How to Care for Wood Ferns


Wood ferns (Dryopteris) are lacy green woodland plants. Tolerant of cold weather, wood ferns are accustomed to growing under the canopy of tall forest trees and won't do well in hot sunlight. Depending on the variety, wood ferns usually grow between 1 and 3 feet tall. Wood ferns are slow-growing plants that easily adapt to the home landscape, and once established, demand very little attention.

Step 1

Plant wood ferns in a shady, moist spot in rich, well-drained soil that has been cultivated with a hoe or shovel. If the soil is poor or doesn't drain well, amend it by incorporating 2 to 4 inches of compost or well-rotted cow manure into the top 10 inches of the soil.

Step 2

Keep the soil moist. Give ferns an inch of water every week that it doesn't rain, and more in hot, dry weather.

Step 3

Fertilize wood ferns after new growth appears in spring. Use a time-release fertilizer applied strictly according to the directions, as wood ferns can be damaged by too much fertilizer.

Step 4

Apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as straw, leaves or pine needles around wood ferns to protect the ferns during the winter months.

Things You'll Need

  • Hoe or shovel
  • Compost or well-rotted cow manure
  • Time-release fertilizer
  • Organic mulch


  • Dryopteris species, The Wood Ferns
  • NC State University: Dryopteris marginalis
  • Clemson University: Hardy Ferns
Keywords: wood ferns, plant wood ferns, water wood ferns

About this Author

M.H. Dyer is a long-time writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the East-Oregonian Newspaper and See Jane Run magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life." She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.