The Complete Guide for Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum Setiferum) Care

The Soft Shield Fern, otherwise known as the Polystichum Setiferum or Soft Field Fern, Polystichum setiferum angulare, Polystichum setiferum bulbosum, is a rather well known fern plant by gardening enthusiasts around the world.

Best known for its low maintenance and moderate growth, this fern will likely liven up your house (or garden) with its green colored leaves. But, only if you learn how to take proper care of it for it to thrive.

Fortunately, this is exactly what we’ll cover in this Soft Shield Fern Care Guide. So let’s dive in.

The basic care guidelines you need to remember for your Soft Shield Fern are the following:

  • Water: The Soft Shield Fern grows best with regular watering to keep the soil moist during the dry season. Reduce watering once the plant is established.
  • Light: Keep your Polystichum Setiferum in an environment where it can receive full shade on a daily basis. 
  • Soil: Make sure to keep the Soft Shield Fern in soil with moist but well-draining properties, so ideally, one that is made of clay, loam, chalk, and sand.

That’s it – sunlight, water and soil! The basic 3 fundamentals for all plant care, and with the Soft Shield Fern this is no exception. With these three elements, your leafy friend will live healthy and happy.

Soft Shield Fern plants

Scientific / Botanical Aspects

In botanical terms, the Soft Shield Fern belongs to the Polypodiaceae family, the genus Polystichum and the species Setiferum, hence its scientific (or botanical) name Polystichum Setiferum (pol-LIST-ik-um say-TI-fe-rum).

As with other Polystichum’s, the Soft Shield Fern is a semi-evergreen plant, which means it will shed its leaves but only for a short period of time.

Growing Region

The Soft Shield FernMacaronesia and Mediterranean to Iran.

Knowing your plant’s native region is very useful, as it can give you tips on which environment is best for your Soft Shield Fern. If you keep it in mind, you can try to replicate these conditions at home, and you’ll likely end with a healthier plant.

With this in mind, the Polystichum Setiferum will be most used to the heat zones in the 5 – 9 region, as the plant hardiness level falls between 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9a and the ideal climate zone is between 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24.

Growth and Size


In terms of size and growth, the Soft Shield Fern is a relatively moderate grower, which makes things somewhat easy for any plant enthusiast.


But, how big does the Soft Shield Fern actually get? What should you expect in terms of size? Let’s dive right in…

The Polystichum Setiferum can grow up to 2′ – 3′ (60cm – 90cm) in 2′ – 3′ (60cm – 90cm) and 2′ – 3′ (60cm – 90cm) in 2′ – 3′ (60cm – 90cm). 

These dimensions make the Soft Shield Fern a relatively medium 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.

Also, expect it to grow in a wonderful spreading shape, which is something worthwhile to remember when making your garden landscape plans.

This is why experts recommend keeping an area of approximately 36″ (90cm) free so the Soft Shield Fern can spread to its best extent.


In terms of watering, the Soft Shield 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 Polystichum Setiferum grows best with regular watering to keep the soil moist during the dry season. Reduce watering once the plant is established.

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

Soft Shield Fern care


As a rule of thumb, you should remember to keep your Soft Shield Fern in soil with moist but well-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, and moist properties to keep the right moisture levels at all times. 

But, if you want a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to watering your Soft Shield 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 Soft Shield Fern needs or does not need water, every time.

Soil Mix

As mentioned earlier, the Soft Shield Fern prefers to have soil with good drainage, and moist 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 Soft Shield Fern requires soil with clay, loam (silt), and sand, 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 Soft Shield Fern requires full shade 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 Polystichum Setiferum 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).


Being a semi-evergreen plant, the Soft Shield Fern will shed its leaves but only for a short period of time.

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


The leaves from the Soft Shield Fern have a beautiful green color during most of the year.

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

You can expect the leaves from your Polystichum Setiferum to be around (> 6 inches) in size.

Soft Shield Fern spike

Attracts, Tolerance and Resistance

The Soft Shield Fern is well known for its tolerance to dry soil and animals like rabbit and deer, so don’t worry if any of these come along, your Polystichum Setiferum will be fine.


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

Most Polystichum Setiferum owners agree that this fern will look great in most rustic, asian/zen cottage, and tropical gardens of all types. 

Other owners consider that they complement well most gardens of gravel and rock garden, prairie and meadow, city and courtyard, informal and cottage, and in traditional garden styles. 

In particular, the Soft Shield Fern’s best location within your garden is in beds and borders, and in underplanting roses and shrubs, others use it for landscaping in a dry shade, rock garden, border, ground cover, or a woodland garden.

Companion Plants

Soft Shield Fern’s do well with some other plants beside it. One good companion plant is the Polygonatum, which will pair up nicely with your leafy friend.

Others consider that a nice Aquilegia will work well too, so choose whichever you find works best for you!


And we’ve come to an end. Fortunately, that’s everything you need to know about your Soft Shield Fern 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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