Royal Fern Care: How To Plant Royal Ferns In The Garden
Ostrich Ferns (Ornithorhynchus ornatus) are native to Europe and Asia. They have been introduced into North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Their range extends from northern Canada through most of the United States eastward to Florida and southward down the eastern seaboard. They are found in almost every state except Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.
The ostrich fern is one of the largest ferns with a trunk diameter of up to 6 feet (1.8 m).
Its leaves grow from a single point at the top of its stem and they vary in color from light green to dark purple or black. The crown of their leaves is usually 2 inches (5 cm) long and 1 inch (2 cm) wide. They are covered with tiny hairs called petioles.
They can reach heights of 15 feet (4.6 m), but they prefer to live near water, so they tend to be smaller than other ferns.
They need moist soil, which will not freeze during winter months. Ostrich fern prefers rich loamy soils and it does best when grown in full sun or partial shade. It is not particular as to the type of soil it grows in, but it cannot tolerate brackish water.
The ostrich fern is not a common fern in cultivation and can be grown from spores. It has been propagated by division or separation of small clumps from large ones.
It takes from two to three years for a young plant to reach maturity and can grow as tall as 15 feet (4.6 m) if proper care is taken of it.
Ostrich Fern Care
The ostrich fern is an evergreen plant that has long-lasting leaves that can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 m) in length and can be as wide as 2 feet (0.6 m).
They have a height and spread of 3 to 6 feet (1 to 1.8 m). They are grown for their ornamental purposes and are not edible.
They require partial shade and well-drained soil. They are very adaptable to a wide range of soils, including poor ones.
They are not tolerant of salty spray and cannot be grown near the ocean.
The ostrich fern does not have many pests or diseases that attack it. Its biggest threat is slugs that feed on its leaves and cause holes in them.
They also prefer shade and can be grown under taller trees where they will receive the amount of sun they need.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4a: to -30.6 °C (-26.9 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 4b: to -29.4 °C (-20.9 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-19.8 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 5b: to -27.0 °C (-16.6 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 6a: to -26.1 °C (-15.0 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 6b: to -23.3 °C (-9.8 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 7a: to -21.3 °C (-6.2 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 7b: to -18.8 °C (-1.8 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 8a: to -16.7 °C (2.1 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 8b: to -13.9 °C (7.2 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 9a: to -12.2 °C (10.0 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 9b: to -9.4 °C (15.1 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 10a: to -6.7 °C (20.1 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 10b: to -3.8 °C (25.2 °F)
USDA Hardiness Zone 11: above 5.5 °C (41.9 °F)
Where to Buy Ostrich Ferns
Ostrich ferns are widely available at nurseries and garden centers in the United States. You can also buy Ostrich fern online.
This short video shows how to propagate ostrich fern by division.
Ostrich Fern Varieties
There are no Ostrich fern varieties as such.
Ostrich Fern Care Tips
Native to South Africa (Cape Provinces)
Prefers partial shade, but will tolerate a wide range of light conditions. If the plant is getting too much sun, it will become weak and spindly and the leaves will be pale green.
If this occurs, move it into more shade
Moist well-drained soil. Ostrich ferns do not like their feet wet so plant raised beds are a good idea.
Ostrich ferns are hardy to frost and can withstand very cold temperatures, even to zero. They can grow and survive even in the snow!
However they cannot survive places that remain continuously wet and will not grow under these conditions.
Ostrich ferns like their feet dry, so unless you live in a desert, it is best to raise the bed. They also need very little water otherwise the leaves will turn pale and the plant will suffer and possibly die.
This does not mean they require little water often, they just do not like “wet feet” so to speak. Let the soil dry out well before watering. If you are growing them in an area that is not alkaline then misting the leaves occasionally will be fine.
Ostrich ferns like rich soil that is well drained.
Long term use of low nitrogen fertilizer will produce the best results. Ostrich ferns react negatively to high nitrogen content in the soil, which can lead to poor growth and even death.
Ostriches will spread via division of the rhizomes as well as seeds. If you want to spread them around a large area, it is best to divide the plant first as they will produce viable seeds on their own provided they have either been pollinated naturally or by hand.
The seeds are very small and do not travel far when blown by the wind.
Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing to improve germination. Sow the seed on top of the soil and keep moist.
It can take up to 3 months for the seed to germinate.
Division of the rhizomes can be done anytime, though it is best done in the spring or autumn. Larger divisions with more than 2 eyes per division will establish themselves better than smaller divisions.
Ostriches are not fussy plants and require very little maintenance. They will reward you with a long lasting green beauty.
Pests and diseases:
Ostriches are generally pest free, but may suffer badly from damage by snails and slugs if the conditions are right.
Some birds can be a problem when growing ostriches in an open area, but this is more of a problem in backyards than in open fields.
Do not over water or over fertilize as this can lead to problems with fungi such as root rot and leaf spot.
Where to buy:
It is possible to purchase potted ostrich ferns from most garden centers in the spring time, however it is easier (and cheaper) to buy the plants while they are still small as divisions. These are readily available from specialty bulb nurseries and native plant nurseries.
