How to Grow Dixie Wood Ferns

Add height and interest to your shade garden

Dixie wood fern with dark green fronds layered behind each other

The Spruce / K. Dave

In This Article

The Dixie wood fern (Dryopteris x australis) is a unique and little-known naturally occurring hybrid fern that is native to the woodlands of the eastern U.S. Characterized by lustrous dark green fronds reaching three to four feet tall, the Dixie wood fern has a clumping growth habit and an upright arching appearance.

In their native habitat, Dixie wood ferns grow on the forest floor in shady, low-light conditions which makes them perfect for shade gardens or those tricky low-light areas of your garden where other plants just won’t grow. The lacy fronds of this delicate fern compliment other go-to shade classics such as the hosta. Add height and interest to your garden with the Dixie wood fern.

 Botanical Name Dryopteris x australis 
 Common Name Dixie wood fern 
 Plant Type Perennial 
 Mature Size 3-4 ft. tall, 3-4 ft. wide 
 Sun Exposure Full sun, partial sun, shade 
 Soil Type Clay, loamy 
 Soil pH Acidic 
 Bloom Time N/A 
 Flower Color N/A
 Hardiness Zones 5-9 , USA
 Native Area North America
 Toxicity Toxic to cats and dogs

Dixie Wood Fern Care

While their foliage may be delicate, when grown in ideal conditions Dixie wood ferns can be relatively low-maintenance additions to your garden. As with most ferns, Dixie wood ferns grow best in shady, moist conditions that mimic their native environment.

In the spring, apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture in the soil throughout the growing season and prevent weeds.

Dixie wood fern frond with bright green and delicate leaves closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Dixie wood fern plants with delicate sprawling leaves behind ground cover plants

The Spruce / K. Dave

Dixie wood fern plants with fronds layered bunched together

The Spruce / K. Dave


Dixie wood ferns are accustomed to growing in low-light conditions. A shady area that receives dappled sunlight throughout the day is ideal. However, unlike other fern species - these hardy ferns can tolerate full sun conditions as well, although they will require more frequent watering to ensure they do not dry out.


Dixie wood ferns prefer moist, acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Regularly amending the soil with compost and manure will help to encourage strong growth.


These ferns have medium to high water needs and require consistently moist soil, although they are known to be more tolerant of dry sites than other types of ferns.

Water your Dixie wood fern regularly to ensure that it does not dry out. In the first growing season, it is especially important to provide regular, deep waterings to help establish a strong root system.

Temperature and Humidity

Dixie wood ferns are hardy in USDA zones 5-9 and appreciate mid-range temperatures. They do not do well in regions that experience extreme cold or extreme heat. Similar to most ferns, Dixie wood ferns appreciate humid environments although they can tolerate dry conditions if necessary. 


Dixie wood ferns are considered high feeders and should be fertilized regularly. In addition to maintaining organic-rich soil, fertilize your Dixie wood fern in the late winter to early spring, and again mid-summer with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer

Propagating Dixie Wood Ferns

Dixie wood ferns can be easily propagated by division. These hybrid ferns are mostly sterile and cannot reproduce by spores as most other ferns do.

Where possible, it is best to wait until the plant has matured and is at least four to five years old before dividing. Divide plants in the spring or early autumn by gently separating the rhizomes into clumps and planting the newly separated plants in a separate location.

Common Pests and Diseases

For the most part, healthy Dixie wood ferns are relatively pest and disease-free. However, rust, leaf galls, fungal spots, and aphids can be a problem.

To treat fungal problems such as rust and fungal spots, clip the affected fronds and apply an organic fungicide.

Aphids can be tough to spot on ferns, but if you notice aphid damage the fern should be treated with insecticide until the pests are gone.

The presence of leaf galls is normally an indication of insect damage but it is purely a cosmetic issue and the insects are normally gone by the time the galls are noticeable. Trim affected fronds if desired to remove leaf galls.