Ostrich Fern Info: Learn More About How To Grow Ostrich Ferns
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Have a corner in your yard that’s deeply shaded and damp? A spot where nothing much seems to grow? Try planting ostrich fern. Growing an ostrich fern in such a miserable spot can benefit the gardener in several ways.
First, it relieves the gardener of the yearly headache of what to try this year to cover the awful spot. Visually, planting ostrich ferns can turn an eyesore into a triumph of woodland delight, eventually forming a backdrop for other shade lovers like hostas or bleeding hearts.
Looking for a bit of the tropics in your garden? With their pots surrounded by ostrich fern, houseplants of various tropical varieties, many of which need a bit of shade, will look simply stunning. Once you know how to grow ostrich ferns and your plants are thriving, you’ll have the additional benefit of a tasty treat in the fiddleheads you can harvest.
Ostrich Fern Info
Matteuccia struthiopteris is native to North America and grows quite well in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-7. Once established, it will grow to a height of three to six feet (1 to 2 m.) with a spread about the same. Ostrich fern grows in vase-shaped clumps called crowns. The showy, arching, sterile fronds are plume-like and reminiscent of the tail feathers of the bird from which the common name is derived.
When growing an ostrich fern, you’ll notice other, shorter fronds that emerge a few weeks after the initial fiddleheads. These are the fertile fronds that produce spores for reproduction. These fertile fronds are much shorter, only 12-20 inches (30.5 to 51 cm.) long, and will remain standing long after the larger fronds have died back in dormancy.
How to Grow Ostrich Ferns
There are no special tricks to learning how to grow ostrich ferns. While they can be grown from spores, it’s best to order plants from a reputable grower. Your plants will usually arrive as dormant, bare roots packed in moss or wood shavings and are ready for planting.
Ostrich ferns should be planted in a shallow hole that has plenty of room for spreading roots. Make sure the crown sits just above soil level. Fill in around the roots with any average soil and water well. Take care of ostrich ferns for the first year or so by watering regularly.
Don’t expect too much at first, and don’t panic if the plant appears to stop growing. An ostrich fern’s first priority is to establish a hardy root system. Sometimes the fronds begin to grow and then die back several times during the first season.
Once established, the plant spreads easily through underground rhizomes and will soon fill in the space provided. The care of ostrich ferns is mostly cosmetic and consists of cleaning up debris during the dormant season. They’ll appreciate a little fertilizer once in a while and, of course, water frequently and well during the occasional drought.
Ostrich Fern Houseplants
Thinking of bringing this exotic looking bit of nature indoors? Ostrich fern houseplants do well as long as their outdoor growing conditions are met. Keep them out of direct light and keep them moist. Be prepared though for an occasional dormant season where your plant needs time to rejuvenate.
Ostrich fern houseplants need plenty of water and humidity levels that are higher than what is normally found indoors. Misting will help.
Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads
Once you know how to grow ostrich ferns and have a good bed established, you might want to try harvesting fiddleheads for a springtime dinner treat. Fiddleheads are the first ostrich fern shoots to show in the spring and are so called because of their resemblance to the neck of a fiddle. These are the sterile shoots that will grow into the largest fronds.
Pick no more than half from each crown while they are small and tightly curled. Before cooking, wash them carefully and remove the brown papery covering. Fiddleheads can be boiled or steamed and are a particular treat when sautéed in bacon drippings with a bit of garlic. Make sure to cook them thoroughly and use only ostrich fern fiddleheads.
Fixing a problem area with lush and beautiful growth and providing an otherwise expensive delicacy for your springtime table, all while needing very little care, ostrich ferns can be the ideal solution for filling that damp, shady spot.
How to Plant Ostrich Plume Ferns
A big, bold addition to shade gardens, the ostrich plume fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is a tall perennial that provides quickly-spreading ground cover and even edible "fiddleheads" each spring. The tall fern, also known simply as the ostrich fern, prefers moist, even boggy, soil. It also tolerates climates as extreme as USDA hardiness zones 1 to 9. If you live in a Mediterranean region, check with the nursery information to ensure the variety you select can tolerate your planting zone, and make sure it gets plenty of shade and moisture. The native plants aren't difficult to maintain, especially when you get them off to a good start at planting time.
Water the nursery container holding your ostrich fern, if the soil isn't already moist, and set it in the shade while preparing the planting hole.
