Plant Type
Sunlight Amount


Holly Fern

Holly fern, a woodland native, adds a bold, coarse texture to the landscape with its large fronds. In fact, the holly fern forms a dense arching clump of lustrous dark green fronds that reaches up to 3 feet tall. Use this plant as a groundcover in moist woodland areas and enjoy its glossy green fronds when the rest of the garden is dormant during winter months. Easy to grow when planted in moist soil and part to full shade, holly fern is a long-lasting garden plant.

genus name
  • Polystichum
  • Part Sun
  • Shade
plant type
  • 6 to 12 inches
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • 1 1/2-4 feet wide, depending on variety
season features
problem solvers
special features
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9

Garden Plans For Holly Fern

Planting Holly Fern

Light up a shade garden with holly fern and its lush upright green fronds. This shade-lover is a great planting partner for astilbe, barrenwort (Epimedium), coralbells (Heuchera), hosta, Irish moss or pearlwort (Sagina subulata), lungwort (Pulmonaria), spotted dead nettle (Lamium), and yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea). In time, many of these perennials will creep together to form a dense carpet of foliage and flowers that prevents weeds from emerging.

Holly fern is also a great container plant. Pair it with begonia, coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), and New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) for a color- and texture-rich planting that looks good from spring through the first frost. When planted in a container garden, holly fern is usually treated as an annual.

Holly Fern Care

Holly fern grows best in moist woodland soils in part shade to full shade. Water plants deeply and regularly during the first growing season to establish an extensive root system. Blanket the soil around plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch to prevent soil moisture loss. Holly fern also thrives in containers and is a great plant for adding texture to a container grouping on a shaded patio or porch. Plant holly fern in spring, situating the rhizomes at an angle to help combat potential crown rot problems. Crown rot is especially troublesome in poorly drained soils.

Holly fern is an evergreen fern in most areas. Care for it in spring by cutting back the old fronds right after new growth emerges. Top-dress the mulch around plants if needed to maintain a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch or compost.

More Varieties of Holly Fern

Braun's holly fern

(Polystichum braunii) has upright but arching glossy fronds to 2-feet tall. It's easy to grow and hardy in Zones 3-8.

Makinoi's holly fern

This variety has slightly arching fronds to 2-1/2-feet long. The stipe and rachis (main stem) are shaggy, covered with brown scales in contrast to the bright green leaflets. Zones 3-8

Plant Holly Fern With:

This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners -- it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall.Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged -- the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.

Have a tight, tough spot? Try pearlwort. This durable little plant can soften the edges of flagstones and rocks in dry crevice gardens with bright green or golden 1/2-inch tall mats of foliage. This tiny plant is excellent in troughs and other containers, and as a groundcover in rock gardens. It can be walked upon gently with little damage and seeds generously. Free draining gritty soil is pearlworts preference.

Barrenwort is a rare plant -- one that thrives in the dry shade beneath shallow-rooted trees! It spreads at a moderate rate, forming a graceful, dense groundcover. Almost as a bonus, it also produces dainty flowers shaped like a bishop's miter -- prompting another common name, bishop's cap. Its colorful foliage dangles on slender stalks, providing yet another moniker: fairy wings.