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Spreading Wood Fern

Spreading Wood Fern

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Wood Fern (Buckler Fern)-Thelypteris kunthii Hardy Planting Zones- 3-8 Sun or Shade – Partial-Full Shade Mature Height - 2-5' Mature Width- 8-12" Bloom Season – n/a Gardener Status- Beginner
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Spreading Wood Fern - Dryopteris Expansa


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Wood ferns are beautiful additions to shady side gardens. These ancient plants trace back so many years, and some experts believe they were here before dinosaurs existed. These hardy and drought tolerant plants do need shade from hotter afternoon sunshine. If planting in an already wooded area, be sure to gauge the available light. This plant needs partly sunny to afternoon shade for the best growth and health. These grow well underneath sunlight filtering red oak trees but avoid placing under very densely leafed trees or dense needled pines. Wood ferns thrive best in zones 3 to 8.

These intriguing plants are terrific options when needing some dense green or seasonal plant color. They need humus-rich soil that also provides adequate water drainage. The soil should also stay moist, and it is wise to add fertilizer in early spring and add fresh compost by planting into deeply dug holes. A covering layer of composted maple or other tree leaves annually ensures proper nutrition. These perennial plants can be divided in spring or fall, and the plant clumps should be divided at least once per three years. Wood ferns are either evergreen or drop their leaves in the fall as deciduous plants.

Many landscapers like to use wood ferns to create some visual interest. These are fantastic plants to put in those shaded areas where many other plants won't survive. They look peaceful and lush when planted against other flowering plant life. They grow from 1 to 6-20 feet high depending on variety. Expect wood ferns to spread about 1 to 10 feet wide. These beauties are splendid choices to plant in containers. These leafy fronds will defer those hungry deer from coming too close. Many choose to plant wood ferns in woodsy gardens or as a featured plant in a waterside garden arrangement. Many have glorious seasonal color variations with winter coloration especially gorgeous.


The Spreading Wood Fern is a North American native but is found growing in the streams and woodlands of Asia and Europe as well. It thrives along stream banks and can root in rotten wood or cracked rocks. Its long, creeping fronds are held together at its stout woody base.

 It is referred to as the Crested, Northern, Arching, and Spiny Wood Fern and can keep its color year-round in the right conditions.