How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Ostrich Ferns

Shut your eyes and picture what a typical fern appears to be like like. Chances are high, you’ve imagined one thing near the ostrich fern. This fern is widespread throughout North America and is likely one of the commonest backyard ferns.

They aren’t solely standard 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 ensure you’re really coping with the right species earlier than harvesting, as many fern fiddleheads are poisonous.

This species is important to shade gardens and is simple to develop and remarkably low-maintenance. Learn on to seek out out the right way to finest develop and take care of ostrich ferns.  



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 referred to as Matteuccia struthiopteris, this traditional backyard fern is known as after its fluffy inexperienced fronds that seem 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 fame different ferns might have.

Ostrich ferns are planted for his or her lovely fronds and capability to develop in shade, simply filling empty gaps below bushes or backyard constructions. Due to their lengthy historical past, they contribute an historic woodland look, with ancestors over 300 million years previous. The truth is, they’re referred to as ‘dinosaur vegetation’ in my home because of this historic significance.

However planting them doesn’t solely add decorative worth to your backyard. This species can be among the many few that produce edible fiddleheads – typically thought-about a culinary delicacy and an incredible ingredient to play with within the kitchen. These vegetation are widespread throughout North America and standard 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 vegetation boast tall fronds that arch outward in a round sample.

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

Sterile fronds have a vibrant inexperienced hue and supply the backdrop for the shorter fertile fronds which will emerge in spring in some vegetation. When mature, these fertile counterparts are simply distinguishable from sterile fronds in dimension and distinctive shade and tackle a deep, virtually 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 vibrant inexperienced fiddleheads.

Though these vegetation can unfold through spores, they reproduce way more quickly by underground rhizomes. Their unfold can turn out to be 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 ascertain roots, ideally in cooler seasons.

Fall earlier than frost is normally the perfect time to plant, giving the roots loads of time to ascertain. However you may as well plant in early spring, simply earlier than the brand new development begins. As they choose cooler temperatures over heat climate, planting in cooler seasons helps restrict root stress.

Whereas these ferns are adaptable, they thrive finest in keen on full shade. A location below the cover of bushes or placement on the shaded facet of backyard constructions or your private home is commonly ideally suited. Not solely does this defend them from the scorching noon solar, but it surely additionally replicates the cool, moist situations they like.

If you’re able to plant, dig a gap about twice the dimensions of the container and amend the soil with compost to enhance well being and retain moisture. Place the fern within the gap and preserve the crown degree 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. In the event you’re planting a number of ferns, spacing about 2 toes between every is really helpful 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, extensive container with good drainage.

For these restricted by house, container planting can be an choice.

The chosen container ought to be very deep and extensive to create space for the intensive root system and to steadiness the tall fronds. Additionally, make sure the container has enough drainage holes to stop 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 degree with the soil’s floor.

Given their love for moisture, it’s essential to watch the soil in containers recurrently, making certain it stays persistently moist however not soggy. Additionally, you will must repot and divide very often on account of their fast unfold.

Learn how to Develop

In the event you plant your ostrich ferns in the suitable place, they largely handle themselves. Some additional watering could also be wanted in dry areas, however past that, these vegetation received’t provide you with any bother. Crucial a part of upkeep is definitely controlling their unfold because of their vigorous development.


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 choose keen on full shade, replicating their woodland habitat.

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

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

In the event you’re planting open air, take into account areas shielded from intense afternoon solar, both behind taller vegetation or below the shade of a tree. In containers, preserve them undercover and away from direct solar.

Deep shade will gradual development, which is useful for managing their fast unfold. Nevertheless, it’s going to additionally have an effect on general 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 persistently damp, ostrich ferns love moisture. They develop finest with constant entry to water somewhat than drying out utterly. This additionally retains the roots cool, particularly in hotter climates the place these vegetation might wrestle.

Nevertheless, 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.

In the course of the hotter months, these ferns respect a deep watering each time the highest inch or two of the soil feels dry to the contact. As autumn approaches and development slows, you possibly can scale back the frequency, however by no means let the soil dry out utterly.

Ferns in containers will want water extra typically because the soil dries out a lot faster. Take a look at 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 enough, 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 turning into waterlogged.

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

Drainage is important, 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 glad.

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 development.

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 snug in USDA Zones 3 to 7, preferring cool and gentle climates over heat ones. Nevertheless, in a closely shaded forest (such because the redwood forests in northern California), they’ll develop all the best way as much as zone 9.

In the course of the peak of summer time, it’s important to defend them from scorching warmth, particularly in zones on the larger finish of their most well-liked vary. They’ll 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. Nevertheless, they’re usually pleased with any humidity degree above 30%. Preserving the soil persistently 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 stop stunted development.

