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Plant, Develop, and Take care of Ostrich Ferns

Shut your eyes and picture what a typical fern seems like. Likelihood is, you’ve imagined one thing near the ostrich fern. This fern is widespread throughout North America and is among the commonest backyard ferns.

They don’t seem to be solely fashionable amongst gardeners. They’re additionally well-known amongst foragers for his or her delectable fiddleheads that emerge in spring, with a taste typically in comparison with asparagus. Simply make certain you’re really coping with the proper species earlier than harvesting, as many fern fiddleheads are poisonous.

This species is crucial to shade gardens and is straightforward to develop and remarkably low-maintenance. Learn on to seek out out find out how to greatest develop and take care of ostrich ferns.  


sprouts of ostrich fern


Matteuccia struthiopteris

Native Space

North America, Europe and Asia

Hardiness Zones

3-7 (USDA)


Keen on Full Shade

Watering Necessities


Pests & Illnesses

Slugs and snails

What Is It?

Close-up of Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) in a sunny garden. The plant is characterized by bright feathery leaves reminiscent of ostrich feathers. The leaves are bright green, lush, and finely divided. Each front consists of multiple leaflets arranged along a central stem.
Matteuccia struthiopteris thrives in gardens throughout the US, providing decorative worth and edible fiddleheads.

Scientifically often known as Matteuccia struthiopteris, this traditional backyard fern is called after its fluffy inexperienced fronds that appear like grand ostrich feathers.

As a North American native plant (it’s additionally present in elements of Europe and Asia), it grows extremely effectively in gardens throughout the US, dispelling any hard-to-grow popularity different ferns could have.

Ostrich ferns are planted for his or her stunning fronds and potential to develop in shade, simply filling empty gaps beneath timber or backyard constructions. Because of their lengthy historical past, they contribute an historical woodland look, with ancestors over 300 million years outdated. Actually, they’re often known as ‘dinosaur crops’ in my home because of this historic significance.

However planting them doesn’t solely add decorative worth to your backyard. This species can also be among the many few that produce edible fiddleheads – typically thought of a culinary delicacy and an excellent ingredient to play with within the kitchen. These crops are widespread throughout North America and fashionable with foragers.


Close-up of fiddlehead ferns of the ostrich fern in the garden. Fiddlehead ferns of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are the young. They are called "fiddleheads" because their tightly coiled shape resembles the scroll of a violin or fiddle. They have a unique appearance with a coiled shape. The coiled fronts are tightly wound and have a cylindrical shape.
Mature crops boast tall fronds that arch outward in a round sample.

Ostrich fern fronds can attain spectacular heights of as much as 6 ft when mature. These fronds emerge in a round sample, gently arching outwards and making a lush, full look.

Sterile fronds have a shiny inexperienced hue and supply the backdrop for the shorter fertile fronds which will emerge in spring in some crops. When mature, these fertile counterparts are simply distinguishable from sterile fronds in measurement and distinctive shade and tackle a deep, nearly chocolatey brown hue. Fertile fronds will launch spores, whereas sterile fronds are these harvested early as fiddleheads.

In fall, inexperienced fronds remodel right into a golden brown as temperatures dip. The fern will shed its sterile fronds throughout colder months (fertile fronds will stay on the plant), solely to return the next season with shiny inexperienced fiddleheads.

Though these crops can unfold through spores, they reproduce way more quickly by underground rhizomes. Their unfold can change into fairly aggressive if not managed, so it’s essential to recollect when deciding on a planting location.


Close-up of sprouted fiddlehead ferns in a sunny garden. The plant produces vertical, feathery leaves. Each branch consists of many leaflets arranged along a central stem, forming a circular pattern, arching gracefully outward as it grows. At the tips, the leaves form spiral formations of tightly packed leaflets.
Plant ferns within the fall earlier than frost or in early spring to determine roots, ideally in cooler seasons.

Fall earlier than frost is often the most effective time to plant, giving the roots loads of time to determine. However you can even plant in early spring, simply earlier than the brand new progress begins. As they desire cooler temperatures over heat climate, planting in cooler seasons helps restrict root stress.

