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Ornamental grasses and hardy ferns can provide attractive solutions to difficult gardening problems. For areas that are too hot and dry, too shady, too close to streets or other sources of pollution, or, because of terrain, are virtually impossible to maintain, hardy ferns and grasses may be the answer. As an added bonus once established, ferns and ornamental grasses require very little maintenance.

Ferns are among the most attractive of all foliage plants. The incredible diversity of hardy ferns virtually guarantees that every gardener can find a variety that suits his or her tastes. Ferns are generally shade loving plants. That means, with a few exceptions, they need full protection from the sun in the summer. They will thrive in many locations that discourage flowering plants or other ornamental foliage plants, for example, between shrubs on the north side of a house or in the deep shade of trees beside a pond. Most ferns are not threatened or endangered plants and can be gathered in the wild with permission from a land owner. Ferns should be transplanted in early spring or late fall. Many native varieties can be purchased by mailorder or through a local garden center.

Ferns prefer a slightly acidic soil. If you are gathering wild ferns, collect soil in the area the ferns are growing to add to the soil where they will be transplanted. Adding peat moss to the soil will also increase its acidity. Generally, ferns prefer evenly moist soil and will spread by rhizomes or underground runners under ideal conditions. Mulching your transplanted ferns with rotting leaves or pine needles will help the soil retain moisture and will add nutrients as the mulch decays. Among the most popular varieties of ferns are the delicate maidenhair fern which grows from 12 to 20 inches tall, the lady fern which grows to a maximum height of about 36 inches, and the spectacular ostrich fern which can reach a height of six feet.

Ornamental grasses are used throughout the world as foliage plants in all types of gardens and landscaping. They are long-lived, low maintenance, and are tolerant of drought and adverse growing conditions, including areas near traffic and pollution. They are resistant to pests and diseases, and provide dramatic displays from spring through late fall. Probably the only care and maintenance required on most grasses is a severe "haircut" before spring growth begins. Some varieties, like fountain grass, are compact or dwarf and are suitable for areas where space limited. Others varieties, including pampas grass, produce feathery flower spikes rising several feet above elegant foliage. If provided with rich, loamy soil and an adequate supply of moisture throughout the growing season, most grasses will mature within three years. Ornamental grasses are widely available through mailorder nurseries or can be purchased locally at garden centers.