Autumn Fern

How To Grow An Autumn Fern

The autumn fern, otherwise known as the wood fern is a strong woodland plant that is characterized by its vibrant green, lush fronds that have the ability to grow to be an impressive four feet tall.  The tips of these lovely leaves arch toward the ground in a graceful manner as though the plant is taking a bow to those who have stopped to appreciate its beauty.

The underground rhizomes of the plant spread out slowly as it matures and given time, it has the ability to transform into quite a dense ground cover.  The autumn fern is hardy and can happily tolerate sub-zero temperatures yet it can also thrive in humid, hot climates as long as it has protection from afternoon direct sunlight.


Your autumn fern will be the most beautiful if it is planted in a shady, cool area of your garden.  This is a plant that can be put into the ground pretty much anytime of the year providing the ground is not frozen.  Once planted, it is virtually maintenance free.  In addition to a shaded area, these types of ferns prefer a well-drained, moist soil.

  • Remove all rocks, weeds and any large clods of dirt from the planting area.

  • Using a hoe or a shovel, cultivate the soil at least to a depth of 10 inches.

  • Prior to planting your autumn fern, it is recommended to amend the soil.  Add a few inches of peat moss, decomposed manure or any other type of organic material to the soil and then work it in well.  If the soil does not seem to drain well, add a few more inches of organic material. As this type of matter decomposes, it will not only improve the soil drainage but it will also provide the plant with necessary nutrients that it needs to grow.

  • When planting, allow approximately two feet between each autumn fern.  This will promote proper air circulation and give them plenty of room to grow.

  • Water your plants well beginning at the base of the plant.  It is a good idea to allow the soil to become almost dry before watering again.

What Are Fronds?

When fronds are referred to when speaking of ferns, they are the unique leaves that the plant presents.  The frond is divided into two parts being the stipe, which is the leaf stalk and the blade which is the expanded leafy portion.

The blade can range from finely cut to undivided, with each style having its own term.  The two most common types are pinnate blades and pinnatifid blades.

  • Pinnate Blades – These are described as each blade being divided into leaflets that narrow and attach to the plant's central system.

  • Pinnatifid Blades – These are characterized by leafy green tissue that is not quite separated from its rachis but it is spread out along it instead.

Fern Life Cycle

The autumn fern, as well as other varieties, has quite a unique life cycle.  It seems a bit complicated but since ferns are believed to have been one of the first plants on the earth millions of years ago, their reproduction system works quite well.

Spores fall to the ground and about one out of a million will find suitable light and moisture to grow.  These single-celled organisms begin cell division to grow and soon little green heart-shaped plants appear.  Typically, these small ferns go unnoticed since they are generally less than half of an inch large and lay flat on the ground.

The plant then grows both male and female reproductive organs on its underside.  The male organs produce spermatozoid which swim in the smallest drop of water to the eggs in the female organs.  The fertilized egg grows into the autumn fern.  This is the main form of propagation for these plants.