Whereas these ferns are adaptable, they thrive greatest in keen on full shade. A location beneath the cover of timber or placement on the shaded aspect of backyard constructions or your own home is commonly supreme. Not solely does this defend them from the scorching noon solar, however it additionally replicates the cool, moist situations they like.

Once you’re able to plant, dig a gap about twice the scale of the container and amend the soil with compost to enhance well being and retain moisture. Place the fern within the gap and maintain the crown stage or simply above the soil floor, as burying the crown too deeply can result in rot.

Fill in any remaining gaps and press across the base gently to take away giant air pockets. Water instantly after planting, settling the soil across the roots. If you happen to’re planting a number of ferns, spacing about 2 ft between every is really useful to account for his or her unfold.

Planting In Containers

Close-up of female hands replanting a fern plant into a large black ceramic pot, indoors. There is a large shovel with fresh soil mixture on the wooden table. There is also a wicker pot with another house plant on the table.
Use a deep, large container with good drainage.

For these restricted by area, container planting can also be an possibility.

The chosen container ought to be very deep and large to create space for the in depth root system and to stability the tall fronds. Additionally, make sure the container has sufficient drainage holes to forestall waterlogging and potential rot.

Fill the pot with a mixture of potting soil and compost to retain loads of moisture (containers dry out rapidly). The identical planting rule applies – the crown ought to sit stage with the soil’s floor.

Given their love for moisture, it’s essential to observe the soil in containers often, making certain it stays constantly moist however not soggy. Additionally, you will have to repot and divide very often attributable to their fast unfold.


If you happen to plant your ostrich ferns in the suitable place, they largely deal with themselves. Some additional watering could also be wanted in dry areas, however past that, these crops gained’t provide you with any hassle. A very powerful a part of upkeep is definitely controlling their unfold because of their vigorous progress.


Close-up plan of Ostrich fern in sunlight. The plant produces large feathery leaves. The leaves of ostrich ferns are long, lance-shaped, and pinnate, which means they have multiple leaflets arranged on either side of a central stem, resembling the appearance of ostrich feathers.
These ferns desire keen on full shade, replicating their woodland habitat.

Ostrich ferns are fairly explicit relating to daylight attributable to their woodland native habitats. Like different ferns, these crops have advanced to thrive in environments the place daylight filters by a dense cover. Keen on full shade is most popular to match these native situations.

Direct daylight, particularly throughout noon peak hours, can rapidly dry the fronds and probably kill the plant. The extraordinary rays scorch the fronds, inflicting them to brown and wilt inside a couple of hours.

If you happen to’re planting outdoor, think about areas shielded from intense afternoon solar, both behind taller crops or beneath the shade of a tree. In containers, maintain them undercover and away from direct solar.

Deep shade will sluggish progress, which is useful for managing their fast unfold. Nonetheless, it can additionally have an effect on total well being and frond shade. Partial shade is the candy spot for these ferns.


Close-up of Ostrich fern covered with drops of water. The plant has lush, bright green foliage that is finely dissected, giving it a delicate and feathery appearance.
Ostrich ferns depend on having constant moisture to gas the event of their lush, inexperienced leaves.

Originating from forest flooring the place the soil stays constantly damp, ostrich ferns love moisture. They develop greatest with constant entry to water reasonably than drying out fully. This additionally retains the roots cool, particularly in hotter climates the place these crops could wrestle.

Nonetheless, regardless of their love for water, there’s such a factor as an excessive amount of. Extended publicity to waterlogged situations can result in root rot, damaging the crown and killing the remainder of the plant. Whereas it’s important to make sure the soil stays moist, it’s equally essential to make sure it’s well-draining.

Through the hotter months, these ferns respect a deep watering at any time when the highest inch or two of the soil feels dry to the contact. As autumn approaches and progress slows, you possibly can cut back the frequency, however by no means let the soil dry out fully.

Ferns in containers will want water extra typically because the soil dries out a lot faster. Check the soil each few days to cease the roots from drying out.


Close-up of young Ostrich ferns in the garden. The plant has vertical stem pinnate leaves, which consist of many leaflets located on either side of the central stem. These leaflets resemble feathers, dissected, and bright green in color.
Make sure the soil’s drainage is sufficient, particularly in low-lying areas.

