Autumn ferns grow about 2 feet tall and wide, but prefer constantly moist and slightly acidic soils in full shade. (Photo by Ginny Rosenkranz)

When the heat of August simmers high, one of the best places to be outside is in the cool shade of trees that have a carpet of green ferns.
One of the loveliest ferns for the Eastern Shore is the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) which also has the added interest of being evergreen, so it can brighten the winter woods when everything is cold and dark.
In the springtime the young leaves emerge as sender silver fiddleheads that uncurl to dark green fronds.
The plants spear up to 2 foot fountains that stay green all summer, fall and winter.
The plants will continue to grow larger, but they don’t spread or naturalize.
The fronds are leathery, dark green in color and the small pinnae (that look like leaves) are shaped like stockings, which, along with the evergreen foliage gave it the common name of Christmas fern.
Christmas ferns love the soils on the Eastern Shore since they can live happily in dry or moist soils in shady gardens.
One or three together or masses of ferns will cool the hottest day in august.
Another fern that thrives on the shore is the Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), which also grow about 2 feet tall and wide, but prefers constantly moist, slightly acidic soils in full shade.
The autumn fern grows as an arching vase shaped plant that is usually evergreen during the chilly winters.
In the early springtime the pink fiddleheads emerge then turn an orange-bronze color that matures to a dark glossy green.
Autumn ferns can spread slowly and will naturalize in the shady garden with underground stems.
There are many places on the Eastern shore that have moist, non-tidal wetlands, woods near streams or areas with clay soils to hold in the moisture that ferns will thrive in.
We are far enough south for all ferns to need the shade to keep their fronds (leaves) from sunburn, and they will thrive in the shade.
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)