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Autumn Fern, My Great All Season Fern

I am most appreciative of Autumn fern during the stale, hot days of August. This durable fern grows in my woodland garden, far from the water hose, but it has survived weather that sends other ferns into dormancy, or worse, to death.

When I first started planting a garden in the woods, I imagined great swaths of ferns. The reality is that soil under the big trees is thin and dry, and ferns generally need moist, rich organic soil. Autumn fern will grow best in those conditions, too, and I am working to improve the natural environment by regularly adding mulch and compost. But Autumn fern, once established, will tolerate drier and poorer conditions than many of its pickier cousins. Like most ferns it prefers partial to full shade, but with extra water it can take some sun.

Dryopteris erythrosora is as beautiful as it is durable. It is distinguished by pink fiddleheads in the spring, which unfurl to coppery pink fronds, which mature to rich green.

Autumn Fern will grow in zones 5-9, and in areas with mild winters like mine, it is evergreen. The colorful spring growth contrasts nicely with its older green foliage. 

Autumn fern looks good planted in mass. They should be planted about eighteen inches apart. Spores form on the undersides of the ferns. The following photos show the springtime fiddleheads and the summer spores:Growing up to two feet tall and wide, they will spread slowly to form clumps and can be divided every three to four years. A clump grows at the base of the tree seen on the right in the following photo of my woodland garden. Afternoon light is shining through the fronds:

Since it is evergreen in my area, Autumn fern adds good structure to the winter landscape. I like the way it looks frosted with snow:

Damaged or unsightly fronds can be cut back in late winter to neaten the clump and prepare for spring growth.


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Reader Comments (18)

I love ferns in the garden too. We are so fortunate here that our Western Sword ferns tend to grow like weeds under our redwoods, and some have attained great size. Prior to living here though I never was very successful with the ferns I'd intentionally planted. You're right, they really do want that deep humus to grow in. Your Autumn fern is lovely and reminds me of some of the native wood ferns here. Such a great bonus that it holds its structure in winter too, it looks beautiful frosted!

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

You nailed it - durable, grows even when it is thirsty. I have several and an especially attractive one near the drive way. My favorite fern.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Beautiful fern and one oif my favs...my ferns did not do well due to the drought...lovely pics

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

You are right! Your Autumn fern looks gorgeous covered with frost. Most of my ferns grow on their own, like weeds. I let them be since I think they are beautiful. I have tried growing stag horn fern but they didn't last unfortunately.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOne

Great post! Autumn fern is a great performer in my garden too. I especially love them in winter when they provide much needed green.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarin/Southern Meadows

i must try, i must try.

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreggo

This sounds to be just the one I am looking for, my other ferns look very miserable in the summer when the huge trees are taking all the moisture available. It looks so beautiful in the snow too !!

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

What a beautiful fern! Love the coppery color and pink fiddleheads. It looks right at home in your garden which I wish I could walk through right now! I just love ferns and planted a few this spring hoping they will spread. I really like to plant for zone 4 so I would be hesitant to try this one, but I might just have to.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthevioletfern

Such a beautiful fern! I will have to try this one. Most of the wild ferns that grow here grow next to natural springs and find the garden a bit too dry.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I do not have any ferns planted. I hope to get at least one fern planted once I begin work on my new shade garden area! Yours are beautiful. Thanks for checking out my post on the 4'oclocks. They are definitely a beautiful, old-time favorite! Happy Gardening! Mindy

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMindy

How I envy you your fern garden in the woods! They are beautiful, even in snow.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

The fern is pretty, but the snow scene is exceptional. I have this fern under my Viburnum, but never thought to leave it for the snowfalls.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

It is a bit shocking to look at images of frost in August, especially as suddenly this week the weather has become very hot again. I love ferms but I haven't found any that will tollerate the heat here. Christina

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Yes. a fab fern. Love this idea of pools of ferns beneath trees.
In fact today I was lifting ferns with the idea of having great swathes of them.
So great minds!

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Webber

Ferns are a stapler of our shade gardens as well -- for all the same reasons you love them too!

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

I'm not sure how well the ferns I planted in my new serenity garden are going to do in my sandy soil, so it's nice to know that this is an option I can look at if the conditions turn out not to be moist enough for the varieties I've planted. Thanks for the information about this beautiful plant.

August 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I never thought ferns will be a good addition to a garden. i know they are prolific but I didn't realize it will be beautiful. Thanks for showing me the ferns. It gave me an idea for my garden.

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTabby Horse

You have a great garden!Everything looks so peaceful and quite!

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoll House
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