Growing Dryopteris in Containers- Growing Male Fern or Copper Shield Fern

Dryopteris makes a great fern in containers
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In this article, we will discover how to grow the beautiful fern of Dryopteris in containers. They are low maintenance plants that have the common name of male fern or copper shield fern, depending on the species grown.

The main advantage is that they will grow in a wide range of conditions from poor soil to rich soil in the shade and even in full sun if you are prepared to water.

Dryopteris makes a great fern in containers
Dryopteris makes a great fern in containers

Several ferns can be grown in pots but the one that is normally recommended is Dryopteris filix-mas, the male fern that has a shuttlecock-like habit. In spring as the new leaves unfurl adds great interest to the plant, ad an ‘alien looking’ frond appears above the old leaves.

In this article, you will find how to grow this beautiful architectural plant in containers.


As most Dryopteris originates from wet woodlands then it is no surprise that they prefer to be grown in the shade or partial shade, as long as the compost it is grown in is moist at all times.

If you want to grow a Dryopteris in full sun, be more careful as the leaves can be scorched. They will also need to be in constant moisture for the plant to do well. Which can be difficult to do in a heatwave. This is why I recommend that you place them in the shade as it will make your life easier. Wherever you place your Dryopteris, make sure it is sheltered away from strong winds that can damage leaves and from areas where frosts can be a problem.

First, choose a container that will be in balance and suit the plant in question. Place it on a location that is sheltered in the shade and will suit the plants around it. For smaller ferns use a smaller pot whilst for larger specimens use larger pots.

Dryopteris filix-mas
Dryopteris filix-mas

Make sure that the container you use has some drainage holes in them to allow excess water to drain away, but not too many as the growing media must be moist at all times. In the container fill it with good quality, multipurpose compost to near the top.

To the growing media, dig a hole that is roughly the same depth as the root ball, but twice as wide.  Place the plant in so the top of the root ball is at the same level as the top surface of the compost.  Backfill with the growing media, so that no gaps remain. If they remain you can fill them with more compost. Firm the plant in and water well. Do not plant the fern any deeper as this can cause the roots and crown to rot.


You will need to continue to water well until the plant is well established, making sure the compost is never allowed to dry out. It may take your fern two years to establish so keep up watering until then. Once established to a certain degree it will tolerate droughts very well, but in containers, you must maintain your vigil to make sure it does not dry out too much.

It is best when watering to water the compost around the plant and not upon the crown itself as this can encourage root rot.

The beauty of Dryopteris is that they do not require much in the way of fertilizing. What I would do in early spring is give the plant in the container an annual dressing of fish, blood and bone or growmore. Once a year feed should be more than enough.

In early spring, you will need to give your plant a going over by pruning all dead leaves and unsightly fronds before the new fronds (called crosiers) appear and unfurl. This will neaten the plant but also promote good air circulation around the plant.

Dryopteris erythrosora
Dryopteris erythrosora

Once the pot has become overcrowded, you can split the plant, ensuring each growing division has one growing point within them.  These can then be individually potted up – one division per pot. You may find that you will need two gardening forks to do this.

You can grow from spores (the seeds of ferns) but this is not recommended for most gardeners. This is because it is time-consuming and you will have to be patient, so not for those who want to have instant appeal in the container garden.


The good news is that no pests and diseases are observed with this plant. You will need to keep the compost moist at all times and protected from windy conditions. Avoid watering the crown that can lead to root and stem rot and the death of the plant.


The one to grow for instant impact in the garden is Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern) with its shuttlecock-like growing habit and its beautiful new leaves that unfurl in spring.  Varieties to grow includes: Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ the crested male fern and ‘Linearis Polydactila’ with its beautiful arching fronds.

Dryopteris wallichiana
Dryopteris wallichiana

Dryopteris erythrosora (Japanese Shield Fern) produces fluffy fronds that are tipped pink and mature to light green. All this from a neat clump that grows into an elegant plant.

 Dryopteris wallichiana ‘Jurassic Gold’ is a new fern whose new fronds emerge in spring with a rose-bronze tinge that matures to bright gold-green in summer. An excellent plant in containers.


In this article, we have discussed how to grow the wonderful fern of Dryopteris in containers. As you can see that in general, they are easy to grow, easy to care for and bring much elegant colour and architecture to the container garden.

If you want a plant that is home in the shady area then this is the plant for you.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to make on growing Dryopteris in containers, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy Dryopteris growing.

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