In forest habitats, soil is wealthy in natural matter because of the layers of particles that construct up over time.  This wealthy medium gives important vitamins and retains moisture, making certain the fern’s roots stay hydrated with out changing into waterlogged.

The perfect soil for ostrich ferns is a wealthy loam with loads of compost blended in to duplicate these situations. Sandy soil will dry out too rapidly, and heavy clay could result in crown rot. Amending both soil kind with loads of high-quality compost will enhance situations to create the soil setting they love.

Drainage is crucial, particularly in low-lying areas the place water tends to gather in your backyard. A well-draining soil ensures extra water can rapidly drain away whereas retaining sufficient moisture to maintain the roots completely satisfied.

For potted ferns, a mixture of potting soil, compost, and a little bit of bark for additional drainage will present the perfect situations for root progress.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of lush Ostrich ferns foliage in a garden. The plant has beautiful large leaves of bright green color. The leaves have a pinnate appearance and consist of many finely dissected leaflets.
Ferns thrive in excessive humidity.

Regardless of its delicate look, this plant is surprisingly resilient with its temperature necessities. They’re most comfy in USDA Zones 3 to 7, preferring cool and delicate climates over heat ones. Nonetheless, in a closely shaded forest (such because the redwood forests in northern California), they’ll develop all the way in which as much as zone 9.

Through the peak of summer time, it’s important to protect them from scorching warmth, particularly in zones on the larger finish of their most popular vary. They will stand up to colder temperatures (even people who dip beneath freezing) and bounce again once more as soon as spring emerges.

Excessive humidity ranges, mimicking their native forest situations, are perfect for wholesome, lengthy fronds. Nonetheless, they’re usually proud of any humidity stage above 30%. Protecting the soil constantly moist will even assist enhance humidity across the plant when the air is dry.


Close-up view of Ostrich ferns foliage in a sunny garden. Ostrich ferns, known scientifically as Matteuccia struthiopteris, are characterized by lush, feathery leaves. The leaves of ostrich ferns are long, spear-shaped and feathery.
Optionally, use slow-release fertilizer every year in spring, however keep away from overdoing it to forestall stunted progress.

These ferns are thought of low-maintenance, and this extends to their feeding necessities. If you happen to’ve planted in wealthy soil amended with compost to enhance vitamins, you gained’t want to fret about fertilizing. A top-up of compost each few months will assist preserve ranges and enhance soil well being, retaining the ferns completely satisfied year-round.

If you wish to enhance them, you possibly can add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil as soon as per 12 months in early spring. Don’t overdo it – overfertilizing can really stunt progress reasonably than bettering it. Slightly, follow upping vitamins with natural matter to maintain the roots completely satisfied.


Close-up of Ostrich ferns plants with a layer of mulch. Mulch is dry branches and straw. Ostrich ferns are characterized by striking, feather-like fronds, which resemble the plumes of an ostrich. Each frond consists of multiple bright green leaflets arranged along a central stem, and they emerge in a circular pattern.
Ostrich ferns profit from mulch for moisture and vitamins.

Throughout their first 12 months, ostrich ferns will profit from a protecting layer of mulch to retain soil moisture and supply a gentle provide of vitamins because the mulch breaks down. As soon as established of their new properties, they gained’t want as a lot consideration except temperatures improve or rain dips unusually.

Because the colder months loom and the fronds begin to change shade, you possibly can depart them to die again naturally or trim them to tidy the backyard. Eradicating the fronds in late winter or early spring additionally clears the way in which for brand new progress, making certain your fern seems its greatest because the climate warms.

This retains the plant wanting tidy and helps stop pests and fungal illnesses which may take benefit and settle in over the cooler months.

A very powerful upkeep job to finish is managing their unfold. The rhizomes unfold rapidly underground, creating new fern clusters in sudden locations. Whereas this may be helpful to fill empty areas, it may well rapidly overtake different areas of the backyard. Contemplate often checking the unfold and dividing the ferns to handle their progress.


Close-up shot of female hands replanting and dividing an Ostrich ferns plant in a white pot, indoors. The plant has bare, tangled roots and long, lush, feathery leaves that are bright green. The gardener is wearing a white T-shirt with black patterns.
Fastidiously elevate the mature fern, separate rhizome sections with wholesome roots, and plant them like new crops.