It is best to buy your ostrich fern plants in the spring, though they can be found for sale in specialty bulb catalogues and at garden centers throughout the year.
How to grow:
Ostriches are best grown in a well drained soil that is rich in organic matter such as compost or well rotted manure. They will grow in most soils provided they are not waterlogged, but they will not thrive as well.
Ostriches will tolerate partial shade, but will not produce as well in this situation. They require at least 6 hours sunlight per day.
It is best to plant ostrich ferns in the spring or autumn as this promotes stronger root systems, though they can be planted at any time of the year.
Space plants 18 to 30 inches (45-75 cm) apart, depending on whether you want a tighter or more spaced colony. The plants will spread further over time.
Ostriches can be grown in large containers that are at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep.
It is best to plant ostrich ferns with the roots shaded as soon as possible after planting to prevent the plants from drying out. If grown in full sun, they can dry out very quickly and it may lead to leaf drop.
They will also suffer if there isn’t enough sunlight, so choose the site carefully.
Water ostriches throughout the growing season while the plants are establishing themselves and begin to put on new growth as this will help prevent or minimize any potential for disease and pest problems.
Ostriches generally have few pest problems, however they can be affected by the same pests as many other plants, so check your plants regularly.
It is very important to keep your plants free of any weeds as they will compete with your plants for water and nutrients.
Ostriches, as most ferns, have a habit of sending out little baby plantlets that develop at the base of the parent plant and then break off when they get to be about 1 foot (30 cm) or so tall. This makes them easy to reproduce by division.
Divide the plants every 3 or 4 years in the spring or fall. This is best done right after the plant has flowered as this will help prevent it from flowering the following year as ferns do not respond well to being divided.
The best method is to carefully remove the soil away from the cluster of roots and replant each one at the desired location.
Water well and keep well watered until they are established.
It is possible to take some of the baby plantlets that come from the parent plant and replant them also.
Ostriches have a hard seed coat so they must be stratified before sown.
They can be sown outdoors in situ anytime from spring to late summer.
A light cover of soil should be used to cover the seeds.
They can also be sown in containers or small pots anytime during the year.
Provide minimum temperature of 65-70 degrees F and keep in light to prevent the seed from germinating prematurely. Soaking the seed for 24 hours in water before planting also helps promote germination which should take place in 2 to 4 weeks
Thin the seedlings to one per pot when large enough to handle. Transplant after the first pair of leaves have appeared.
The ostrich fern is at home in woodland gardens, in deep shade beneath trees, and in open fields.
It prefers humus-rich, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.
It requires full sun but will tolerate light shade.
It can be grown under oak trees in the wild without any harm to the tree.
In cultivation it can reach a height of 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 m) with a spread of 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m).
It is deciduous, foliage appears in mid to late spring and turns brown and tumbles off in late summer or early fall.
It’s an excellent fern for the middle of a shaded lawn, which prevents the grass from growing in that area.
It is slow growing and it will survive almost any neglect.
It responds well to trimming and cutting back.
Some common pests are:
Slugs and snails,
Snails and slugs.
Some diseases include:
The ostrich fern has no significant uses, however in the past its seed was used as a substitute for coffee.
The dried fronds are sometimes used in flower arrangements.
It is on the list of endangered species in New York.
It is illegal to uproot or damage this plant in Massachusetts.
Its natural habitat is being destroyed.
It provides food and shelter to many small animals.
In the wild it can be hosts to many different species of insects and plants.
It is a great addition to anyones garden.
The fronds were cooked and eaten by Native Americans. The seeds were cooked and eaten as a substitute for coffee.
The fiddlehead is edible when cooked.
Some Native American tribes used it as a remedy for diarrhea.
Insect repellent, chew on a frond.
The roots were chewed to relieve toothache pain.
The dried fronds are used for Arts and Crafts purposes.
Sources & references used in this article:
New observations on the royal fern hybrid Osmunda× ruggii by WH Wagner, FS Wagner, CN Miller, DH Wagner – Rhodora, 1978 – JSTOR
Local knowledge and management of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis L.) in Northern Spain: implications for biodiversity conservation by MÍ Molina, V Reyes-GarcÍa… – American Fern Journal, 2009 – BioOne
First results from conservation studies of chlorophyllous spores of the Royal fern (Osmunda regalis, Osmundaceae) by S Magrini, A Scoppola – Cryobiology, 2012 – Elsevier
Notes on Southern Ferns by BT Galloway – Phytopathology, 1919 – American Phytopathological Society
The Ten Best Ferns for Northeastern Gardens by LM Underwood – Torreya, 1903 – JSTOR
Ferns: Fact and Fancies about Them: IV by RC Benedict – American Fern Journal, 1953 – JSTOR
A Pteridophyte Botanical Garden by FE Corne – American Fern Journal, 1925 – JSTOR
WELSH BULLETIN by HR Russell – American Fern Journal, 1965 – JSTOR