Dictionary of Flowers: Athyrium Filix-Femina
(Lady Fern)

Vibrant green Lady Fern is a great contrast plant. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of BrewBooks and Flickr
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Vibrant green Athyrium Filix Femina (Lady Fern) is a great contrast plant. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of BrewBooks and Flickr

  • Athyrium Filix-Femina
  • Common name: lady fern
  • Family: Dryopteriaceae
  • Category: Perennial in USDA zones 4-9
  • Height: 12" to 36"
  • Width: 12" to 30"
  • Shade
  • Blooms: grown for foliage
  • Growth habit: upright
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: fertile, moist, slightly acidic, well drained. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, woodland garden, water garden
  • Diseases: no serious disease problems
  • Pests: not usually bothered by pests

Lady Fern is an easy to grow fern that has been popular in gardens since Victorian times.

It is a perennial fern that can be found in most of the continental US and Alaska where it grows in moist woods and meadows near streams.

They have light green, tall fronds with a fine texture. It starts sending up fronds in spring and if kept moist, it will continue until early summer. 

They prefer a shade to part shade position in moist but free draining, slightly acidic soil. Peat moss can be added to retain moisture and acidify the soil.

If grown in pots, water retaining potting mix can be used to ensure they don't dry out. It is a good idea to mulch around the fern to retain moisture. In winter, add more mulch to prevent the tubers from heaving out due to freezes.

It is a deciduous fern, so it drops all the leaves in winter. Leave the fronds in place until spring, then when the fern starts sending new fronds, cut the old ones.

Feed regularly with balanced fertilizer during spring and summer.

If allowed to, Lady Fern can take over areas. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of OliveOligarchy and Flickr
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If allowed to, Lady Fern can take over areas. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of OliveOligarchy and Flickr

Purchase lady fern plants or rhizomes in spring, after the last frost.

They can be propagated by division in spring and early summer.

To plant lady fern plants, dig a hole twice as wide as the size of the pot and plant with the crown level with the ground.

If planting rhizomes, place the rhizome so that there are one or two inches of space between the top and the ground level. Lady ferns must be carefully watered the first season to develop a good root system.




This is a beautiful variant of Lady Fern. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Lilbenne and Flickr
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This is a beautiful variant of Lady Fern. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Lilbenne and Flickr

Lady fern is not usually bothered by pests or prone to disease. It is deer resistant.

Popular varieties:

  • Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae' - a small variety, forming a 18" clump. Beautiful fern with narrow leaves and crested tips on the fronds
  • Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' - lacy foliage on red stems
  • Athyrium 'Branford Beauty' - greyish-green folliage. Tall variety, up to thirty inches 
Red-stemmed Athyrium Filix Femina. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Nancy Magnusson and Flickr
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Red-stemmed Athyrium Filix Femina. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Nancy Magnusson and Flickr

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