Skip to main content

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

Make sure your Christmas fern thrives with these tips

We all love bringing new plants into our gardens and our collections. One plant you may not have considered adding to your garden is the Christmas fern. These glossy ferns make for lush ground cover and can help fill any empty spaces you have in your container gardens.

You might be asking yourself, "How do you take care of a Christmas fern?" Don't worry! We’ll go over all the things you need to know to help your Christmas fern thrive in its new home.

Related Videos




1 hour

What You Need

  • Well-draining soil

  • Container with drainage holes

  • Mulch

  • Compost

  • Peat moss

  • Fertilizer for acid-loving plants

Vibrant green ferns

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 an evergreen fern, which is where its common name comes from. Its leaves stay green all year long, leading to its use in Christmas decorations such as wreaths.

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 ground cover 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 clump of ferns splayed out like a starfish

When and where to plant your 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 ground cover 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.

In the outdoors, Christmas ferns can grow in zones 3 through 9 If you live outside this range, you can still grow them indoors. Whether you're growing them indoors or out, here's how to make sure your Christmas fern survives and thrives:

Step 1: Plant your fern outdoors after the threat of frost has passed.

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.

Step 2: Plant your fern in partial or complete shade.

Christmas ferns can tolerate some direct light, but watch for dropping leaves. This is a sign of stress, and can indicate it is getting too much light.

Step 3: Grow your Christmas fern in well-draining soil.

Like most ferns, Christmas ferns prefer to be damp, but not soggy. Proper drainage is important to avoid drowning your fern. If you're growing it indoors, make sure the container has drainage holes, too.

Step 4: Water your Christmas fern regularly.

Depending on the temperature and amount of light, your fern may need to be watered weekly or every other week. Similarly to dealing with your fern's lighting needs, watch for drooping or dropping leaves. This indicates a stressed plant, which can be caused by underwatering.

Step 5: Add a layer of mulch around your ferns to improve water retention.

Step 6: Supplement your soil with compost and peat moss to improve its drainage and nutritional value.

This is especially useful if your soil is clay-heavy, compacted, or otherwise dense, as Christmas ferns prefer soil that is well-draining and rich in organic matter.

Step 7: Feed your fern with a fertilizer specially formulated for acid-loving plants.

Christmas ferns will do fine with a regular, balanced fertilizer, but you’re more likely to see bigger, greener, and longer-lasting leaves if you cater the fertilizer in this way.

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Focus on color: Bring some sunshine to your garden with these orange plants
Add color to your home with these orange garden plants
Potted marigolds

If you're looking for a way to add more color to your life and prep for the upcoming spring season, then a few warm, sunny orange plants might be just what you're after. From dark, burnt oranges to delicate pastels, orange flowers can match any aesthetic sense or style.

Plant them with red and yellow flowers to create a fiery gradient, or mix them with blue flowers for a lively arrangement. Whether it's creating a border of marigolds or hanging a charming goldfish plant inside, you have a wide range of options when it comes to incorporating orange into your space. For ideas on which plants to use, here are some of the most striking orange garden plants out there.

Read more
6 tips you should keep in mind when building your own drought-tolerant garden
Build a drought-tolerant garden to save water and money
Border garden planted with drought-tolerant flowers

Watering can be a grueling chore during the summer, and it’s no secret that your water bill can skyrocket if you have to tend to a lawn. Enter drought-tolerant gardening, also known as xeriscaping or water-smart gardening. The driving concept behind this gardening approach is simple: Create a plant space that thrives without too much water.

Designing a drought-tolerant garden is rewarding, but it can be difficult to begin. There's an upfront cost of time, energy, and money to consider. In addition to new, drought-tolerant plants, you may also need to get mulch, rocks, and tubes for an efficient watering system, and setting everything up can take a lot of time and effort. In the long run, though, your low-maintenance garden will be well worth it. You’ll have a garden that's friendlier for the environment and your budget!

Read more
Do you live in climate zone 2? Here’s what you need to know
Grow these plants and flowers for a lively garden in climate zone 2
American cranberry branch with many berries in the sun

Climate zone 2 plants face some of the coldest winters in the United States, making gardening a challenge. In this region, temperatures drop well below 0, resulting in harsh freezes that damage plants. It’s not impossible to foster a healthy garden here, however. Zone 2 gardeners often grow annuals, start plants indoors, and implement overwintering measures, such as mulch and cold frames throughout the year.

There are also cold-hardy plants that can grow and even thrive in zone 2's cold weather. If you reside in climate zone 2, here’s what you need to know about what you can grow there and how to do it.

Read more