Oak fern plants are perfect for spots in the garden that are hard to fill in. Extremely cold hardy and shade tolerant, these ferns have a surprisingly bright and airy look that can work wonders with dark spots in short summers. Keep reading to learn more oak fern information, including oak fern cultivation and tips for caring for oak ferns.
What are Oak Ferns?
Oak fern plants (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) are very low growing, usually topping out at between 6 and 12 inches (15-31 cm.) in height. Instead of growing up, these fern plants grow out, creeping along the ground through rhizomes.
In spite of their common name, oak ferns do not grow on or near oak trees, nor do they resemble them in any way, so how it derived this name is a mystery. The triangular fronds are pale to bright green in color, which makes for an excellent contrast in deep shade where the shadows can make everything look dark and gloomy.
Oak ferns are hardy in USDA zones 2 through 8, which means they are extremely cold tolerant. They are deciduous, so they won’t keep their greenery through the winter, but they should come back every spring even after very harsh weather.
Oak Fern Cultivation in Gardens
Caring for oak ferns is extremely easy. The plants prefer deep shade, but they will do well in partial shade. They like neutral to slightly acidic soil that is sandy or loamy. They need good drainage but lots of moisture and prefer rich, leafy, or compost heavy soil.
Oak fern plants can be propagated by spores or division. Collect the spores from the undersides of the fronds in late summer or fall and plant them in the spring, or simply divide the rhizomes in the spring.
Due to its ease and success at transplanting, oak fern is a desirable plant to have in the garden. While moving established ferns to a new location is simple, they will also spread out naturally through spores and rhizomes if you leave them alone.
As long as you provide the plants with their basic lighting and soil needs, little else is necessary to keep them growing in the garden. Oak ferns also make great companions to other ferns and woodland plants like trillium, jack in the pulpit, Jacob’s ladder, and Virginia bluebells.