Fall Friends For Ferns?

Everybody knows that ferns can make good companions for spring ephemerals, like Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).


But what about in late summer, when some ferns can turn out to be somewhat ephemeral themselves? For example, there are some tallish ferns (2 to 3 feet) in the border along our south-facing back porch. Sorry, but I don’t know the species.

But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that at some point in August these ferns tend to look pretty shabby and threadbare. I’ve been trying to find a plant that will fill in and look fresh as the ferns decay. That’s why I planted Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in this border back in May.

(Taxonomic note: Mistflower used to be Eupatorium coelestinum, in the same genus with Joe Pye Weeds. But then the taxonomists, pursuant to their powers under the Taxonomist Full Employment Act, broke up the Eupatoriums. They turned Joe Pye Weeds into Eutrochiums and Mistflower into Conoclinium, and Lord knows what else.)

As of right now, I can only find two of the five Mistflowers I planted, one of them pictured above. Though it’s possible that one or more or hiding under the ratty fern fronds.

This is my second try with Mistflowers. It likes moisture and part shade, and during my first try I put it somewhere that was just too dry during the summer. The bed by the back porch gets plenty of moisture though, in part because of a downspout and also because that’s where we keep the fountain/birdbath.

Mistflower has blue flowers that look like annual Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum), grows 1 to 3 feet tall, and blooms starting in late August or September. The question is, can it coexist with ferns, or will the ferns shade them out while the Mistflower are emerging and the Ferns are full and lush? I guess time will tell.

Do you grow any plants that succeed ferns when they get tired in autumn?

38 Comments on “Fall Friends For Ferns?”

  1. here in the pnw I have under planted/companion planted my (sword)ferns with wire vine, gulf stream nandina, heuchera, icelandic poppies, astrantia, autumn fern, japanese anenome (the white ones mainly, as the pink ones are thugs here – although they can handle the ferns well), lady’s mantle (which comes back to life in fall here when the rains come). But i think it must be different as our native sword fern is pretty constant through the year. I often cut them back in spring to keep them from taking over.

  2. Wish I could grow ferns – we have the little adiantum (pedatum) and a tiny blechnum that seeds into the dry steps in the garden. Also (I think) a dryopteris growing in the shade over our water reservoir (off-flow from roof). Other than that fern-free, sad to say. Your ‘mistflower’ is pretty. Try it again next year?

  3. We call your “mistflower” perennial ageratum. Don’t worry about the appearance of just a few this year, you’ll be inundated with them soon enough. They are pretty, especially providing that bluish-lavender color in the fall. Despite their takeover artist tendencies, they are very easy to pull up.

  4. I have ginger Asurum candense growing in with Sensitive fern. It looks glossy green all through summer. I didn’t realize that mistflower needs some damp soil. Hmmm. A friend has asked me to thin out some of hers. Of course I wanted to transplant them into my garden. I don’t think I have a damp place to grow them.” … taxonomists, pursuant to their powers under the Taxonomist Full Employment Act” This statement nearly had me ROFL.

  5. Gosh I love this plant! And I grow some of mine near my ferns, too. My problem with Blue Mistflower is that the bunnies will eat it if I don’t cage it, so it never gets to spread beyond the caging in my garden. But it’s so beautiful–that blue! And it’s great for migrating and other pollinators! And it’s a great cut flower! The Taxonomist Full Employment Act is new to me. 😉

  6. I really love my blue mist flowers. I don’t even remember planting them, but one year I had a nice colony of a mystery plant that burst into bloom at the end of the season when I least expected it. I struggle with my ferns. In most of my garden it is too dry for ferns but in other areas they get drowned out when flooding occurs, something that seems to happen more often now. I’ve seen them looking lovely with hosts, which can stand their ground against their expansionist tendencies. Just not in my garden! Colchicum might work well for you. Of course, neither of those are natives. In the wild I don’t tend to see anything growing with them or else they are in a wet boggy tangle you wouldn’t want to replicate.

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