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

If you wish to enhance them, you possibly can add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil as soon as per yr in early spring. Don’t overdo it – overfertilizing can really stunt development somewhat than enhancing it. Somewhat, persist with upping vitamins with natural matter to maintain the roots glad.


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 yr, 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 received’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 go away them to die again naturally or trim them to tidy the backyard. Eradicating the fronds in late winter or early spring additionally clears the best way for brand spanking new development, making certain your fern appears to be like its finest because the climate warms.

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

Crucial upkeep job to finish is managing their unfold. The rhizomes unfold rapidly underground, creating new fern clusters in surprising locations. Whereas this may be helpful to fill empty areas, it may possibly rapidly overtake different areas of the backyard. Take into account often checking the unfold and dividing the ferns to handle their development.


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.
Rigorously carry the mature fern, separate rhizome sections with wholesome roots, and plant them like new vegetation.

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

Division is the most typical methodology of propagation for these ferns. That is finest finished in early spring or fall to reap the benefits of gentle temperatures and additional moisture, making certain the younger vegetation get a robust begin.

To begin, fastidiously carry the mature plant utilizing a spade or fork, taking care to not harm the foundation system. Take away the plant utterly to get a better take 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 connected.

After 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 turn out to be 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 simplest propagation methodology, but it surely’s not the one one. You can even propagate ferns from spores if you wish to attempt just a little 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 – sometimes darker, shorter, and extra tightly curled than the sterile ones. As they mature, they may produce clusters of spore circumstances. To gather, place a mature frond in a paper bag. When the frond dries out, you’ll discover a superb, 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 combo 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 vibrant, oblique gentle. Make sure the medium stays persistently moist however not waterlogged. The spores will germinate over the subsequent a number of weeks, forming a greenish carpet known as prothallia.

As soon as the prothallia develop tiny fern-like constructions, they’re able to be transplanted. Utilizing a sterilized instrument, gently carry 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’ve gotten the suitable species.

Early spring’s younger, coiled fronds are an thrilling sight and a delectable deal with prime for harvesting. If you’re 100% positive that your ferns are certainly Matteuccia struthiopteris, you’ve gotten a bounty of scrumptious produce awaiting you when these seem!

Readied with gloves and a pointy knife or scissors, search for younger fronds which might be tightly coiled. Guarantee they’re vibrant inexperienced, agency, and not more than six inches tall. Gently reduce 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 completely. Rinse them below chilly water, gently rubbing to take away any particles. It’s frequent to seek out small bugs, so a radical cleansing is essential. You can even 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 not less than quarter-hour or steam for 10 to twenty minutes earlier than cooking. After boiling, they’re finest sautéed in butter with garlic and used as a facet.

Their taste, typically in comparison with asparagus, pairs splendidly with lemon zest or perhaps a splash of white wine. Additionally they make a pleasant addition to pasta, paired with different recent 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 ensure of what you’ve received earlier than cooking.

Widespread Issues

Ostrich ferns are normally problem-free, immune to many backyard pests, and develop effectively with out fuss. The most typical downside 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, doubtlessly overshadowing different vegetation.

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

Commonly examine the perimeter of the planting space and take into account putting in limitations or borders to comprise their unfold. In the event that they do develop past their designated space, division and transplanting can assist handle their development.

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 turn out to be brown and crispy, significantly across the edges, it’s normally an indication of inadequate moisture or extreme daylight.

These ferns thrive in persistently damp soil and shaded environments. Guarantee they’re watered recurrently, particularly throughout dry spells, and take into account 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 vegetation aren’t pest-prone, it’s possible you’ll encounter slugs and snails, particularly on younger fronds. Commonly examine your ferns throughout the night when these pests are most energetic. Think about using natural slug and snail baits or creating your personal beer lure to regulate 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 ailments are potential, particularly when the surroundings is excessively damp and lacks correct air circulation. Make sure the soil isn’t waterlogged or soggy, and recurrently prune useless or diseased fronds to restrict danger.

Often Requested Questions

Whereas they’re vigorous growers and may unfold quickly in ideally suited situations, they aren’t thought-about invasive in most areas. Nevertheless, you ought to be conscious of their spreading nature and take into account implementing measures to handle their development if you happen to choose 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 presents the benefit of controlling their unfold, making it a preferred selection for individuals who need to get pleasure from them with out worrying about expansive development.

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 focus, particularly throughout hotter months.

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

Last Ideas

If it’s essential fill your shade backyard rapidly or need to add a shocking and edible fern, the ostrich fern ought to be your first selection. With the suitable location and just a little consideration, you’ll marvel why you didn’t plant them sooner.

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