This species spreads rapidly by itself. However if you wish to transfer crops to containers or one other a part of your backyard, propagating is straightforward.

Division is the commonest methodology of propagation for these ferns. That is greatest completed in early spring or fall to make the most of delicate temperatures and further moisture, making certain the younger crops get a powerful begin.

To begin, rigorously elevate the mature plant utilizing a spade or fork, taking care to not harm the basis system. Take away the plant fully to get a better have a look at the rhizome. Utilizing a pointy, sanitized knife or shears, gently separate out sections of the rhizome, making certain every division has a wholesome set of roots hooked up.

Upon getting your divisions, it’s time to plant them of their new properties. Observe the earlier planting directions as you’ll when buying a brand new plant. With the suitable care, you’ll quickly see the fern’s signature fronds unfurling, indicating the roots have change into established.

Propagating From Spores

Close-up of fern leaves with spores. The spores on the ostrich fern are part of its reproductive process and can be found on the fertile fronds of the plant. Spores are tiny, dust-like structures.
Determine fertile fronds, accumulate spores, and put together a container with a sterilized rising medium.

Division is the best propagation methodology, however it’s not the one one. You can too propagate ferns from spores if you wish to attempt slightly backyard experiment. Whereas this methodology is extra intricate than division, the joy of elevating a fern from a tiny spore is extremely rewarding.

Begin by figuring out the fertile fronds – usually darker, shorter, and extra tightly curled than the sterile ones. As they mature, they are going to produce clusters of spore instances. To gather, place a mature frond in a paper bag. When the frond dries out, you’ll discover a nice, dusty residue inside – these are the spores.

Subsequent, put together a container by filling the bottom with perlite, adopted by peat and seedling combine. Moisten the combination by watering it with boiling water to sterilize it, leaving to chill earlier than planting. Gently sprinkle the collected spores over the ready rising medium, making certain they’re evenly unfold.

Cowl the tray with a transparent plastic bag, making a mini greenhouse, and place the tray in a location with shiny, oblique mild. Make sure the medium stays constantly moist however not waterlogged. The spores will germinate over the following a number of weeks, forming a greenish carpet referred to as prothallia.

As soon as the prothallia develop tiny fern-like constructions, they’re able to be transplanted. Utilizing a sterilized device, gently elevate and transplant them into particular person pots to proceed rising.


Close-up of many collected Ostrich fern coiled fronds in a mesh bag. Ostrich fern coiled fronds, commonly known as "fiddleheads," are a unique and captivating stage in the growth of these ferns. They are tightly coiled, resembling the scroll of a fiddle or the head of a violin. Their vibrant bright green color and smooth, tender texture set them apart from the mature fronds of the fern.
Harvest younger, coiled fronds in early spring after confirming you may have the suitable species.

Early spring’s younger, coiled fronds are an thrilling sight and a delectable deal with prime for harvesting. In case you are 100% certain that your ferns are certainly Matteuccia struthiopteris, you may have a bounty of scrumptious produce awaiting you when these seem!

Readied with gloves and a sharp knife or scissors, search for younger fronds which can be tightly coiled. Guarantee they’re shiny inexperienced, agency, and not more than six inches tall. Gently lower them near the bottom, however be conscious to not harvest all from a single plant. Leaving a majority ensures the fern continues to develop and thrive.

When you’ve gathered your fiddleheads, clear them totally. Rinse them beneath chilly water, gently rubbing to take away any particles. It’s widespread to seek out small bugs, so a radical cleansing is essential. You can too soak them in chilly water, permitting lingering pests to drift to the floor.

After harvesting, you’re able to cook dinner. Fiddleheads ought to by no means be consumed uncooked – boil them for a minimum of quarter-hour or steam for 10 to twenty minutes earlier than cooking. After boiling, they’re greatest sautéed in butter with garlic and used as a aspect.

Their taste, typically in comparison with asparagus, pairs splendidly with lemon zest or perhaps a splash of white wine. In addition they make a pleasant addition to pasta, paired with different contemporary spring veggies.

