The Complete Guide for Male Fern (Dryopteris Filix-Mas) Care

The Male Fern, otherwise known as the Dryopteris Filix-Mas or Basket Fern, Shield Fern, is a somewhat well known fern plant native to the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and the Southwest of the United States.

Best known for its low maintenance, this fern will likely liven up your house (or wherever you decide to place it). But, only if you learn how to take proper care of it for it to thrive.

Fortunately, taking care of your Male Fern is not too difficult – as long as you follow our guidelines in this Male Fern Care Guide. Now let’s get started.

In order to take proper care of your Male Fern you’ll need to keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • Water: The Male Fern loves moist soil but will still survive dusty soil when it is established.
  • Light: Keep your Dryopteris Filix-Mas in an environment where it can receive partial sun on a daily basis. 
  • Soil: Make sure to keep the Male Fern in soil with moist but well-draining properties, so ideally, one that is made of clay, loam, chalk, and sand.

And as with many other plants, these are the only three care factors you need to remember to make sure your Male Fern is, for the most part, healthy and well to survive.

Scientific / Botanical Aspects

In botanical terms, the Male Fern belongs to the Polypodiaceae family, the genus Dryopteris and the species Filix-Mas, hence its scientific (or botanical) name Dryopteris Filix-Mas.

Growing Region

The Male Fern is a plant native to the Temperate Northern Hemisphere.

This is why the Dryopteris Filix-Mas is used to growing in specific regions such as the states in Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and the Southwest of the United States.

You might be wondering why your Male Fern’s native region is important. Well, if you know where your plant originally came from, you’ll know which environment conditions it prefers, and with it, knowledge on how to replicate it at home.

With this in mind, the Dryopteris Filix-Mas will be most used to the heat zones in the 1 – 8 region, as the plant hardiness level falls between 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a and the ideal climate zone is between 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17.

Growth and Size


So, what size of Male Fern are we talking about? What can you expect in terms of height, spread and spacing? Let’s dig in…

The Dryopteris Filix-Mas can grow up to 2′ – 4′ (60cm – 120cm) in 2′ – 4′ (60cm – 120cm) and 2′ – 4′ (60cm – 120cm) in 2′ – 4′ (60cm – 120cm). 

These dimensions make the Male Fern a relatively large fern compared to others, so it’s best to keep this fact in mind since it will affect where you want to keep yours at home.

This is why experts recommend keeping an area of approximately 48″ (120cm) free so the Male Fern can spread to its best extent.


In terms of watering, the Male Fern is a fairly complicated plant to take care of. This is mostly because it has a not so straightforward watering schedule and somewhat regular watering needs.

Specifically, most experts agree that the Dryopteris Filix-Mas loves moist soil but will still survive dusty soil when it is established.

Which is why it is considered a plant with relatively average needs in terms of water. 

As a rule of thumb, you should remember to keep your Male Fern in soil with well-draining, to moist but well-draining, and to even poorly draining characteristics, as these will guarantee the right conditions for your plant to grow and thrive. 

When you consider this, this is why you should aim to choose soil that has good drainage properties to keep the right moisture levels at all times. 

But, if you want a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to watering your Male Fern then you should consider the famous ‘finger’ test. To perform this test, you just need to put your finger in your plant’s soil and determine if it’s moist or not. If it is, then don’t water; if it isn’t, then please do. In any case, this test will allow you to know if your Male Fern needs or does not need water, every time.

Soil Mix

As mentioned earlier, the Male Fern prefers to have soil with good drainage properties at all times, reason why you need to make the soil mix out of clay, loam, chalk, and sand.

This is why most experts agree that the Male Fern requires soil with clay, high organic matter, and loam (silt), which will give you the right conditions it needs.

In addition to this, expert gardeners recommend having preferably alkaline, acid or neutral soil.

Light and Exposure

In terms of light & exposure, the Male Fern requires partial sun in order for it to thrive under the right conditions

Most experts agree that this fern will do well as long as you keep it in partial sun to shade, and it will be able to grow properly.

Specifically, we recommend that you place your Dryopteris Filix-Mas in from full or deep shade (no direct sunlight or at most 2 hours per day), to little to partial shade (only 2-6 hours of direct sunlight a day), to dappled or moderate shade (under other plant’s canopy).


But, you can expect it to have its ‘prime-time’ during the spring (mid, late), the summer (early, mid, late), and during the fall.


In particular, they have a compound (pinnately, bipinnately, palmately) and fronds arrangement with a other/more complex organization in its leaves.

Attracts, Tolerance and Resistance

The Male Fern is well known for its tolerance to clay soil and animals like rabbit, so don’t worry if any of these come along, your Dryopteris Filix-Mas will be fine.


How should you then organize your garden to include your new Male Fern? Here are some recommendations by expert gardeners.

Most owners consider that they complement well most gardens of informal and cottage, and in prairie and meadow styles. 

In particular, the Male Fern’s best location within your garden is in beds and borders, and in underplanting roses and shrubs,.


And we’ve come to an end. Fortunately that’s everything you need to know about your Dryopteris Filix-Mas to keep it safe and sound in your garden or home. Enjoy planting!

Martin Duran

Hey y'all! My name is Martin Duran and I am from Cali, Colombia. Since 2018 I have been learning about plants and how to take care of them. Here's is my journey... “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir

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