The Lady Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina) Care Guide

The Lady Fern, otherwise known as the Athyrium Filix-Femina or Female Polypody, is a somewhat well known fern plant native to the Northeast, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest of the United States.

Best known for its low maintenance and fast growth, this fern will likely liven up your house (or garden) with its light 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 Lady Fern Care Guide. So let’s dive in.

The fundamental caring guidelines for every Lady Fern can be summed up into the following:

  • Water: The Lady 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 Athyrium Filix-Femina in an environment where it can receive full to partial shade on a daily basis. 
  • Soil: Make sure to keep the Lady Fern in soil with moist but well-draining properties, so ideally, one that is made of sand, loam, and clay.

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

Lady Fern stem

Scientific / Botanical Aspects

In botanical terms, the Lady Fern belongs to the Athyriaceae family, the genus Athyrium and the species Filix-Femina, hence its scientific (or botanical) name Athyrium Filix-Femina (a-THEE-ree-um FY-liks FAY-mee-nuh).

As with other Athyrium’s, the Lady Fern is a herbaceous plant, which means it will die back to the ground every year. 

Growing Region

The Lady Fern is a plant native to the NW. Africa, Macaronesia and Europe to Mongolia. This is why the Athyrium Filix-Femina is used to growing in specific regions such as the states in Northeast, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest of the United States.

You might be wondering why your Lady 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 Athyrium Filix-Femina will be most used to the heat zones in the 1 – 9 region, as the plant hardiness level falls between 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a and the ideal climate zone is between 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, A1, A2, A3.

Growth and Size


In terms of size and growth, the Lady Fern is a relatively fast grower, which makes things tricky for any plant enthusiast.


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

The Athyrium Filix-Femina can grow up to 1′ – 3′ (30cm – 90cm) in 1′ – 3′ (30cm – 90cm) and 1′ – 3′ (30cm – 90cm) in 1′ – 3′ (30cm – 90cm). 

These dimensions make the Lady 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.

This is why experts recommend keeping an area of approximately 30″ (75cm) free so the Lady Fern can spread to its best extent.


In terms of watering, the Lady 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 Athyrium Filix-Femina 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. 

Lady Fern plant


As a rule of thumb, you should remember to keep your Lady 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 properties to keep the right moisture levels at all times. 

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

Soil Mix

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

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

Light and Exposure

In terms of light & exposure, the Lady Fern requires full to partial 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 Athyrium Filix-Femina 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 herbaceous plant, the Lady Fern will die back to the ground every year. 

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


The leaves from the Lady Fern have a beautiful light green color during most of the year.

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

You can expect the leaves from your Athyrium Filix-Femina to be around (> 6 inches) in size.

Lady Fern up close

Attracts, Tolerance and Resistance

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


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

Most Athyrium Filix-Femina owners agree that this fern will look great in most cottage, asian/zen contemporary, and rustic gardens of all types. 

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

In particular, the Lady Fern’s best location within your garden is in ponds and streams, beds and borders, and in underplanting roses and shrubs, others use it for landscaping in a houseplant, very wet areas, border, firescaping/fire wise, urban garden, mass planting, erosion control, container, or a woodland garden.

Companion Plants

Lady Fern’s do well with some other plants beside it. One good companion plant is the x Heucherella ‘Stop Light’, which will pair up nicely with your leafy friend.

Others consider that a nice Dicentra x ‘King of Hearts’ 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 Lady 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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