Clear an area that is at least 5 square feet. Individual ostrich ferns spread about 2 to 3 feet in all directions, and multiply rapidly. Pull weeds from the area, remove any existing sod, and rake away branches and leaves.
Loosen the soil with a spade or tiller.
Add compost or peat moss at the rate recommended on the package for the square footage you have cleared.
Dig a hole that is about the same depth as the pot in which the fern it is growing, and about 3 inches wider.
Set the fern into the hole so that the crown, or base, of the plant is just above the soil surface. Add soil to the bottom of the hole, if needed, to raise the crown above the soil line.
Mix the dirt you've removed from the hole with equal parts topsoil.
Fill in the hole with the soil mixture, holding the fern in place to keep it straight.
Firm the soil around the fern to eliminate any air pockets, which trap nutrients and water.
Apply a 2-inch layer of shredded wood, pine needles or other mulch materials to the area. Leave a 3 or 4-inch area of bare soil from the base of the fern.
Water the soil thoroughly. Ostrich ferns prefer moist to wet soils, so over watering is not a concern.
- Ostrich ferns grow up to 4 feet tall, and make useful back-of-border plantings in woodland and other shade gardens. They also add lush touches to ponds, streams and shady patios.
- Give ostrich ferns plenty of water in the warmer months, unless you've established them in naturally damp soil.
- Don't plant ostrich ferns in cramped corners. Within a few years, the plants multiply rapidly.
- Ask an expert before harvesting and consuming fiddleheads. Ostrich ferns are one of the few species which produce edible fronds, so be sure what you are growing in your garden is Matteuccia struthiopteris. Cooking it before it unfurls, and making sure it is thoroughly cooked, is also crucial to safety.
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.
Selecting Outdoor Ferns
If you are considering growing a fern plant outdoors, you need to pick a plant that matches your climate. Some ferns are at home only in very warm areas and won't live through chilly winters. But there are types of outdoor ferns that can tolerate a wider range of hardiness zones. These might do well in your garden as outdoor ferns in pots or planted directly into a bed.
For example, the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) with its finely cut fronds is native to Illinois and thrives in U.S.Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, according to the Morton Arboretum. It grows between 1 and 3 feet tall and almost as wide. It works well in a shady area or one with dappled sun, as long as it gets a little more water.
Another great outdoor fern that accepts cooler winters is the lush and lovely sword fern (Polystichum munitum). This plant grows taller than the average gardener, rising to 4 to 6 feet tall and providing bright green evergreen foliage all year long. It thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. For a smaller fern to add to a shady fern garden, consider the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), hardy down to USDA zone 3. According to Fine Gardening, this fern can tolerate very dry or very moist conditions and offers 1 to 2-foot fronds in a deep green, glossy color.
Homalosorus Species, Tennessee Ostrich Fern, Glade Fern, Narrow Leaf Spleenwort, Narrow Leaf Glade F
|Species:||pycnocarpon (PIK-no-kar-pon) (Info)|
Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
Where to Grow:
Soil pH requirements:
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
On Mar 10, 2016, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:
A handsome fern native to southern Ontario & Quebec, Minnesota to Vermont down into Georgia to Louisiana, not common in nature, occasionally here and there. Soft green leaves are soft with long leaflets and simply pinnate. Likes moist ground, slightly acid to neutral pH, and full light shade best. It has fertile fronds in the center of the clump that have smaller leaves and two rows of long-shaped sori below the leaves. It usually has 5 to 6 long fronds per clump and it spreads by underground creeping stems.
On May 8, 2010, bottlegreen from Saint Paul, MN wrote:
The photograph of this fern offered by Garden Harvest Supply certainly doesn't look like Athyrium (Diplazium) pycnocarpon, nor does their description of the fern as "lacy" sound like the real thing. I'm on my second attempt to grow this from spores. This time I've actually gotten gametophytes, but they don't seem to be having sex. Any suggestions?
On Apr 24, 2010, GranMona from Franklin, TN wrote:
Bought @ end of season, 10/09. 8 inch pot. Intended to plant or garage for winter, but forgot. I left it outside, under the eave of our 2 story house. We had a very harsh winter in Franklin, Tn and I expected the little feller to be dead. but I was WRONG! He's sprouted, I moved him to a bigger pot, and he's so happy!
