Ostrich ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris, are hardy ferns, native to eastern North America, Europe and eastern Asia.
Grown outdoors in USDA zones 3 through 7, these ferns are more challenging to grow in pots. As a deciduous species, they are not ideal for indoor cultivation. But with some effort, it is also possible to grow them in containers in your home.
What is Ostrich Fern?
Ostrich ferns are attractive ferns that can even provide an edible yield. The young fronds are cooked and eaten before they unfurl. These are said to taste a little like asparagus.
The ostrich fern is sometimes confused with others that have a similar appearance – the cinnamon fern, Osmundastrum cinnamomea, and the interrupted fern, Osmunda claytoniana. But the shape and appearance of the fronds of each of these ferns is a little different.
The cinnamon fern has furry spots below the frond, where the stem and each leaf meet. The interrupted fern has forked veins, and its leaflets do not extend down to the ground as they do on the ostrich fern.
Where to Grow Ostrich Fern
Ostrich ferns can be grown in a range of shade to partial shade conditions outdoors, where consistent moisture is available.
Meeting the growing conditions indoors can be more challenging – particularly when it comes to temperatures. But it is possible if you are determined to grow these ferns indoors, as long as you consider everything that these ferns need.
Ostrich ferns will need bright but indirect light when growing indoors. They will do very well on a north or east-facing windowsill but should be kept out of bright, direct, harsh sunlight which can scorch their fronds.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
Ostrich ferns like locations with relatively cool summers, rather than those that are particularly hot and humid. Indoors, you will need to make sure that the location where you are growing your fern does not get too hot through the summer months.
It will also be important to make sure that, when growing indoors, the humidity does not drop too low. A humid bathroom may be suited to this fern. Or it might be grown in a closed terrarium in which humidity will be easier to maintain.
To maintain humidity, it can help to group houseplants together, mist regularly, and/or place your pots onto trays or saucers with pebbles and water in them.
Soil/ Growing Medium
Choosing the right growing medium is essential when growing ostrich ferns in pots. The medium should be moist yet reasonably free-draining. It is also ideal if the pH of the growing medium is on the acidic side, with a pH between 5 and 6.5.
Planting Ostrich Fern
Ostrich ferns can be purchased in pots and repotted into more permanent containers once they are delivered or you get them home. Make sure that you choose a container large enough to accommodate the roots of the fern and which will give the fern a little space to grow.
When planting an ostrich fern into a new container, make sure that the fern sits at the same depth in the growing medium that it sat at in its previous pot.
Caring for Ostrich Fern
Ostrich ferns in your garden require little care. Indoors in containers, more work will be required. But you should still find these ferns quite easy to grow.
Watering deeply and consistently is crucial when growing ostrich ferns. And it is important to remember that plants in containers will need to be watered more frequently than plants growing in the ground.
Keep the growing medium consistently moist. It is essential to prevent the plant from entering dormancy too early and a lack of water can cause this to occur.
Feeding these ferns is not required and can actually do more harm than good. These ferns are particularly sensitive to too excessive fertilizer and can be damaged by it.
Light feeding for those grown in containers may be fine. But as long as you use a humus-rich and fertile growing medium this should not be required.
One of the reasons that ostrich ferns might not always be the best choice for indoor growing is that they die back and enter dormancy over the winter months. So if you are looking for a fern that looks good indoors year round this fern is not the right choice for you.
The ostrich fern is hardy and can cope with temperatures down to around minus 20 degrees Celsius. But fronds will die back for the dormant phase before new growth emerges in the spring, whether your fern is indoors or outside.
So simply cut back the fronds and move your plant to a cool position. Water sparsely over winter, before moving the plant back to its usual position when new growth emerges in the spring.
The main problems that arise when growing ostrich ferns indoors do not relate to pests or diseases but rather to issues with environmental conditions or care.
Position your plant correctly and provide the right care – especially when it comes to watering – and you are far less likely to encounter any problems when growing this fern.
Ostrich ferns grow quickly and may need to be repotted more frequently than slower-growing species. Still, you should repot these ferns only when they become root bound and the roots fill the container.
Each time you repot you should replace the growing medium, and choose a container just a little larger than the last.