Christmas Fern Plant – Learn About Christmas Fern Care Indoors And Out

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Trying your hand at Christmas fern indoor care, as well as growing Christmas fern outdoors, is a great way to enjoy unique interest year-round. Let’s learn more about Christmas ferns and how to grow them inside and out.

About Christmas Ferns

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a deciduous evergreen fern that grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. This particular fern is known as a Christmas fern because some parts of the plant stay green all year long. Dark green leaves, or fronds, reach up to 3 feet (about 1 m.) long and 4 inches (10 cm.) wide. This plant brings color and interest to a garden when other plants are dormant.

Growing Christmas Ferns

Growing a Christmas fern outdoors requires minimal effort. Christmas tree ferns do best in an area that receives part or full shade, although they will tolerate some sun.

These ferns, like other outdoor ferns, enjoy moist, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Plant Christmas ferns after the last frost, placing them 18 inches (46 cm.) apart and deep enough to hold the roots without crowding.

After planting put a 4 inch (10 cm.) layer of pine needle, shredded bark, or leaf mulch around plants. Mulch will help protect plants and retain moisture.

Christmas Fern Care

The care of Christmas ferns is not difficult. Ferns should be watered once a week, or as needed, to keep soil consistently moist but not overly saturated. Without adequate moisture, ferns will experience leaf drop. During the hottest days of summer pay particular attention to watering.

A light application of granular fertilizer that is designed specifically for acid-loving plants should be applied around the soil under the fern the second spring after planting. Feed annually after this point.

Although you do not have to prune Christmas ferns, you can remove fronds that have been damaged or have turned brown at any time.

Christmas Ferns Indoors

Since the Victorian era people have enjoyed growing all types of ferns indoors. Christmas ferns do best in front of a window that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Place your fern in a hanging basket or fern stand for best results.

When considering Christmas fern indoor care, keep the soil evenly moist but not overly saturated and mist plants once a week to increase humidity.

Remove brown or damaged leaves at any time and use an appropriate granular fertilizer.

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How to Keep Your Ferns Thriving Indoors

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Growing most ferns isn't difficult—certainly no more difficult than keeping orchids alive. There are just a few basic pointers you need to follow to have success with most of the common houseplant ferns available.

Ferns are some of the oldest plants in the world—they've been thriving for 300 million years and grow in an astonishing array of environments. As houseplants, they've been in cultivation for centuries. Worldwide, the American Fern Society estimates there are about 12,000 species of ferns, ranging from cold hardy to tropical, and ranging in size from miniature to the monstrous tree ferns of New Zealand and Australia. Use these guidelines that are common to all types of ferns.

Choosing Ferns

The section of the country where you live and garden determines to a large extent the plants you can grow. Most of Florida and the southern coastal areas can grow the tropical ferns that the rest of us can cultivate only under glass or as house plants. Southwest gardeners can grow only those that have adapted to less humidity, while gardeners in the midwest, northeast, mid-atlantic and upper south can grow most woodland types.

Keep in mind, too, that some ferns have specialized requirements. It's not impossible to grow maidenhairs, hart's tongues or other ferns that prefer an alkaline soil, even if your soil tends toward the acidic mixing crushed limestone, oyster shell grit or cement rubble in the soil will provide a constant source of lime and improve drainage. If you live in a limestone area and want to grow those that require acid conditions, it is not quite so easy. You can make the planting bed acidic by working lots of peat or humus into the soil, separating it from the subsoil with landscape fabric or a two-inch layer of granite grit and treating the soil with sulfur or ammonium nitrate. The problem is that the water in these areas is likely to be alkaline, and will gradually change the pH of the soil. Under these conditions, it's best to grow ferns that prefer limestone, or those tolerant of alkaline conditions. Most adiantums, aspleniums, polystichums, dryopteris and athyriums will grow in a wide pH range, and the organic material in a well prepared soil will help to buffer the effect of excess acidity or alkalinity.

Many ferns have a natural affinity for rocks. Some, such as polypodies and the walking fern will actually grow on the rock surface others, such as Cheilanthes and the cliff brakes, need exceptionally sharp drainage and more sun. Almost all appreciate the protection of rocks, which help the soil retain moisture and establish a microclimate that is warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the surrounding environment. It's important to know which ferns must have limestone and which require acid conditions. Sandstone and granite rocks are generally the foundation for those needing acid, while limestone or even cement rubble will provide alkalinity. Ferns among rocks should be planted in a well drained but moisture-retentive soil.

Selecting Types of Ferns

There are so many types of ferns, there is bound to be a variety that fits your needs. Unless you have a lot of ground to cover, avoid aggressive ferns such as ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Some favorite hardy ferns include the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), cinnamon-frond autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora), and nearly evergreen Himalayan maidenhair (Adiantum venustum). Japanese painted ferns feature pale hues of pink, mint, and silver.


There is a fern suited to almost any condition found in the average home. For example, holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum) grow in low to medium light, while birds nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) grow in low to bright, but not direct, sun. A northern window usually provides ideal light conditions for many types of ferns. You can use a sheer curtain or drape to cut intensity. During summer months, you need to reduce light in eastern or western windows by about 50 percent. Asparagus ferns, which are not ferns but belong to the lily family, require bright light year-round and thrive in direct sunlight. Check the fern varieties section for the specific light requirements of several different types of ferns.

Stunning Ferns for Winter Months

Not only is it a good idea to grow evergreen trees and perennial plants for year-round interest and color, consider adding ferns to the landscape to create an eye-catching array of feathery fronds.

Ferns do not have flowers and reproduce by emitting spores. They typically have deep roots and a rhizome, meaning the plants send out horizontal stems that help new fronds grow. Evergreen ferns are perfect for shade gardens or any other areas with full shade.

They are slow-growing, taking several years to mature in size and require regular watering. Prepare the soil with organic matter such as compost, dried leaves, or cut grass.

The leathery leaves protect them from nearly all fungus and pests, aside from an occasional slug attack. They make excellent companion plants with hostas, bleeding hearts, and phlox and are deer resistant.

Divide or transplant ferns in the early spring and watch them thrive for years to come. Here’s a fun fact – evergreen ferns are either male or female. If the area lacks a male fern, some species of females can turn into males.

Japanese Shield Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) – Basic Evergreen Ferns


The Japanese shield fern, also called a wood fern, is one of the most common types of evergreen ferns. These are non-fussy plants that add tons of texture and color to your shade gardens.

Like the autumn fern, some varieties have new growth that emerges with coppery tones and turns red and purple in the fall. Red spores form on the bottom for even more color. Plant shield ferns in moist, well-drained soil.

Fertilize the soil once a year with organic matter or just before planting. Because they are slow-growing, buying the largest size affordable offers immediate beauty. For similar-looking evergreen ferns, try planting a Japanese holly fern or Cyrtomium falcatum.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)


Christmas ferns are hardy in USDA zones three through nine and are named based on their ability to keep their dark green leaves all year long. The fronds of these colorful ferns reach up to three feet long and spread four inches wide.

When other plants are dormant, this plant brings a little bit of color. Christmas ferns prefer full to part shade but will tolerate a small amount of sunlight. Place them in well-drained soil fertilized with organic matter.

Plant them at least 18 inches apart after the last frost in the early spring. Sword ferns are another fern of the same species that looks similar if you can’t find a Christmas fern at your local greenhouse.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)


Lady ferns are native ferns with finely textured, light green foliage. Finding the perfect spot for these evergreen ferns is essential. Lady ferns prefer lightly shaded areas with part sun throughout the year. They thrive in well-draining, slightly acidic soil.

Add some of these attractive ferns beneath trees that bloom in winter or have attractive cold-weather foliage for interest at eye-level, as well as above and below.

When planted in the right place, they are some of the fastest spreading ground cover plants around. Growing these eye-catching ferns from the spores can be a painstaking process, however.

Instead, purchase a lady fern at a greenhouse or use the rhizome to begin the growth process. Divide them in the early spring and regularly water them. Another fern species similar to these is Osmunda regalis or royal fern.

Evergreen Fern for Hanging Baskets: Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum)


One of the most unique looking evergreen ferns in the tassel fern. New fronds begin by growing stiffly upwards, then droop down,looking fabulous in a hanging basket, but it can also be a groundcover plant. The arching, glossy fronds grow two feet tall and ten inches wide.

Tassel ferns are hardy in zones five through eight. Place individual plants about 30 inches apart in partial to full shade and soil with a pH range of four through seven. Apply three inches of mulch around the roots to protect the plant.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)


Maidenhair ferns have a reputation for being difficult, but that’s not true. As long as these plants have plenty of water, they should thrive in your home garden. The fan-shaped leaves add unique texture compared to many generic ferns, like the ostrich fern.

It is common for a few fronds to die back and new fronds will eventually grow to replace the old ones. Be careful not to overwater maidenhair ferns, or they may develop root rot.

If the soil dries out, give it a good soak of water, and it should help bring your plant back to a happy state. Provide partial to full shade and more alkaline soil.

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)


The Japanese painted fern is one of our favorites because of its silver foliage. These dramatic and colorful ferns are perfect for flower beds in full to partial shade, and they make excellent plants for borders and controlling areas prone to erosion.

Limit the amount of fertilization you give these plants. If the area receives any sun, make sure it only gets some morning sunlight with shade during the remainder of the day. Under the right conditions, the Japanese painted fern grows up to 18 inches high.

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) – Unique-Shaped Evergreens


The bird’s nest fern has banana-like leaves and is native to southeast Asia, Australia, and Hawaii. Their feathery, wavy leaves make this fern stand out among its relatives, making it a fan-favorite for gardeners.

Plant the bird’s nest fern in indirect, medium to low light. The more sun these sun tolerant ferns receive, the more crinkly the leaves are. However, too much light and heat cause the greenery to yellow and die. This fern prefers moist soil but also survives if it dries out from time to time.

Finding the perfect evergreen ferns means your home is surrounded by colors and textures that stand out throughout the winter.

The leaves of ferns come in various shapes and sizes and are used for different purposes, such as container planting or for areas that need groundcover. We hope this article sparks some inspiration with exciting options that keep your home full of color year-round.


If these evergreen ferns stood out to you, feel free to share this list of ferns that live year-round on Facebook and Pinterest with friends and family.

Watch the video: Growing ferns indoors

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