How can the beautiful hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), a Connecticut native, become a gardening oops? Easily. Ignore it and it will spread.
I love ferns, particularly native ferns, and frequently use them in the perennial beds around our home … they help tie the planned beds to the surrounding woodlands that are filled with hayscented and other native ferns. The dainty fern frond structure is a lovely foil to long sword-like foliage of Siberian iris and the light-green frond color is stunning next to the blue-violet iris flowers.
Still, hayscented ferns can become too much of a good thing. When left untended, hayscented ferns can become a gardening oops – aka GOOPs.
On the first of each month I share a GOOPs tale, an account of a gardening blunder or problem I’ve witnessed in other gardens or experienced in my own decades of gardening in Connecticut. Gardeners who experiment with plant combinations and like to see how far they can stretch a plant’s hardiness or possible growth conditions will have a few GOOPS. Sharing these GOOPs may help prevent others from making the same blunder.
Hayscented fern fronds grow 12 to 18 inches long in a triangular shape and are light green with a bit more of a yellow tinge than many other woodland ferns. The fronds grow from a structure of underground creeping rhizomes. When massed into dense colonies, hayscented ferns create a lacy, delicate-looking carpet, a growth pattern that can be an advantage. Hayscented ferns are stunning when encouraged to grow along roadside edges and bordering classic New England stone walls.
Masses of hayscented fern act as a lovely transition between grassy areas and woodland edges.
They help block the summertime view of our air conditioning units (left photo) and, along with Siberian iris, block sight of our well pipe (right photo).
I love how they fill space between native Connecticut mountain laurel growing next to a ledge.
But the same mat-forming growth pattern that allow hayscented ferns to form such lovely carpets of green also allows the rhizomes to crowd out established perennials.
If not thinned, hayscented ferns will crowd out this Rose Campion (Lychnis) and this Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla).
Even this larger ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is being overrun by hayscented fern.
A quick way to neaten infringements of hayscented ferns is to break the fronds from the rhizomes at soil level. New fronds will shoot up, but they are easily broken off during subsequent weeding and neatening sessions.
Digging out the rhizomes can be a chore since they form very dense mats. A garden fork works best to pry intact rhizomes from the soil but any pieces left behind will re-grow. I have often transplanted hayscented ferns from perennial beds to more desirable woodland edge areas. Even with neglect, they reestablish well.
Living in an area heavily browsed by deer, I relish nearly any plant, such as hayscented fern, that deer leave alone. But, left untended in a perennial bed, hayscented fern can become a thug and, right now in my gardens it’s a thug that needs some serious management.
Have you had a GOOPs experience with hayscented ferns or faced any other garden blunder? Share your tale in a comment below or, if you want to join the GOOPs party you can share your GOOPs on your own blog and leave a teaser below.
If you haven’t made a few gardening miss-steps, you are not gardening hard enough!