From the Sperry Gardens: Brilliance autumn fern

I planted a large bed of southern wood ferns in one of the shadiest parts of our landscape 35 years ago and they’ve done fabulously ever since. It’s a deciduous fern, dying to the ground each winter. They’re just getting a good start for this year, so I’ll save them for another time here.

Brand new spring growth of our Brilliance autumn ferns is emerging rapidly in this bed in our landscape.

Autumn fern, by comparison, is evergreen. I planted my first several at that same time. They did really well for many years, but my shrubs overtook them and I didn’t get them moved quickly enough.

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Tucker Reed, formerly of the Dallas Arboretum, took me past a bed of the variety Brilliance autumn fern and I fell in love with it all over again. I saw it in a nursery a few months later, and I bought all that they had. This bed is in a prime part of our landscape, right off our driveway/patio area where we entertain friends. I thought it was going to be hurt by the extremely cold weather this past winter, but it has roared out of the blocks with bronzy new growth this spring, and I’m as enchanted as ever.

Fronds of autumn fern mature to a deep, dark green that holds all through the winter.

Facts to consider…
All autumn ferns grow to be 15 to 20 inches tall.
Foliage is deep green, with that color retained 12 months a year.
The variety ‘Brilliance’ is noted for its coppery new fronds.
Early morning sun (up until 8:30 or 9) is probably tolerable, but shade is best.
Plant this and most ferns in highly organic soils that can be kept consistently moist.
Fertilize with high-nitrogen or all-nitrogen plant food (same as you’re using on your lawn).

If you see small dots on the backs of the leaves, those are reproductive spores. They’re completely natural and nothing to worry about. Quite to the contrary, they’re a sign that your plants are quite healthy.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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