Maidenhair Fern: Adiantum pedatum



I was walking through my garden and again stopped to admire my Maidenhair ferns and thought I would share with you. Also, perhaps it is time for a break from my blog about life-altering events for gardeners. I do not want to sound like a country song of sadness and loss, heart break and crying into beer soaked compost. So, let’s talk some plants, maybe some garden products, forgetting all else for a while.


Of all the ferns in my garden Maidenhair fern is right up there in the top five favorites. I would say the favorite, but there is too much close competition. At one time I had maidenhair ferns in three differing locations in my garden. Over the years their behavior taught me a bit about what makes for a happy maidenhair.


Early Spring Color

In early spring Maidenhair ferns continually change from emergence to maturity. They begin by pushing up what I would describe as tiny green ragged flags at mulch level which are nothing like the fronds they form. Soon after emergence they begin to put a bit of height to the stems and almost, but not quite, form a fiddlehead. The stems (rachis) are almost black and woody, very slender and delicate in appearance. Reaching about eighteen inches they begin to form the circle at the top of the stem giving the plant its common name. The tiny, immature, leaves   (pinnule) begin to form in shades of newest-spring-green and bronze. Then the fern quickly matures into fronds 2 feet tall with picturesque open circles carrying dainty downward-flowing leaves, said to resemble hair around a maidens head. All on short-creeping rhizomes forming tight colonies.


Location, Location

Pachysandra Maidenhair Fern

One location was in rather heavy soil between some limestone boulders on a ledge. While they did struggle for some years they never really became robust and established to form a colony. Between heavy soil with too much clay and other perennials taking over the territory the ferns finally gave up the ghost and did not return one spring.

Another location was at the base of a rotting elm stump older than I with well-drained soil having generous amounts of humus and a regular leaf mulch each November. The stump and fern were perfect companions and while one faded the other thrived.

The third location was in well-drained soil with plenty of compost worked in, all raised a bit behind a limestone rock edging. It gets mulched with pine bark mini chips. Three clumps are in this location and after about eight years each are two feet in height and three feet across.

Turns out studying their native habitat and attempting to duplicate the habitat when transplanting works wonders. Locally I find the maidenhair fern along limestone ledges in pockets of duff and leaf mold.


Stones and Stumps

Not a finicky fern, but one that rewards the gardener best when sited in rich well-drained soil with some light. If you garden is clay then this fern thrives in containers and raised beds, so no reason to not grow this graceful and delicate appearing fern.

Some of the native companions I selected for my maidenhair ferns are Trillium of any species, but the larger ones with broad leaves look best. Hepatica is another three-leaf beauty. Jack-in-The-Pulpit with their straight up stand and three big leaves are another native to consider.

Considering a non-native the first perennial that comes to mind is Hosta. Almost any hosta, but my preference is for a pale, light green variegation on large textured leaves of deepest green.

Of course, those limestone rocks, old logs and stumps, mosses, also make great companions.

Time to book Gene for next year’s garden event. Some exciting new offers in the works, so act now.