The male fern brings a touch of exotic flair to the home garden, which is particularly noticeable in any green area with its filigree evergreen leaf fronds. Around 150 different species of the plant, which belongs to the warm fern family, are now available, most of which are found in the northern hemisphere. In Central Asia, Europe and North America, the plant grows wild in forests, on slopes and in open spaces. Pinnate or bipinnate leaves that look like palm fronds grow on the central rib of the male fern, which can reach a total height of one meter. Hobby gardeners appreciate the plant because of its robustness and low maintenance requirements. The upright species Dryopteris filix-mas is used particularly frequently in private green areas.

location and soil

So that the male fern feels comfortable in the home garden, a sunny or shady area should be chosen as the location. Depending on the area in which the plant is cultivated, the plant prefers locations in different locations:

  • Wood: semi-shady to shady position
  • Edge of wood: semi-shady to shady position
  • Open space: sunny to semi-shady position
Note: The rigid male fern also thrives in sunny locations and between stones or scree.

In addition to groups of trees, shady areas in front of house walls or walls as well as limited areas in courtyards are ideal locations. In addition, the male fern is excellent for greening areas in the garden where cultivation is fundamentally difficult (“dead spots”). In large rock gardens, the plant has a particularly decorative effect alongside fragrant arachnid , jester flowers or marsh flowers, which form a decorative contrast to the male fern. The plant is also very decorative next to tall perennials or ericaceous plants.

In addition to the ideal location, one should also pay attention to optimal soil conditions, although the plant presents itself as quite undemanding. Dry to fresh soils are tolerated particularly well; On the other hand, over-wetted substrate is less suitable for the cultivation of male ferns. In addition, attention should be paid to good permeability of the soil used, which must have a medium humus content. For this purpose, conventional soil can also be mixed with bark culture substrate or bark mulch and your own natural compost. The soil is loosened as deep as possible, then about 5cm of substrate is poured up and finally mixed in. The pH value of the soil plays a subordinate role for the successful cultivation of male ferns;

watering and fertilizing

During the summer months, the plant is supplied with the water that brings regular rains. Only in very hot phases, when there is persistent drought, has the additional watering of the crop proven to be useful. If the selected location is not exactly at the edge of a pond, you should also pay attention to increasing the humidity, especially at very high temperatures in summer. For this purpose, spraying the plants with water has proven itself. Rainwater is most suitable because most types of fern are sensitive to lime, which is sometimes contained in considerable amounts in conventional water.

However, fertilization is rarely necessary. Extremely barren soils can be upgraded with a commercially available long-term fertilizer. However, care must be taken to ensure a very low concentration; too high a salt content in the soil can impair the optimal development of the male fern. During the winter months, no fertilization and no additional supply of water is necessary.

Optimum care of the worm fern

Overall, the male fern is very frugal. A particularly high life expectancy is given if the plant is always left in a chosen location and is no longer transplanted.

From time to time enriching the soil with bone meal or horn shavings has proven useful; these are placed directly in the soil where the plants are planted and ensure that the salt content in the soil does not rise too much. During the growth phase, it has also proven useful to enrich the irrigation water with a little milk once a week; a teaspoon of conventional cow’s milk is sufficient to ensure better growth of the male fern.

Classic spring care includes removing withered leaves; these are generously cut out of the fern between February and March. In addition, a targeted pruning has proven itself; this measure is best carried out before new growth. In the case of wintergreen species, on the other hand, no specific pruning is necessary, but only the cleaning out of old and dried-up fronds.

No special precautions need to be taken for the cold season. The plant presents itself as absolutely hardy; additional protection against frost is not necessary. In addition, the plant can also tolerate drastic temperature differences without suffering any damage.

multiply by division

The best time to divide the worm fern is spring or summer. For this purpose, the plant is dug out of the ground and gently shaken to free the root from the soil. The rootstock is then divided; a sharp knife is best used for this operation.

In order for the male fern to grow optimally afterwards, each section should be equipped with its own frond. Planting is best done immediately after dividing the plant; long-term storage of the cuts should be avoided. The substrate, which is dug out of the ground when digging the plant hole, should be mixed with some mulch to increase the permeability of the soil. The sections can now be inserted into the plant hole. Then put the soil mixed with the mulch back into the plant hole. The individual male ferns should be buried at least as deep as the mother plant.

In order for the plants to grow faster, the soil must always be kept moist, especially in the first few weeks. Sufficient irrigation is now necessary, especially with warm temperatures in summer.

Propagation via spores

Another way to propagate the plant is to grow young plants from spores. The following aspects must be taken into account here:

  • Spore formation: on the underside of the leaf
  • Spore collection time: from July to September
  • Substrate: Uniform soil (best sterilized to prevent fungal growth)
  • Cultivate: Put spores on the soil and spray with water
Tip: Propagation via spores works best if you also cover the planter with a transparent cover.

Propagation by cuttings

Alternatively, the plants can be propagated using cuttings. These can be separated from the fern fronds, preferably about 4 cm behind a vegetation point. The cut head cutting is then grown in a flower pot. It is enough to place the separated part of the plant on the slightly moistened soil, without pressing the cutting into the substrate. It is fixed with the help of a clip made of plastic or wire.

In order for a worm fern to develop from the cutting, optimal conditions for cultivation must be created. For this purpose, you put a hood made of flexible plastic over the flower pot, for example a plastic bag, and spend the construction in a warm and shady place. Rooting itself usually takes three to five weeks. During this time you should always carefully monitor the development of the cutting.

If a first shoot can be seen, the hood is pulled a little further from the flower pot every day until the budding plant is finally completely open. In this way, the young male fern can optimally get used to the environment. When the plant has finally increased in size, it can be placed outdoors.


When planting male ferns in open spaces or shady areas in the garden, different aspects should be considered:

  • best planting time: spring or autumn
  • Planting depth: only the rosette may look out of the ground
  • Care: adequate watering until the plant is well established

The male fern can be planted individually or within a group. Then it is best to form tuffs of three to five specimens. The optimal density of planting with male ferns consists of two to a maximum of four individual plants per square meter; then the plant also unfolds the best decorative effects.

diseases and pests

The male fern is hardly susceptible to diseases and pests. However, the infestation of slugs is possible, especially if they are in the green area anyway. The characteristic symptoms are damage caused by feeding on leaves, shiny traces of slime or grey-green heaps of excrement. Suitable countermeasures are artificial shelters for snails, which are set up in the endangered areas. The animals retreat under the offered boards, flat stones or roof tiles and you can then collect them in the morning and in the evening. It is best to then move the snails into the open field. A suitable preventive measure is the targeted promotion of beneficial insects, such as hedgehogs, toads and birds.

Use in folk medicine and toxicity

As the name suggests, the male fern was used in folk medicine as a classic remedy against worms. However, this sometimes led to poisoning; the plant contains various ingredients that have a toxic potential; these include above all aspidine, filicin and the enzyme thiaminase. If poisoning occurs – for example after swallowing the plant – symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and heart failure can occur. Not only small children should therefore be kept away from the plant; Certain animals also react to the consumption of male fern with symptoms of poisoning, which include bloody diarrhea, cramps or kidney damage. Cattle, horses, sheep and rodents are particularly affected.

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