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How to Grow Dryopteris — Wood Fern

Dryopteris affinis
Dryopteris affinis, Scaly male fern or golden-scaled male fern

Dryopteris is a genus of woodland ferns known by a variety of common names including wood fern, autumn fern, shield fern, and buckler fern. Most Dryopteris die back to the ground in winter, but in mild winter regions, some stay green in sheltered spots.

Dryopteris are erect growing ferns to about 2 feet tall; their form is similar to a shuttlecock. The fronds are pale green and lance-shaped.

Dryopteris grow best in partial shade with moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. They thrive in evenly moist to wet soil. Two species, D. affinis and D. filix-mas, tolerate considerable sun provided soil moisture is consistent.

Dryopteris are a good choice for shade and woodland gardens. Their fronds are a good contrast to perennials and shrubs with coarse. large leaves.

Dryopteris is a genus of more than 100 species. Dryopteris are found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere around the world. and Only a few are generally offered by nurseries.

Wood fern, Dryopteris carthusiana
Wood fern, Dryopteris carthusiana

Get to Know Dryopteris

  • Plant type: Fern, most are deciduous
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 6 to 8
  • Hardiness: The foliage of most species will die back with frost and freezing weather
  • Height and width: 12 to 24 inches (30cm) tall and wide, some a bit taller
  • Uses: Shade garden, woodland garden
  • Common name: Wood fern, shield fern, male fern shield fern, wood fern, male fern, and buckler fern.
  • Botanical name: Dryopteris 
  • Family name: Dryopteridaceae 
  • Origin: Temperate regions of Northern Hemisphere

Where to Plant Dryopteris

  • Plant Dryopteris is partial or full shade.
  • Plant Dryopteris in humus-rich, moisture-retentive, but well-drained soil.  

When to Plant Dryopteris

  • Set container-grown Dryopteris in the garden in spring or early autumn.
Male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas
Male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas

Planting and Spacing Dryopteris

  • Space Dryopters 24 inches (30cm) apart.

How to Water and Feed Dryopteris

  • Give Dryopteris regular water; keep the soil just moist for best growth.
  • Pland Dryopteris in partial or full shade. Two species, D. affinis and D. filix-mas, tolerate considerable sun provided soil moisture is consistent.

Dryopteris Care

  • Divide Dryopteris clumps in spring or fall to keep the size of the clumps manageable, and to preserve the handsome vaselike shape of the clumps. 

Dryopteris Pests and Diseases

  • Dryopteris is susceptible to rust, leaf gall, and fungal spots.

Dryopteris Propagation

  • Sow spores at 59℉ (15℃) as soon as ripe.
  • Divide mature plants ins spring or autumn.
Autumn fern - Dryopteris erythrosora
Autumn fern – Dryopteris erythrosora

Dryopteris Varieties to Grow

  • Dryopters affinis. Golden-scale fern, Scaly male fern. Semi-evergreen to evergreen species bearing 2- to 3-foot-tall fronds; finely cut fronds are chartreuse green with light brown scales when they unfold, dark green later. Clumps spread to 3 feet. Occasionally grows to 5 feet high. Cultivar ‘Cristata’ sometimes called ‘The King’ bears a crest at the top of the fronds.
  • D. carthusiana. (D. spinulosa). Spinulose wood fern, toothed wood fern, shield fern. Evergreen, except where winters are cold and harsh. Coarsely cut yellowish green fronds grow 6-18 inches tall and have shaggy black scales on the frond stem and lower part of midrib. 
  • D. dilatata. Broad buckler fern. Evergreen fern grows 1 to 2 feet tall and sometimes taller with finely cut, widely spreading fronds. 
  • D. erythrosora. Autumn fern. Evergreen. Erect growth to 2 feet tall. Frond color changes with the seasons: fronds in spring are a blend of copper, pink, and yellow; they turn green in summer, then rusty brown in fall. Bright red spore cases, produced on leaf undersides appear in the fall and hold through the winter.
  • D. filix-mas. Male fern. Evergreen fern sometimes becoming deciduous. Grows 2 to 5 feet tall, with finely cut fronds to 1 foot wide. Cultivar ‘Linearis Polydactyla’ has narrow leaf divisions with spreading, fingerlike tips. Some forms have crested fronds including ‘Grandiceps.’
  • D. goldiana. Goldie’s wood fern, giant wood fern. Evergreen fern in milder climates, deciduous where winters are cold. Robust arching growth to 4 feet tall and 1½ feet wide. 
  • D. intermedia. Intermediate shield fern. Quick spreading fern; fronds grow from 1 ½ to 2 feet tall.
  • D. marginalis. Marginal shield fern, leather wood fern. Evergreen fern grows 2 to 4 feet tall with finely cut, dark blue-green fronds. Does not do well when hit by drought.
  • D. wallichiana. Wallich’s wood fern. Evergreen fern grows to 3 feet tall, sometimes taller. Finely cut fronds emerge bright golden-green on scaly brown stems, later turn dark green. 


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