A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, the Japanese holly fern can easily be propagated using its spores or its rhizome divisions. When planted in organically rich soil and exposed to light shade, new growths may rapidly appear. Due to its hardiness and low-maintenance needs, it has become established in many regions outside of its native range.
In the wild, this species tends to grow in crevices, along rocky slopes, or on frequently moistened cliffs. As its new leaves unfurl from its rooted center, it is perfect for hanging baskets or pots. The fronds eventually form a rosette with an even and vase-like spread. The ‘Rochfordianum’ cultivar is especially prized for its stiff and holly-like foliage.
6) Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Named for the appearance of its green, sterile fronds, which resemble the appearance of ostrich plumes, this fern is extremely popular as an ornamental plant. Its new fronds first appear as erect, feathery structures which are tightly curled in on themselves. Over time, these unfurl to reveal near-vertical fronds that can measure as long as 67 inches (170 cm).
One of the largest fern species in North America, the ostrich fern can form hardy and dense colonies in the wild. They can grow large and sturdy enough to persist through mild floods. The leaflets of mature plants may have an extensive spread. However, if they are not protected from scorching sunlight, wind, or hail, the leaves can easily become damaged.
To spread on its own, the ostrich fern usually develops stolons from which new crowns may form. Restricting the spread of its roots to within a hanging basket should minimize the production of lateral growths. Of course, the size of the basket and the availability of nutrients in the substrate will also limit its size.
7) Macho fern (Nephrolepis biserrata)
Also known as the giant swordfern, the macho fern is a close relative of the Boston and Kimberley Queen ferns. It is aptly named for its tendency to grow extensively and aggressively in humid, shaded, and moist environments. When given enough space, this tropical fern can grow quite tall and have an impressive spread, making it excellent as a large, groundcover plant.
Although the macho fern is known for forming colonies, it is perfectly suited for growth as a solitary plant in hanging baskets. Its lengthy, bright green fronds initially appear as upright and narrow. Over time, they may begin to arch over the edges of the pot or basket. They eventually lengthen towards the ground and may need to be trimmed back.
Mature fronds can add a lush, tropical vibe to just about any space. When grown out of baskets, they are the perfect accents to an outdoor porch or indoor garden. The macho fern thrives best in areas with partial to full shade or filtered light. Rapid growth can be maintained by periodically fertilizing the substrate with organic matter. The regular provision of moisture is also necessary as this species does not tolerate droughts.
8) Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)
The staghorn or elkhorn fern is a remarkably attractive epiphyte. Due to its sculpturally elegant foliage, it is often cultivated as a wall-mounted plant. In the wild, its roots tend to grow along the bark of regularly moistened trees in rainforests. An organically rich substrate is not necessary for its establishment or spread.
Some greenhouses opt to cultivate the staghorn fern as hanging focal pieces. Its roots can be situated in a basket with wood-based growth media. It can also be grown directly on suspended pieces of bark or logs. Over time, the roots will surround their growth medium and become covered by sterile basal fronds. The sterile fronds are brown and heart-shaped, whereas the fertile fronds are lengthy, green, and resemble the outline of antlers.
The species epithet bifurcatum alludes to the forked shape of the fertile fronds. Each frond can branch up to two or three times along its length. As they grow to a full length of about 18 inches (46 cm), they tend to arch outward. Mature fertile fronds eventually develop an even layer of brown sori on the undersides of their outermost segments.
9) Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum)
The soft shield fern favors high altitudes and moist woodlands in regions with mild temperate conditions. It is known for producing vivid green fronds that grow to as long as 47 inches (119 cm). Bipinnate, each frond is further subdivided into smaller pinnules with bristles on their tips. Due to their soft bristles, new fronds that have yet to unfurl look distinctly lacey, hairy, or fuzzy.
The fertile fronds of the soft shield fern can last for up to fifteen months before dying back. Mature specimens tend to maintain no more than ten unfurled fronds, creating a layered mound with a vase-like shape, within a single season. Over time, the fronds can collectively cover a spread of about 3 feet (1 meter) wide.
In gardens and homes, the soft shield fern is often cultivated in containers and hanging baskets. Its lengthy fronds may gradually arch over the edges of a pot, creating a cascading, highly textural, and bristly curtain of leaflets. If you’re after a shade-tolerant fern that looks irresistibly soft and tempting to touch, you should definitely look for this charming species.
10) Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
Named for the aroma given off by its crushed leaves, the hay-scented fern is a deciduous species. In its native range, it is an important component of the understories of many woodland forests. The shade and protection afforded by its lengthy fronds support a unique ecology. This fern tends to occupy areas that were once covered by stands of highbush blackberries prior to being grazed by deer.
The fronds of this highly textural fern are bipinnate, tapered, bright green, and somewhat sticky when they are touched. They can grow to about 52 inches (132 cm) long and about a third as broad. Their best growth rates are observed in partly to fully shaded areas with slightly acidic and damp substrates. Hardy to USDA zones 3 – 8, this species can also tolerate full sun as long as its roots are regularly flooded with moisture.
The hay-scented fern is suitable for growth in hanging baskets as it has moderate to low maintenance needs and does not require a large amount of substrate to flourish. Once its roots are well-established, it can even tolerate rocky and poor soils. To create your very own miniature woodland forest in the garden, this fern can be cultivated in baskets hanging from a tree canopy or trellis.