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Bladder Fern Care – Tips On Growing Bladder Ferns In Your Garden

Bladder Fern Care – Tips On Growing Bladder Ferns In Your Garden


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

If you have been on a nature hike in Eastern North America, you have likely come across bladder fern plants. The bulblet bladder fern is a native plant found in shaded cliffs and dry, rocky slopes. Growing bladder ferns in the landscape lends an air of the wild to a naturalized garden. Plus, these little ferns are easy to care for and grow in full to partial shade areas of the garden that are often difficult to populate with many choice plants.

Bladder Fern Information

Bulblet bladder fern (Cystopteris bulbifera) is named for the tiny green bladder-like structures on the underside of some leaves. These are potential reproductive structures that eventually fall off and produce new ferns. The fern is a rock-loving species found in limestone or sandstone formations. As part of the home garden, they add lacy-leaved elegance and low maintenance greenery to the shadier spots in the landscape.

Bladder fern plants reproduce semi-vegetatively but also develop spores which fuel the development of the bulblets. These are found on the underside of leaves on the stem which divide the leaflets, or pinnae. Bulblets are bright green, semi-glossy and start out as tiny balls, developing into kidney shaped pre-leaves. When mature, these bulblets fall off the parent plant and can become new ferns in the correct conditions.

Dividing the spreading rootstock is another way of growing bladder ferns. To add to bladder fern information, a single adult frond can produce more than 50 bulblets, indicating the ease of spread of this little plant. As a result, bladder ferns make excellent ground cover over time, increasing their numbers in just a few seasons exponentially.

Conditions for Growing Bladder Ferns

Bladder ferns prefer moist soil in dappled areas. The plants are often found in tree lined outcrops and cliff sides. The leaves are deciduous and spread by prolific rhizomes. They can thrive in sandy, clay or loam soil but requires good drainage. The ferns are also adaptable to any pH soil.

Healthy plants need a thin layer of organic material, which in nature casually filters into the crevasses the plant prefers to grow into and slowly breaks down to release nutrients. In the home landscape, a little bit of well-rotted compost added to the planting hole will increase plant health.

Always plant ferns at the depth in which they were installed in their nursery container. A note about acquisition of the plants: Do not harvest these or any other plant from the wild, as such activities can disrupt the careful balance of nature and potentially harm existing populations. Be sure to obtain plants from a reputable nursery that specializes in them.

Bladder Fern Care

Bladder fern is a low maintenance plant if situated in conditions it prefers. Low to medium light conditions favor the plant. In fall, when cold temperatures arrive, the leaves will begin to die back. Leave the dead foliage on the plant, if possible, over winter to form a type of protective canopy over the core.

In late winter to early spring, cut off the dead leaves to make way for new leaflets. There is no need to fertilize this fern but, in fall, spread compost around the base of the plant to gradually break down and feed the roots.

Bladder fern care is minimal and the plant is fast growing, spreading quickly. In the garden, the plant will make a lush green ground cover from spring to fall.

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Range map of Lady Fern. States are colored green where the species may be found.

Lady fern. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Lady fern. Photo by Rhonda Stewart.


About 25 percent of the plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

From the northern mountains to the southern coastal plains, Alabama’s landscape is carpeted with a rich array of wildflowers and native plants. It is home to over 3000 species of native lycopytes, pteridophytes, gymnosperms, and flowering plants. Alabama's relatively mild winters, especially in the lower regions of the state, can support many non-native species, and they are beginning to make their way across the landscape. Regrettably, some of these exotic immigrants are invasive and are threatening the native flora and ecology of the state.

According to the U.S Forest Service, Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42% of U.S. endangered and threatened species, and for 18% of U.S. endangered or threatened species. Invasive species compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. They displace and alter native plant communities, degrade wildlife habitat and water quality, and potentially lead to increased soil erosion.

The federal government has estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction, many of these through habitat loss. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human introduction. There are many benefits in growing native plants.

  • First, these plants are better adapted to soils, moisture and weather than exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world. They need less fertilizers, pesticides or use less water.
  • Second, they are unlikely to escape and become invasive, destroying natural habitat.
  • Third, they support wildlife, providing shelter and food for native birds and insects, while exotic plants do not.

Here is a list of Alabama native ferns that are well-suited for plantings in gardens.

  • Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
  • When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependency.


About 25 percent of the plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

From the high mountain ridges of north Georgia to the flatwoods and swamps of south Georgia, Georgia’s landscape is carpeted with a rich array of wildflowers and native plants. It is home to many species of native lycopytes, pteridophytes, gymnosperms, and flowering plants. Noted for its glorious springtime, warm summers, brisk autumns and brief winters, Georgia can also support many non-native species, and they are beginning to make their way across the landscape. Regrettably, some of these exotic immigrants are invasive and are threatening the native flora and ecology of the state.

According to the U.S Forest Service, Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42% of U.S. endangered and threatened species, and for 18% of U.S. endangered or threatened species. Invasive species compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. They displace and alter native plant communities, degrade wildlife habitat and water quality, and potentially lead to increased soil erosion.

The federal government has estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction, many of these through habitat loss. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.

A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human introduction. There are many benefits in growing native plants.

  • First, these plants are better adapted to soils, moisture and weather than exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world. They need less fertilizers, pesticides or use less water.
  • Second, they are unlikely to escape and become invasive, destroying natural habitat.
  • Third, they support wildlife, providing shelter and food for native birds and insects, while exotic plants do not.

Here is a list of Georgia native ferns that are well-suited for plantings in gardens.

  • Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
  • When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependency.


If you are looking for a fern plant, Plant Delights Nursery has a large selection of deer resistant ferns native from North America to Asia. In fact, our garden has the most diverse collection of outdoor ferns in the world (1,000 taxa) and because we grow most of our ferns from spores here at the nursery, we also have one of the largest offerings of hardy fern plants for sale in the world. We have small ferns like an 8" Blechnum and large ferns like a 50" Dryopteris, and all sizes in between. Our collection is so large in fact, that fern plant taxonomists at Duke University came to Plant Delights to collect and DNA barcode them all for an academic study.

Ferns and other non-flowering vascular plants (fern allies) are mostly shade loving perennials that look great the woodlands garden. Ferns for shade are perfect companions to hostas, and most hardy fern plants and fern allies are deer-resistant and thrive with consistent moisture.

But just because the plant is a fern does not automatically make it a shade plant. Some fern plants grow in full sun and are known as "dryland or sun ferns." We have several genera of dryland sun ferns including Astrolepis, Cheilanthes, Notholaena, and Pellaea.

We also carry exotic deciduous and evergreen ferns from our overseas plant hunting expeditions as well as the best native ferns. all nursery propagated. If deer are a problem, add ferns to your garden as they are great deer-resistant perennials. The wonderful architecture and muted colors of ferns make them great groundcovers as well as excellent companion plants for other native shade plants like polygonatum, heuchera and carex. And the evergreen ferns look great all year round.

When you are ready to buy deciduous or evergreen ferns for your woodlands garden, check out our list of fern plants for sale.