Ostrich Fern

The feathery foliage on this perennial will make an impressive statement in your garden.

Ostrich Fern Overview

Description A staple plant of woodland gardens, the ostrich fern boasts stately, large upright fronds that resemble the large feathers of their namesake bird. They create a lovely backdrop for other plants and spread to easily fill a garden space. In spring, the numerous fiddleheads of emerging foliage can also be picked for a snack as the ostrich fern is edible. It also makes a stunning element in a fresh flower bouquet.
Genus Name Matteuccia struthiopteris
Common Name Ostrich Fern
Plant Type Perennial
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width 3 to 5 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Propagation Division
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Groundcover, Slope/Erosion Control

Colorful Combinations

More textural than colorful, ostrich ferns develop impressively large fronds of bright green foliage. When they first emerge in spring, their iconic fiddleheads are probably some of the most photographed plants in the garden. A unique trait of ostrich ferns, like a few other fern families, is that these plants have separate fertile and infertile fronds. The sterile fronds are what most people initially envision, due to their large, bright green leaves. They emerge in spring and are held right alongside the previous year's fertile fronds. Come fall, these leaves turn a bright golden color. While the sterile leaves can reach impressive sizes of three or four feet tall, the fertile leaves generally reach only about two feet tall. The fertile fronds develop later, from the centers of the plants, and are much smaller and a deeper green. Eventually they develop clusters of spores on the backside of the fronds. Even through the winter months, the fertile fronds are held perfectly upright. Come spring, the fronds release their spores and eventually die back.

Ostrich Fern Care Must-Knows

Like most ferns, ostrich ferns prefer moist soil. It's best to plant them in rich, organic soil that's somewhat acidic. Keeping them evenly moist to almost wet yields lush growth. Avoid letting this fern dry out, which leads to browning and drying of the foliage. Dry soil also results in slower, smaller growth.

Ostrich ferns prefer shady conditions. These ferns are tougher than most, though, and can tolerate a decent amount of sunlight as long as they do not dry out. The more sun they're in, the more moisture they require. In warmer climates, any more than part sun can also lead to foliage burn and additional water requirements. In general, ostrich ferns prefer cooler climates and struggle in warm southern climates.

In their ideal growing conditions, ostrich ferns can be aggressive spreaders. Keep this in mind when planting, as they can quickly fill a garden space and may outcompete less robust neighbors. Ostrich ferns spread via underground rhizomes and can be controlled by regular division to keep them in check. The best time to divide ostrich ferns is in early spring, just as the new growth is beginning to emerge.

Ostrich Fern Companion Plants

Rush

Juncus effusus 'Spiralis'
Scott Little

The curious corkscrew rush loves wet or boggy conditions. It makes a fascinating architectural accent in planters, beds, and moist borders. It's technically leafless, with green cylindrical stems that are pointed at the tip. Plant rush alongside streams and ponds, though it will tolerate dryer conditions elsewhere. It's excellent in container gardens.

Iris

Iris Immortality
Dean Schoeppner

Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have the classic, intricate flowers, which are constructed of three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded," or not. Various cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil, while others prefer acidic.

Anemone

Pink 'Party Dress' Anemone
Dency Kane

Anemones are lovely, delicate flowers that dance atop slender stems, giving them their poetic common name—windflower. Depending on the type, anemones bloom in spring, summer, and through fall with pretty, slightly cupped flowers in rose, pink, or white, rising over distinctive, deeply lobed foliage. Plants grow best in partial shade but tolerate full sun in Northern regions. If you're lucky, they'll be happy where they're planted. In some cases, you may even need to frequently divide them to prevent them from from overtaking neighboring perennials.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles