Will ferns grow well under a spruce tree in USDA zone 5?


Most spruce trees have a branches that extend all the way down the trunk and allow very little room under the canopy for growth. If your tree has some space underneath and you are thinking of growing ferns as a groundcover under the very dense tree canopy rather than around the circumference of the canopy, you will need to choose a low growing fern that tolerates shade very well; not all do. Otherwise, the mildly acid, loose and fast-draining soil that benefits a spruce, is also what is best for many ferns making them good companions. Make sure that the soil is in good condition by adding some organic compost before you plant the ferns.

Some good groundcover ferns that are hardy in USDA zone 5 include:

  • Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay scented fern) - grows better in partial rather than full shade but will grow in both. Spreads quickly by rhizome and emerges from dormancy early in the season. About 12 to 18 inches tall.
  • Phegopteris hexagonoptera (broad beech fern) - less hardy and more risky in zone 5 but okay if the site is not subject to strong winds. Grows better in partial rather than full shade but will grow in both. About 18 to 24 inches tall under best conditions.
  • Phegopteris connectilis (narrow beech fern) - a cold climate fern that does well in your USDA zone, this is a slower spreader that grows up to 18 inches tall but is typically under 1 foot. It will grow well in full shade but has the best green color in partial shade. It should only be planted in a location that won't dry out.
  • Thelypteris noveboracensis (New York fern) - a rapidly spreading, dense and finely-textured groundcover fern that typically reaches 12 to 18 inches. Drought tolerant though prefers the same conditions (fast-draining dampish soil) as the other ferns.
  • Thelypteris palustris (marsh fern) - similar to New York fern, but needs to have at least partial sun and must have damp soil. Needs protection from strong winds when grown in your location.

Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service


  • Last Updated Jun 23, 2022
  • Views 17
  • Answered By Leslie Coleman

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