Sumo Gardener

Ostrich Fern – Matteuccia Struthiopteris Growing Guide

If you have a shady, damp corner in your yard that's always been a bit of a black hole? Nothing much seems to grow there, no matter what you try, consider planting ostrich fern that are very tolerant of shade and dampness, making them perfect for those hard-to-grow areas in your yard.


Introducing the Ostrich Fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris commonly known as Ostrich fern

The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is a species of fern native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is named after its feathery fronds resembling the plumes of an ostrich, giving it its name ostrich fern. 

Ostrich ferns look great in large groups in moist, shady areas. They are especially well-suited for woodland settings, wildflower gardens, rain gardens, and wet borders along streams and ponds. They can also be grown in containers, but that’s not their ideal environment.

In addition to being beautiful, ostrich ferns also have a number of benefits for the gardener. For one, they help to improve the soil quality. 

Ostrich ferns' deep roots help to aerate the soil and break down organic matter. This can make the soil more fertile and easier for other plants to grow in. 

A beautiful, low-maintenance plant that can benefit your yard both aesthetically and organically  in a number of ways. 

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a novice enthusiast, this ostrich fern care guide will provide you with the essential information and practical tips to grow healthy and vibrant ostrich ferns in your own garden. 

Ostrich Fern Plant Features

Ostrich Ferns have an impressive growth potential, reaching heights of approximately 3 to 6 feet and spreading 5 to 7 feet wide. These ferns thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7, adapting to a range of climates.

The unique foliage of the ostrich fern elegantly unfurls, resembling the graceful neck of its namesake, the ostrich. The leaves exhibit an upward growth pattern, adding to their unique charm.

Once established, ostrich ferns are fast growers, often displaying an exuberant pace that some may consider invasive.

It is important to monitor their expansion and take appropriate measures to contain their spread, ensuring they do not overpower other plants in the vicinity. 

How to Grow Ostrich Fern

How to Grow Ostrich Fern

Ostrich ferns are best planted in a shallow hole that is large enough for the roots to spread out. The crown of the plant should be just above the soil level. 

Ostrich ferns prefer partial to full shade, and they need moist, well-drained soil. If your soil is sandy, you may need to add some compost or peat moss to improve drainage, otherwise your plant will remain short and the growth will be further slow, so water the fern regularly for the first year or so. 

Don't worry if you don’t see much growth at first. The fern's first priority is to establish a strong root system, and sometimes the fronds will start to grow and then die back several times during the first season. Once the fern is established, it will fill in the space provided through the underground roots.

Planting Ostrich Fern

Planting ostrich ferns is an easy task. All you need to look into is that they are planted in a shallow hole where the roots can spread out.

Place the crown part just above the ground, and fill the roots with soil and water. Another important thing is to plan them at least 5 ft from each other because they grow fast and up to 4 feet tall.

Spacing out will leave a good amount of space for these ferns to grow and over get overcrowded by their foliage. 

How to Propagate Ostrich Fern

How to Propagate Ostrich Fern

Ostrich fern is an impressive spreader, and takes over the area in no time. Thanks to its underground rhizome spread that you can utilize each spring.

Dividing the plants every few years can prevent overcrowding. The process of rhizome division is as followed:

  1. Find the fern that has grown twice the size of the original plant. 
  2. Dig the soil around the outer space of the fern, and remove the whole plant from the ground. 
  3. Shake the soil off the plant, and you will see the rhizomes that you can break or divide by pulling apart or using a spade or a knife. 
  4. Plan these divided rhizomes in a moist, shady location and water them well.

Ostrich Fern Care Guide

Ostrich fern is a fairly low maintenance plant, and most of the care involves providing the right conditions to support their growth.

Embracing their fern nature, ostrich ferns thrive in soil that is full of moisture. Remember, a dry habitat hampers growth, resulting in a more sluggish presence.

To ensure their health, plant them in rich, organic and acidic soil and also feed them with a light 20-10-20 fertilizer. These ferns are meant for shady areas, but they can also tolerate some sunlight. The more sun they receive, the more water they will need.  

Ostrich Fern Care Guide

Pruning Ostrich Fern

Pruning is also essential to maintain the overgrowth and keeping ostrich ferns under control. For optimal health and aesthetic appeal, it is recommended to prune the ostrich fern near the crown, ensuring that new growth emerges vibrant and graceful.

Ostrich ferns can be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth emerges. This is the ideal time to trim back any dead or damaged fronds and prepare the plant for the upcoming growing season. But it does not require heavy pruning.

