How to Grow Dixie Wood Ferns

Add height and interest to your shade garden

Dryopteris x australis overhead shot of fronds.

oracul / Getty Images

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.

Light

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.

Soil

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.

Water

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. 

Fertilizer

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

Are Dixie Wood Ferns Toxic?

Parts of the Dixie wood fern are known to be toxic to humans and animals. Exercise caution if you have pets or young children and ensure that they do not consume any part of this fern.

Symptoms of Poisoning

  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin irritation
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea

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/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.