lady fern vs ostrich fern

Lady Fern vs Ostrich Fern: Which Fern is Best for Your Garden

When it comes to choosing ferns for your garden, lady ferns and ostrich ferns are two popular options. These ferns may share a similar purpose of adding beauty and greenery to your outdoor space, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, I will compare lady ferns and ostrich ferns, highlighting their differences and helping you decide which fern is best suited for your garden.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lady ferns are known for their delicate and dainty appearance, while ostrich ferns have an upright growth habit with large, showy fronds.
  • Lady ferns are relatively tolerant of sun and dry soil, while ostrich ferns prefer medium to wet, slightly acidic soils and part shade.
  • Lady ferns drop their leaves in the fall, while ostrich ferns produce distinctive fertile fronds.
  • Consider the desired size, appearance, and growing conditions of your garden when choosing between lady ferns and ostrich ferns.

Lady Fern Characteristics and Facts

Lady ferns, also known as Athyrium spp., are a popular choice for shady gardens due to their delicate and dainty appearance. These ferns have fronds that vary in size and structure, with some being upright and others spreading. They are relatively tolerant of sun and dry soil, although they prefer part shade and moist conditions. Lady ferns are known to drop their leaves in the fall.

When it comes to identification, lady ferns can be recognized by their delicate fronds and graceful appearance. Some popular cultivars of lady ferns include Japanese painted fern, Athyrium ‘Ghost’, and ‘Lady in Red’ lady fern. Japanese painted ferns have silver fronds brushed with red and blue tints on burgundy stems, while ‘Ghost’ lady fern is more upright with silvery foliage. ‘Lady in Red’ lady fern is a cross between Japanese painted fern and Southern lady fern, featuring red-violet stems and lacy, light green foliage.

Lady ferns are not only visually appealing but also serve as great ground cover or companions to other shade-loving perennials in the garden. Their soft and elegant presence adds a touch of beauty to any landscaping project.

Lady Ferns Ostrich Ferns
Scientific Name Athyrium spp. Matteuccia struthiopteris
Size Varies, with some being upright and others spreading 4 to 6 feet in height, with a spread of 3 to 6 feet
Fronds Delicate and dainty Long and lacy, resembling ostrich plumes
Preferred Growing Conditions Part shade and moist conditions Medium to wet, slightly acidic soils and full to part shade
Leaf Drop Leaves drop in the fall N/A

Ostrich Fern Characteristics and Facts

When it comes to adding drama and height to your garden, look no further than the majestic ostrich fern. With its upright growth habit and impressive height of 4 to 6 feet, this fern is sure to make a statement. Its feathery and lacy fronds resemble ostrich plumes, adding a touch of elegance to any landscape.

Identifying the ostrich fern is quite easy. Look for its distinctive two types of fronds. The first are the showy “infertile fronds” that are long and lacy, creating a stunning visual display. The second are the dark brown “fertile fronds” that appear in midsummer and add depth to the overall appearance. These fertile fronds persist through the winter, providing some interest during the colder months.

Ostrich ferns prefer medium to wet, slightly acidic soils and thrive in full to part shade. They are known for their rapid spread, thanks to their underground rhizomes. In fact, they can form large and dense colonies if given the space to do so. If you’re considering adding ostrich ferns to your garden, make sure to provide them with enough room to spread out and create a cool and sheltered environment for optimal growth.

In summary, ostrich ferns are characterized by their impressive height, feathery fronds, and rapid spread. They thrive in moderately moist and slightly acidic soils, requiring full to part shade. If you’re looking to add a touch of drama and elegance to your garden, the ostrich fern is an excellent choice.


What are the differences between lady ferns and ostrich ferns?

Lady ferns have a delicate and dainty appearance, varying in size and structure. Ostrich ferns, on the other hand, have an upright growth habit and can reach heights of 4 to 6 feet with long and lacy fronds resembling ostrich plumes.

What growing conditions do lady ferns prefer?

Lady ferns are relatively tolerant of sun and dry soil but prefer part shade and moist conditions.

What growing conditions do ostrich ferns prefer?

Ostrich ferns prefer medium to wet, slightly acidic soils and full to part shade.

Can lady ferns be used as ground cover?

Yes, lady ferns are a great choice for ground cover in shady gardens.

How do ostrich ferns spread?

Ostrich ferns spread through underground rhizomes and can form large, dense colonies.

Similar Posts