Ostrich ferns have a natural arching habit, and their fronds can become quite large and dense. If you wish to maintain a more compact and tidy appearance, you can selectively prune some of the outer fronds using pruning shears.

Trim them back to the desired height or remove entire fronds near the base to create a more open and airy look.

Light & Temperature Conditions

Just like other ferns, ostrich ferns prefer partially shaded to fully shaded areas. They thrive in locations with indirect or dappled sunlight.

Avoid exposing them to intense, direct sunlight, as it can scorch their delicate fronds. Choose a spot in your garden or yard that provides the right amount of shade.

They die back in the winter, but their emerging fiddleheads are one of the first markers of spring. They will generally not do well in hot and dry locations. The best temperature for growing this fern is 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Soil Conditions

When it comes to soil they can tolerate any soil conditions but moist, well-draining and slightly acidic soil is ideal for its growth.

These feathery ferns prefer moist, well-draining rich soil that retains moisture but doesn't become waterlogged. While ostrich ferns are traditionally grown in soil, they can also adapt well to hydroponic systems with some modifications.

Before planting, amend the soil with compost or organic matter to improve its texture and fertility. Plant these ferns near a stream to offer plenty of moisture without having to water much. 

Watering Ostrich Ferns

More the merrier! Ostrich ferns require consistent moisture to sustain. Regular watering is essential, especially during dry spells or in areas with limited rainfall.

Aim to keep the soil evenly moist but avoid overwatering, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. 

Mulching around the base of the plants can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature allowing the plant to sustain its growth and green foliage for a long term. 


Ostrich ferns generally don't require heavy fertilization. However, applying a balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer in spring can provide a boost of nutrients to support healthy growth.

Follow the package instructions on fertilizer for application rates.

Ostrick Fern Pests and Diseases

Ostrich ferns are blessed with a remarkable resilience against pests and diseases, making them a low-maintenance choice for your garden. 

While there have been occasional problems of moth larvae nibbling on the frond stalks (rachis), the damage is just minimal to nothing. However, the only issue lies in the realm of water management. 

Insufficient watering can cause the leaves to dry up, while excessive watering can leave them limp. Strike the perfect balance, and your ostrich ferns will flourish, showcasing their lush foliage in all its glory.

Ostrich Fern Frequently Asked Questions

Planting Ostrich Fern

What to do if your ostrich ferns are dying?

If your ostrich ferns are showing signs of decline or are on the verge of dying, make sure to check if they are getting enough water and are placed in shade.

If it's just the foliage dying and otherwise the plant is healthy, it can still grow again. It could be just due to the warmer climate.

Are ostrich ferns edible?

Yes, ostrich fern is edible. The fiddleheads, which are the curled young shoots of the fern before they unfurl, are the most commonly consumed part. They have a distinct flavor and are often described as a combination of asparagus and spinach. 

It is important to note that only the fiddleheads of certain fern species, including the ostrich fern, are considered safe for consumption.

Additionally, they should be cooked before eating to remove any potential toxins and enhance their taste and texture. 

Do they need to be cut back?

Not necessarily required. The reason being the crown part protects the root and base of the plant, but light pruning to remove the dry foliage is suggested

Do they need to be thoroughly watered on transplanting?

Yes, newly transplanted ostrich ferns need to be water, Make sure the soil is moist; not soggy.

When is the right time to plant ostrich fern?

Preferably in spring right after the danger of frost has gone in your zone.

Can you plant ostrich fern in pots?

Though not a preferable option, yes, it is possible to plant these ferns in pots or containers. But, in case you have limited outdoor space or want to create a portable fern display, growing ostrich ferns in pots can be a viable option.

The only thing to keep in consideration would be that the container is large enough to accommodate the fern's root system and allow for growth.

Wrapping Up Our Ostrich Fern Growing and Care Guide

To conclude, the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is a stunning addition to any landscape for its unique texture.

By following the guidelines outlined in this care guide, you'll be well-equipped to create a thriving and vibrant ostrich fern garden.

We hope that this care guide provides you with valuable insights and practical tips to cultivate these remarkable green plants successfully.

Remember to observe your ostrich ferns closely, as they may exhibit specific preferences based on your local climate and conditions.

Regular maintenance, such as removing dead fronds and monitoring for signs of stress or disease, will help keep your ostrich ferns in prime condition.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

Leave a Comment: