How to Care for Ostrich Fern

The Ostrich Fern is a beautiful fern that has leaves that stick up resembling the ostrich bird, thus getting its name. This plant is a great option if you want something with great aesthetic looks which do not require that much attention. Known by its scientific name,  Matteuccia struthiopteris it is native to North America with USDA plant hardiness zones 3-7. 

Ostrich ferns grow best in shady areas where there is no direct sunlight. They require a cold and moist environment to thrive and grow at an ideal speed. This plant is a low maintenance plant as it requires minimal attention and protection from insects. The fertile and unfertile leaves of the ostrich fern are easy to distinguish based on their color and appearance. Ostrich ferns are easy to grow, and they can form a dense cluster if provided with ideal conditions for their growth. 

One of the easiest ways to identify is the ostrich fern due to their distinctive looks. They are popular because of being easy to cultivate. Being a gardener, growing ostrich fern is not a hard task. All the steps from planting it to taking its care during growth to protecting it against attacks from pests and insects require much less attention than the other plants. They need a relaxed environment with enough humidity. They do not grow best in heated areas. Dry conditions with high temperatures halt their growth significantly. 

Being low maintenance and easy to grow, the ostrich fern can be a great addition to gardens that need that special touch.

Here are some factors that you need to maintain for prompt growth of the ostrich fern. 

Humidity

Ferns prefer a cold and dense environment. They usually grow in tropical, water-side areas in which air has high humidity. High humidity means that air has more concentration of water particles than the rest. Ostrich ferns grow best in such conditions.  

To maintain humidity at the growing place, the use of a humidifier is recommended. A humidifier helps you maintain a certain level of water vapors in air that are required for the plant.  

Watering

These plants like it moist, and as such, be sure to water them regularly as required. The ostrich fern requires less watering during winter months.  As ostrich ferns tend to like the presence of moisture, the use of a drip irrigation system is usually recommended for them. A drip irrigation system is used to feed the plants with water at regular intervals for optimal growth. This helps you to keep the plant moist all the time without having to worry that it will run out of water. It also helps you with the economical use of water. 

Light

Ostrich Ferns do not like direct sunlight on them. It affects their growth adversely. It is recommended to grow ostrich ferns in a dark environment with ample shade from the light. 

However, growing them in the dark does not necessarily mean that they need absolutely no light for their growth. As a plant, they certainly do require some exposure to light for their photosynthesis and other needs, but that exposure is less as compared to what is required for the other plants. 

Positioning them near a window would be ideal because the sun does not shine at all the time through the window. Also, the glass of the window reduces the intensity of sunlight falling on the ostrich fern. If you still think that the exposure is more than required, then you can opt for specific time breaks to place them in direct sunlight. Other than those breaks, ostrich ferns should be kept in dim light to ensure their active growth.  

If they are exposed to more sunlight then required, they will start to dry out eventually.

Soil Conditions

The condition of the soil where you plan to grow the ostrich fern is going to play an essential role in its overall growth. Soil conditions are the primary feature that affects the growth of any plant.  

Being a tough plant, ostrich fern can be managed to grow in a variety of soils. But generally, the most preferred is that the soil should be enriched with organic material. The draining capacity of soil should be high as well. Good drainage capability of soil helps the ostrich fern in developing a hard root system at the initial stage of growth. If a hardy root system is established, the end results are a lot more productive.  

If the soil is not good at drainage, waterlogging can take place there. Waterlogging is defined as the rising up of the water table in the ground. Waterlogging is highly undesirable in gardening or agriculture.  

To facilitate the growth of ostrich fern, its compost must always have some water in any case. This may be a hectic task, but to ensure optimal growth, presence on the water in the soil is necessary. 

Fertilizer

As mentioned above, soil with high organic matter present is the ideal scenario for growing ostrich fern. But what if the soil in your area does not have such quality? In such a case, you will have to rely on artificial enrichment methods. The easiest and widely used method is the use of appropriate fertilizers.  

You can mix a layer of organic matter with the soil of the entire planting bed. The ideal ratio to be kept is around 1:5 as per the thickness of soil and organic matter to be added. Mixing should be done appropriately, and there should be no holes left in it as the seepage of water inside through those holes can damage the root system of the ostrich fern. 

After the plantation is done, the need for fertilizers still remains there. Ferns require a controlled addition of fertilizers to keep it growing at a steady rate. Fertilizers that can be added are available in two forms, i.es Liquid and Solid. Both of these can be applied to the ostrich fern as per the requirements.  

Liquid fertilizers can be applied by mixing it with water. It is the most efficient way, and it can be done without disturbing the root system of the plant.  

For the solid fertilizers, it needs to be mixed with the top 1-inch layer of the soil for maximum benefit. However, care has to be taken when mixing it as the sensitive root system of the plant should not be disturbed during the process. 

There are specific times of the year when fertilizers are recommended to be used. The application of fertilizers during the spring season has proven to be most beneficial. This is because the spring season is the season of growth of new leaves. At the start of the growth process, if they get the right amount of fertilizer content, this enhances their overall growth. Application of fertilizers is not recommended during the winter season as there is minimal growth in winters, and the added fertilizer will not be utilized like it should have been.

Temperature Conditions

As far as the outside temperatures are concerned, the ostrich fern likes to grow in a cool environment. But that does not mean freezing cold climate. The range of temperature is from 15-21 degrees.  

The temperature range also depends upon the place of origin of the ostrich fern. You can also grow ostrich fern in a place where the temperature goes below freezing ranges, but you will have to keep the planting area warm. That can be done by covering it with sheets, providing lamps or bulbs, etc. 

Other Tips

If required, you can do repotting of your ostrich fern but carefully. It is advised to repot during the season of new growth, i.e., spring. Again, the important thing is that you have to take care not to disturb the well-established roots of the fern.  

Overwatering is not harmful in the case of ostrich ferns. As they prefer a moist environment, you can overwater them without damaging the roots. However, drying up of the soil is strictly prohibited.  

Ostrich ferns show rapid growth. It is advised that they should be planted in an area where there is ample room for growth. If planted in narrow spaces, they would soon need space to expand. The growth of the ostrich fern is aggressive, and it needs to be kept under regular inspection for active control. 

Ostrich fern also grows edible ferns, but you should consult an expert before deciding that all the ferns are not edible. Some of them are poisonous as well. They taste like green beans when boiled. Thorough cooking is recommended for personal safety. 

There are some other plants that can be easily grown alongside ostrich fern. It includes Bromeliads, tillandsias, corkscrew rush, iris, and anemones, etc. They add to the overall beauty and the aesthetic of the planted area.  

You do not have to worry about insects or pests attacking as the ostrich fern is prone to such attacks. 


Just after the plantation, do not expect miraculous growth. It takes time to establish the roots and then start the growth process.  

For harvesting the fiddleheads, it is necessary that they should be cut off as soon as they emerge from the ground. The delay in harvesting can cause them to lose their tenderness and taste. They are delicious when they are just fresh out of the soil. Eating them raw is not good from the safety point of view.  

Before the growth of new leaves in the spring season, it is advised to cut the old ones yourself that have turned yellow due to any reason.  

Although ostrich fern is native to North America, it is widely grown in a place where it is difficult to grow other plants. Once you get to know the process, you can easily grow it over a large area and have a delicious supply of fiddleheads for your spring season. 

Ostrich ferns provide an ideal solution to fill a spot where nothing grows. It can fill the area with lush growth and give it a pleasing look while providing tasty edible fiddleheads for your dining table.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Question: Is ostrich fern edible?

Answer: Yes, the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are safe to be consumed. They just taste like the green beans when boiled. The important thing is that they need to be cooked thoroughly before consuming them. Eating them in raw form is not recommended. 

Question: Are ostrich fern invasive?

Ans: Ostrich ferns are aggressive growing plants. Once they establish their roots, their growth takes place at a rapid rate. It is recommended that they should be grown in an area with ample space available so that they can be controlled effectively as per the requirements. 

Question: How to identify an ostrich fern fiddlehead?

Answer: Ostrich fern fiddleheads grow together in clumps and are bright green in color. They look smooth and are hairless. They have a U shape in the middle. Newly growing fiddleheads are covered in a tan covering, which can be removed easily.

Question: How difficult is it to grow ostrich fern?

Answer: Ostrich ferns are relatively easy to grow and to take care of. They are less prone to insect attacks, and you just need to ensure optimal light and humidity. As for water requirements, you can overwater them without any harmful effects. 

Question: How big is an ostrich fern?

Answer: Ostrich fern can get a lot bigger and taller. They can grow up to 8 feet in height and in 5 feet width as well. 

Question: Why do leaves of ostrich fern turn brown?

Anwer: It is a common problem. Leaves or fronds of the ostrich fern are going to turn brown if you do not harvest them in a fresh state. They are initially green, but with maturity and winter season approaching, they turn brown.  

Question: How to know my fern is not growing?

Answer: There can be many factors that hamper the growth of ostrich fern. To check whether your ostrich fern is alive or dead, you need to examine its roots. Hard and dry roots mean that the fern has died.