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A complete guide to caring for your Christmas fern, an attractive ground cover

We all love bringing new plants into our gardens and our collections. However, this can be a time of high anxiety if we aren’t sure how to care for them properly. The best way to avoid accidentally killing a new plant is to prepare yourself for their care before you’ve even purchased the plant. So here we’ll be going over all the things you need to know to help your Christmas fern thrive in its new home.

close up of fern leaves

What is a Christmas fern?

The Christmas fern, or polystichum acrostichoides, is known for its beautiful green foliage. So if you’re looking for a plant to fill in some gaps in the shadier areas of your garden, then this might just be the plant for you. It’s a deciduous plant and is known as the Christmas fern since its foliage stays green all year long. This makes it the ideal plant for those looking to enhance the look of their garden when most other plants are brown and dormant. It’s most often used as a groundcover in landscaping, but it can also be grown indoors in a pot. So no matter how you’d like to enjoy the Christmas fern, there’s an option for you.

a green fern

When and where to plant your Christmas fern

When planning to grow a Christmas fern outside, it’s best to plant it after the threat of frost. To find out when your last local frost date is, you can use a Plant Hardiness Zone calculator, and it will give you the estimated dates. We recommend staying on the safe side and waiting two weeks after the average frost date to keep these plants safe. While they might be able to handle the cold as mature plants, the smaller and less established plants could die if exposed to harsh conditions.

For ideal sunlight, the Christmas fern prefers partial or complete shade; however, a bit of sun won’t harm the plant as long as you keep an eye on its moisture level. If you notice any leaf dropping, it might be a good idea to move the plant to a less sunny spot.

The fun part of Christmas ferns is their ability to also be easily grown indoors. Find a window that provides morning sun and afternoon shade, and your Christmas fern will be a happy little plant.

Watering the Christmas fern

As a shade-loving plant, the Christmas fern does not like to dry out; however, they don’t like to sit in water either. Therefore, you’ll need to provide a balance of well-draining soil that still retains moisture. They prefer to be watered regularly and maybe even once a week, but the best way to know when your fern needs water is to watch its leaves. Christmas fern leaves will start to look thirsty. If you’re noticing some leaves are dropping, that’s a good indication that your plant needs more water, either up the amount of water you give it or try mulching around it to help keep the moisture in.

The ideal soil conditions

To keep them happy and healthy, provide the Christmas fern with well-draining soil that’s rich in organic material. Take a look at the ground as you plant your fern, and if you notice that it’s clumpy, dense, or full of clay, it might be a good idea to supplement your soil with compost and peat moss to improve its drainage and nutritional value.

Feeding a Christmas fern

Christmas ferns will likely do just fine on a balanced fertilizer during the growing season. However, if you want to ensure your plant is thriving, find a fertilizer specially formulated for acid-loving plants. You’re more likely to see bigger, greener, and longer-lasting leaves if you cater the fertilizer in this way.

Growing zones for the Christmas fern

When indoors, this won’t matter as long as they’re in a window that gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade. When it comes to growing them outside, they’ll do fine in zone 3 through 9 once they’ve had a season to grow and establish themselves.

Average size of a Christmas fern

The Christmas fern isn’t a huge plant, but it can grow up to 3 feet tall with leaves around 4 inches wide. However, the plant might appear more prominent because this is a groundcover plant that will reach and grow and slowly take over a space. They are easy to manage, so you won’t have to worry about them taking over your garden.

We just love learning about new plants, and we hope you’ll use these tips and tricks to add the lovely Christmas fern to your plant collection. Whether it’s indoors or out, this plant will bring stunning greenery to your home.

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