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How to Grow Sword Fern

By Moira Clune ; Updated September 21, 2017

Hardy and evergreen, sword ferns are fire- and deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. They withstand acid soil conditions and grow in deep shade. Combine these advantages with an upright, stately growth habit and it’s no wonder that sword ferns are a popular addition to gardens and landscapes throughout the U.S. A native to the Pacific Northwest, sword ferns adapt well to any garden in USDA zones 3 to 8.

Choose your location. Sword ferns prefer partial to full shade.

Test your soil before planting sword ferns. Soil test kits, available at home and garden centers, will measure the pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels in your soil. Sword ferns are tolerant of a wide range of pH levels ranging from 5.1 (strongly acidic) to 6.5 (mildly alkaline).

Determine your soil type. Sword ferns prefer moist, loamy soil. Take a handful of wet soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it falls apart, your soil is sandy. If it forms a dense ball, it is clay. Loamy soil holds together but breaks apart easily.

Plant ferns in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Dig a hole for your sword fern plants that is twice as large as the root ball.

Remove your fern from its pot and shake off as much of its potting soil as possible. Insert the plant into the hole, arranging it so that it sits level at the soil line.

Backfill the hole with a mix of equal parts compost, rotted manure, peat moss and topsoil.

Keep newly planted ferns evenly moist during their first growing season.


Things You Will Need

  • Soil test
  • Sword fern plants
  • Shovel
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Peat Moss


  • Ferns are sensitive to quick-release fertilizers. Their food needs are best met with compost or well-rotted manure.