Winter Fern Care: Can Your Ferns Make It Through the Cold?

As winter draws near, you might wonder if your lush ferns can brave the cold. Ferns, with their delicate fronds, aren’t typically associated with frosty weather, but you’ll be surprised to learn that many species are quite resilient. With the right care, your ferns can not only survive but thrive during the winter months.

Understanding which ferns can endure the cold and how to protect those that are more sensitive is key to ensuring they bounce back in spring. Let’s delve into the world of ferns and their winter hardiness, equipping you with the knowledge to keep your green friends flourishing all year round.

Different types of ferns that are winter hardy

Your winter garden doesn’t have to look bare and lifeless. Some ferns can add greenery to your garden even during the coldest months. Here’s a list of winter-hardy ferns that’ll keep your garden looking lush:

  • Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides): This North American native is an evergreen fern that gets its name because it stays green until Christmas. It’s an excellent choice for ground cover in shady areas.
  • Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum): Renowned for its tall, sword-like fronds, this evergreen fern is robust and can handle a variety of winter conditions.
  • Leatherwood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis): This evergreen species thrives in cooler climates and offers a leathery texture that can withstand frosty temperatures.
  • Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina): While not as cold-tolerant as others on this list, the Lady Fern can endure light frost if it’s in a sheltered location.

Each of these ferns has unique characteristics, suiting various landscape designs. When planning your winter garden, it’s essential to consider your climate and the specific needs of each fern species. Proper placement and preparation will ensure that your ferns maintain their vibrancy throughout winter, generating warmth and life even during the frosty season.

Characteristics of winter hardy ferns

6db39273 f4d0 4d59 8230 879d5536aa45: 5ytpTlAsYARnw73wp7Nc

Unlocking the secrets to ferns that survive the chill of winter is crucial if you’re aiming to maintain a lush garden year-round. Winter hardy ferns share certain characteristics that enable them to withstand cold temperatures. Recognising these traits will help you select the best ferns for your wintery garden sanctuary.

Robust Root Systems

First and foremost, fern varieties that thrive in winter have robust root systems. These extensive roots store essential nutrients which sustain the plants through the colder months. For example, the Christmas Fern has a strong root network which is why it excels in winter conditions.

Dense Leaf Structures

Another defining trait is their dense leaf structures. Winter hardy ferns often feature leathery or waxy leaves, like those of the Leatherwood Fern. These tough leaves minimise water loss and damage from frost, allowing them to remain vibrant even when the temperature drops.

Flexible Growth Cycles

Flexibility in growth cycles also sets winter-tolerant ferns apart. They’re capable of entering a state of dormancy during extreme cold, halting growth but not life. The Lady Fern adjusts its growth cycle based on temperature and available sunlight, enduring chillier weather without harm.

Sunlight and Shelter Preferences

When selecting your ferns, consider their sunlight and shelter requirements as well. Sword Ferns are a prime example of how varying sunlight exposure and sheltering can influence survival rates in winter gardens. They prefer part-shade and need protection from harsh winds.

By understanding these traits and matching them with your garden’s conditions, you’ll provide an optimal environment for your ferns to not just survive, but actually flourish, even during the winter months. Consider the way these ferns adapt to the cold and emulate those conditions for best results in your garden.

How to prepare your ferns for winter

6db39273 f4d0 4d59 8230 879d5536aa45:U7aYTV YgBoldHywHQNRF

Preparing your ferns for the colder months is crucial for their survival and regrowth. Here are the vital steps you need to take to shield your ferns from the harsh winter conditions:

  • Insulate the Soil: Apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of your ferns. This acts as insulation, keeping the root system warm and preventing the soil from freezing.
  • Reduce Watering: While ferns need moisture, it’s important to cut down on watering as the temperature drops. Excessive moisture in cold conditions can lead to root rot.
  • Prune Dead Foliage: Remove any dead or dying fronds before the first frost hits. This helps prevent pests and diseases from taking hold during the winter.
  • Choose an Ideal Location: If your ferns are potted, move them to a sheltered spot. This could be under the eaves of your house or in a spot that receives winter sun but is protected from winds.

