One of the most commonly asked questions asked about ferns is ‘which ferns are suitable for dry shade ?’

In general, ferns are all suitable shade, but vary in their tolerance for dry conditions. However, if conditions are dry, shade can be beneficial as it reduces the water stress that plants are subject to. Below I’ve set out a little about each genus to help guide you in making a selection.


    Asplenium scolopendrium and its cultivars have broad, tongue like leaves in fresh apple green, making an excellent contrast amongst other ferns. Some cultivars have branching (cristate) leaves, whilst others have beautifully frilly, gophered edges. They prefer a shaded spot, but can take up to 3 hours sun per day. They are quite tolerant of dry conditions once they have fully established. Until then some moisture at the root is beneficial.
Asplenium scolopendrium

Asplenium scolopendrium

Dryopteris affinis

Dryopteris affinis


    Dryopteris is a large broad genus, coming from woodland, amongst mountain rocks and marshland. Most species put up with dry conditions well with many tolerating severe drought once established. The genus contains some quite large species, such as our native D.affinis with its striking golden new fronds, the Male fern D.filix-mas which tolerates dry particularly well and D.wallichiana, a slower but ultimately large and imposing fern.  Two asiatic species, D.erythrosora and D.lepidopoda are of note for the gorgeous copper tint of the new fronds. Both are tolerant of dry. Of all this genus, D.dilitata needs perhaps more moisture than the rest, being quite tolerant of even very wet sites

Polypody – evergreen

    Our native Polypody can often be seen growing through the centre of a hedge or in similar unpromising sites in walls. The leaves are simpler than some ferns, being only cut once in the species, however some forms, such as the lovely P.interjectum ‘Cornubiense’ have much fuller and deeper cut fronds. They are tough carpeting plants with short stiff rhizomes that can make quite an impenetrable barrier. They are quite tolerant of the dry and can even stands short periods of drought. In wetter areas they can often be found growing as epiphytes on trees in shaded woodland.
Polypodium vulgare

Polypodium vulgare

Polystichum setiferum 'Congestum'

Polystichum setiferum ‘Congestum’


    In general Polystichums like a well drained site. Many in the wild grow amongst rocks or on dry banks and are intolerant of winter wet. They can generally take up to 6 hours of part sun in moisture retentive soil and in full shade will take quite dry conditions. The genus contains some lovely medium to large ferns, all making dense shuttlecocks of fine foliage.

    P.munitum has a very even, rich green appearance and requires part shade to look at its best. P.braunii is a classic large fern of fine delicate appearance, but requires perhaps the most moisture of this group. Probably the most happy in dry conditions are the cultivars of P.setiferum, our native soft shield fern. Cultivars often have fronds whose pinnae are divided and divided until they have the appearance of feathers. Lovely, delicate but very tough.


Ferns for Dry Shade