I expect to leave him in this big pot, due to heavy spreading I've read about. Anyone else in middle Tennessee have the same guy? What can you share? I was truly amazed with the plant, after our harsh winter. I will probably garage him this winter, unless someone in zone has comments? Also, I plan to start a fern garden. hints appreciated and cuttings as well.
On Feb 20, 2009, wormfood from Lecanto, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:
I just picked up a 4-pack at local box store for 5bucks. They look pretty good, starting to sprout in the bag. Planting today in yogart containers with potting mix that has the wetting agent added.. They are long tubers and I'm planting them longways 1/2" deep. I'll keep this updated. BTW, there were 6 in the package.
On Oct 7, 2004, tcfromky from Mercer, PA (Zone 5a) wrote:
This plant is of special concern in Wisconsin (and possibly other states as well). The name is translated as: Diplazium: Greek diplasion for "double", referring doubled spore cover
pycnocarpon: pycnos for "compact, close" carpos for "fruit"
The most common and recognizable of the ferns, this is a very tough and hardy plant, featuring tall lacy fronds all season long spreads aggressively and may require some control grows best in shade with rich, moist soil great for textural effect
Ostrich Fern's large fragrant ferny compound leaves remain light green in color throughout the season. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant.
Ostrich Fern is an herbaceous perennial with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.
This is a high maintenance plant that will require regular care and upkeep, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. Deer don't particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Ostrich Fern is recommended for the following landscape applications
- Mass Planting
- General Garden Use
- Naturalizing And Woodland Gardens
Ostrich Fern will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 4 feet. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 3 feet apart. It tends to be leggy, with a typical clearance of 1 foot from the ground, and should be underplanted with lower-growing perennials. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 20 years.
This plant does best in partial shade to shade. It is an amazingly adaptable plant, tolerating both dry conditions and even some standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in rich soils. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is native to parts of North America. It can be propagated by division.
Propagating Ferns From Spores
To collect fern spores, wait until they darken and start to fall off the fronds, signaling they are ripe. An easy way to do this is to cut off a frond when its spores are beginning to darken in color. Leave the frond in an open paper bag or on top of a piece of paper (indoors, where the spores won't get blown away) and wait for the spores to fall. You want to be sure they are fully mature and fall off on their own.
- Fill a flat or another container with sterile, moistened potting mix designed for ferns. Shake the spores off the paper or bag directly on top of the mix and press gently, so the spores make good contact with the soil.
- Mist the surface of the potting mix, to moisten the spores and keep them in place.
- Cover the container with plastic and place it in a tray filled with one to two inches of water. Move to a warm spot, with indirect sunlight.
- Keep replacing the water in the tray until you see signs of growth. This can take 6 to 12 weeks, so be patient and don't let the soil dry out.
- The first thing you will see will be small heart-shaped shoots called prothalli. These can be gently lifted out of the container and moved into individual pots filled with damp, sterile fern potting mix. Leave the transplants uncovered, but keep them moist.
- Once the prothalli begin developing fronds, they can be slowly hardened off and transplanted outdoors.
Ostrich Fern FAQ
Now that you’ve read up on Ostrich Fern care, take a look at some of the frequently asked questions to ensure you’re doing all you can for your fern.
Are Ostrich Ferns invasive?
Ostrich Ferns can be invasive. They grow very quickly and can soon overrun an area that was once full of a diverse range of plants and flowers. If you are planning on planting Ostrich Ferns make sure you do so in an area that can be controlled to prevent them from taking over.
Do Ostrich Ferns die back in winter?
If the weather is cold and harsh enough then you will find that your ferns die back in winter but don’t worry because come spring time they’ll be back and they’ll grow so quickly its as if they never went away.
Will Ostrich Ferns grow in sun?
This plant will grow between in a shady area rather than a spot that receives full sun which makes them perfect plants for bottom dwelling. If you have a spot close to the ground that doesn’t receive too much light this is where you want to plant your Ostrich Fern to fill your garden and to promote the best growth.
Do Ostrich Ferns spread?
Yes. Just like we mentioned above about them being potentially invasive, Ostrich Ferns spread very quickly so be aware of this if you are introducing them into an area and don’t let them take over.
What is an Ostrich Fern height?
An Ostrich fern will grow to about 3 to 6 feet in height, giving it a bushy like appearance and making it perfect for filling out areas of your garden that are closer to the ground.
If you have any other questions about this plant then be sure to let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help you with your fern needs.
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