How to Grow Bracken Ferns

Updated February 21, 2017

Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) are deciduous, fast- and tall-growing ferns native to many parts of the world. It is the most abundant fern on the planet and is well-adapted to a range of climate and soil conditions. Select a location for bracken ferns where grazing animals won't have access to it, since consuming large amounts of bracken fern makes grazing animals ill. Bracken ferns not only outgrow many nearby plants, their leaves are alleopathic (harmful) to some types of vegetation. Give bracken ferns plenty of room to grow, as they grow 3 to 6 feet tall.

Purchase bracken ferns from a native plant garden centre in spring or fall. Planting in milder seasons prevents plant shock from the severity of summer or winter temperatures.

Find a site with partial sun or full sun. While bracken ferns tolerate shade, they prefer more light. The site need not be near a constant water source, since bracken ferns tolerate drought very well.

Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and up to twice as wide with a spade. Ease the bracken fern root ball out of the container. Loosen the roots from the bottom of the root ball with your fingers. Center the bracken fern in the hole, then spread the roots a bit. Backfill around the root ball halfway up, water in to settle the soil, then backfill the rest of the way. Do not cover the root ball with soil.

Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of coarse compost to conserve soil moisture, prevent weeds and allow compost nutrients to seep slowly into the soil. Protecting the bracken fern root ball from competition with other plants and water loss helps prevent plant stress while the bracken fern is establishing.

Water bracken ferns deeply about once a week until established. After they're established, their drought tolerance kicks in and they need water less frequently to survive.

Install deep-seated edging around the area where you planted bracken fern to help prevent its spread by rhizomes. Bracken ferns also spread by spores carried on the wind. Bracken fern does not come up from spores easily where vegetation is already present. Pull the entire root system of unwanted bracken fern volunteers.

Things You'll Need

  • Spade
  • Coarse compost mulch
  • Trimmers or mower
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About the Author

Samantha Belyeu has been writing professionally since 2003. She began as a writer and publisher for the Natural Toxins Research Center and has spent her time since as a landscape designer and part-time writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas A&M University in Kingsville.