By following these steps, your ferns are better equipped to handle the cold. Remember, winter preparation for ferns is all about balance—providing enough protection to maintain a stable environment without stifling their natural resilience.

Protecting sensitive ferns during winter

6db39273 f4d0 4d59 8230

When temperatures drop, sensitive ferns need extra care to thrive through winter’s harsh conditions. Overwintering these plants might sound daunting but with the correct measures, your ferns can emerge even stronger once spring arrives.

Choose an Appropriate Indoor Space

If your ferns are in pots, moving them indoors is the first step toward protection. Find a space that’s cool but doesn’t go below freezing. A basement or garage can serve as an ideal environment provided they still receive some natural light. Consistent temperatures between 7°C and 10°C are optimal for most sensitive fern species.

Increase Humidity

Indoor heating systems can significantly reduce humidity levels, which is problematic for ferns that thrive in moisture-rich air.

  • Place a humidifier near your ferns to maintain adequate humidity levels.
  • Alternatively, place your fern pots on a tray filled with water and pebbles; this ensures the roots don’t sit in water while the evaporating moisture benefits the leaves.

Protect from Cold Drafts and Heat Sources

Sensitive ferns are particularly susceptible to sudden temperature changes.

  • Position your ferns away from cold drafts which can cause the leaves to dry out.
  • Keep them at a safe distance from radiators and other heating systems which can scorch the leaves and dry out the soil too quickly.

Adjust Watering and Fertilization

During winter months, ferns enter a dormant stage and their water requirements decrease. Too much water can lead to root rot and other diseases. Water sparingly, letting the top inch of soil dry out between waterings.

  • Fertilization should also be reduced or halted until growth resumes in spring.

By implementing these protective strategies for your sensitive ferns, you’ll ensure they stay healthy and vigorous throughout the unpredictable winter season. Each tip helps to simulate the natural habitat of the fern, reducing stress and promoting vitality. Remember, your careful attention during these cooler months pays off when you see your ferns flourish with the return of warmer weather.

Tips for ensuring your ferns thrive during winter

6db39273 f4d0 4d59 8230 879d5536aa45:flR8b0UA5vWFIHLyLk 9V

When the temperature drops, ​your ferns need extra attention​. You’ve moved them in to shield them from the frost, but there are more steps to ensure they not only survive but thrive during the colder months.

Maintain Proper Lighting

Ferns demand ample indirect light, especially in winter. Shorter days mean less natural light ​so supplementing with grow lights can be beneficial. Position your ferns near north or east-facing windows where the sun’s rays are gentler. Artificial light sources should be placed around 12 inches above the ferns and kept on for about 14 hours a day to mimic natural conditions.

Control the Temperature

Even indoors, sudden temperature changes can stress ferns. Keep them in rooms that maintain a **steady temperature between 15-21°C (59-70°F)**​. Avoid areas with rapid temperature fluctuations, like near heating vents or drafty windows.

Adjust Watering Routines

During winter, ferns enter a semi-dormant state and require less water. Allow the soil’s top layer to dry out slightly before watering​. This approach helps prevent root rot from overwatering, which is a common issue during colder months when plants use less water.

Provide Nutrients Smartly

While ferns need less fertilisation in winter, they still require some nutrients to support their health. Offer a half-strength liquid fertilizer​ once every two months to sustain them without overfeeding which can lead to a buildup of salts in the soil.

Implementing these tips will help maintain the vitality of your ferns until spring’s warmth encourages their return to full growth. Remember to monitor your plants for any signs of distress and adjust your care routine as necessary. With the right care, your ferns can flourish even in the heart of winter.


You’ve got the knowledge to keep your ferns flourishing through the coldest season. Remember, it’s all about mimicking their natural habitat. Ensure they’re basking in the right amount of light, nestled in a cozy spot with stable temperatures, and watered just enough to stave off thirst without drowning their roots. A touch of fertilizer will go a long way to see them through till spring. Stick to these guidelines and you’ll enjoy the lush, green fronds of your ferns year-round.

Curb Wise