Earlier than consuming any fiddleheads – foraged or harvested from the backyard – it’s essential to be completely sure of their identification. Different fern varieties have poisonous fiddleheads that can not be eaten, so make certain of what you’ve bought earlier than cooking.

Frequent Issues

Ostrich ferns are often problem-free, immune to many backyard pests, and develop effectively with out fuss. The most typical drawback you’ll face is controlling their unfold, however there are additionally a couple of different points to look out for.

Vigorous Unfold

Close-up of overgrown Ostrich ferns in the garden against the background of a wooden fence. The plant has lush feathery leaves. The leaves of ostrich ferns are long, spear-shaped and feathery. Each branch consists of many leaflets located along the central stem, resembling the appearance of ostrich feathers.
This species spreads quickly by underground rhizomes, probably overshadowing different crops.

These ferns are identified for his or her enthusiastic progress, spreading through rhizomes beneath the soil. Whereas this may create a lush woodland look, it may also overshadow different crops.

Repeatedly examine the perimeter of the planting space and think about putting in limitations or borders to include their unfold. In the event that they do develop past their designated space, division and transplanting might help handle their progress.

Crispy Leaves

Close-up of an Ostrich ferns plant in a garden with damaged leaves. The leaves are large, pinnate, composed of many finely dissected bright green leaflets. These leaflets have brown crispy tips due to improper care and watering.
Brown, crispy fronds typically sign low moisture or extreme solar publicity.

If the fronds change into brown and crispy, significantly across the edges, it’s often an indication of inadequate moisture or extreme daylight.

These ferns thrive in constantly damp soil and shaded environments. Guarantee they’re watered often, particularly throughout dry spells, and think about relocating them in the event that they’re uncovered to an excessive amount of direct daylight.


Close-up of spotted forest slug, scientifically known as Lehmannia marginata, on fern leaves. Lehmannia marginata is a type of terrestrial gastropod mollusk commonly found in forested and damp habitats. This slug has a cylindrical and elongated body. Its body is brown in color and decorated with noticeable black stripes and spots.
Examine your ferns for slugs and snails, particularly on younger fronds throughout the night hours.

Whereas these crops aren’t pest-prone, you could encounter slugs and snails, particularly on younger fronds. Repeatedly examine your ferns throughout the night when these pests are most lively. Think about using natural slug and snail baits or creating your personal beer entice to manage these pests.


Close-up of an Ostrich ferns plant in a sunny garden with dying leaves due to a fungal disease. The plant has large feathery leaves that consist of many finely dissected green leaflets. Leaves and stems are brown, wilted and rotting.
Fungal points can come up in overly damp and poorly ventilated situations.

Fungal illnesses are attainable, particularly when the setting is excessively damp and lacks correct air circulation. Make sure the soil isn’t waterlogged or soggy, and often prune lifeless or diseased fronds to restrict threat.

Regularly Requested Questions

Whereas they’re vigorous growers and might unfold quickly in supreme situations, they aren’t thought of invasive in most areas. Nonetheless, you ought to be conscious of their spreading nature and think about implementing measures to handle their progress in the event you desire a contained look.

Dry situations or insufficient watering can result in brown leaves, particularly on the leaf edges. Publicity to intense daylight can scorch the fronds, inflicting them to brown. Brown fronds are additionally a part of the pure lifecycle of the plant, dying again in winter and rising once more the next spring.

This species can adapt to container rising fairly effectively if the pot is giant sufficient. Rising them in pots additionally provides the benefit of controlling their unfold, making it a preferred selection for many who wish to take pleasure in them with out worrying about expansive progress.

Use a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting combine and make sure the chosen container has drainage holes. Container-grown ferns require extra frequent watering and a spotlight, particularly throughout hotter months.

The younger fiddleheads are edible and harvested in spring. They are often sautéed, boiled, and even fried. Nonetheless, making certain correct identification is essential, as not all fern fiddleheads are fit for human consumption.

Closing Ideas

If you have to fill your shade backyard rapidly or wish to add a shocking and edible fern, the ostrich fern ought to be your first selection. With the suitable location and slightly consideration, you’ll surprise why you didn’t plant them sooner.



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