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DC, Maryland & Virginia Native Plants: Christmas Fern

A fern for all seasons!

native Christmas ferns naturally growing in woodlands
Christmas ferns in the woods at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Gardening Zone 7b

Ferns seem like they should be delicate plants, needing the moistest and fluffiest soils and a perfect refuge in shade. In fact, though, some of the native ferns are as tough as can be! Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is one. It takes full shade to part sun and can grow in drier soils too. Christmas ferns will not do well in consistently wet soil or in the heaviest of clay soils. Other than that, Christmas fern is super versatile.

These photos show Christmas ferns in our garden December. You can see how "evergreen" they are depending on their light and soil conditions. In my experience, the more sun and the drier the conditions are, the earlier they lay down their fronds in cold weather. The ferns on the far right are planted in average soil beneath large shrubs and are in full shade. They stay quite green throughout the winter.

Here, in a Washington D.C. urban garden, Christmas ferns are planted en masse on a fairly steep slope in part shade. In December, they still cover the slope thoroughly.

Christmas ferns make very durable and long lasting ground covers. At the U.S. Botanical Garden, they are planted in shade beneath a large tree.

slope with native christmas ferns and iris

In Alice's garden, they are planted as individuals on a slope to great effect. The planting design is evocative of a natural woodland.

containers with christmas ferns

Christmas ferns are fantastic in containers. They add year round interest and, if you water the containers every once in a while in winter, when the temperatures are above freezing, the fronds will stay upright for most of winter. These Christmas ferns are in their 4th year in the same containers.

Christmas ferns roll through the seasons. It's in early spring, though, when their true magic emerges. Watching fronds unfurl is fascinating. Plant some in containers near a door so you are sure not to miss the fun. It is phenomenal!

Christmas ferns are widely available at native plant nurseries, many garden centers and online.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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