Soft shield fern – planting, care and tips

Soft shield fern
Soft shield fern - by Kurt Stüber

Soft shield fern tolerates the sun and is a pretty, wintergreen backdrop in the bed. This is how to plant and care for the plant.

Profile of soft shield fern:

Scientific name: Polystichum setiferum

Plant family: wood fern family (Dryopteridaceae)

Other names: Alaskan fern, hedge fern

Planting time: Spring or Autumn

Location: partially shaded to shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, bouquets, single position, group planting, under wood planting, natural garden, rhododendron garden, rock garden, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-29 °C / -15 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: No

Plant characteristics and classification of soft shield fern

Plant order, origin and occurrence

Polystichum setiferum can be found in nature from southern Germany through Central and Southern Europe to North Africa and the Canary Islands, as well as in Asia Minor and the Caucasus. There the fern grows in perennial ravine and mountain forests, mostly under beech or fir. In the plant genus of ferns, Polystichum setiferum is one of around 200 different species. The soft shield ferns belong to the plant family of the wood fern family (Dryopteridaceae). It is also called Alaskan fern, or hedge fern.

Characteristics of soft shield fern


Polystichum setiferum is a perennial herbaceous plant. It is usually wintergreen and grows up to 120 centimeters (48 in) high and up to 100 centimeters (40 in) wide. The fern fronds, which are often arranged one above the other, grow slightly overhanging and have a funnel-shaped growth pattern.


The fronds of the soft shield fern are about one meter long (40 in) and up to 25 centimeters (10 in) wide. They are clearly petiolate and pinnate double to triple. Their color is matt green, the petioles are densely covered with reddish scales.


The Alaskan fern forms on the underside of the leaves the brown spores typical of ferns, which are quite small and are covered by a thin shield. The maturity of the spores extends from June to September.

Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum)
Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) – by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Soft shield fern – cultivation and care


Polystichum setiferum would like a partially shaded to shady spot, for example under tree tops as in its natural location.


Like most ferns, the soft shield fern prefers humus, nutrient-rich and moist soils.


Polystichum setiferum can be planted in spring or autumn. With extensive planting, you count three plants per square meter.


The soft shield fern can be propagated by dividing the rhizome in spring or autumn. It also spreads through spores itself in the garden. Older clusters can be dug up in spring or early autumn, cut with a spade and thus replanted at other places in the garden.


During the summer months, however, the hedge fern should be watered regularly. It is important to ensure that the soil is always kept moist without waterlogging. With a drainage of gravel under the plant this can be prevented accordingly.


Soft shield fern in the garden should be fertilized with liquid fertilizer in a light concentration once a month. Another option is to put some compost to the plant or fill some handful of compost in a bucket with water and water the plants with this swill. Plants in tubs or buckets, on the other hand, can stand the fertilizer once a week.


The care of the soft shield fern is limited to cutting off the withered fronds in early spring. Over the winter, you should definitely leave them there, because they give the bed structure and simply look “magic” with hoarfrost.

Diseases and pests

Polystichum setiferum is insensitive to pests and plant diseases. This also makes it an easy-care garden shrub in this sector.


Alaskan fern is sufficiently hardy and does not need additional winter protection.

Use in the garden

Soft shield fern is a decorative and uncomplicated leafy perennial for forest gardens and partially shaded places on the edge of trees. It also feels at home on a stream or in shady areas of rock gardens. The fern can be easily combined with flowering perennials such as lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis), foxglove (Digitalis) or the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica).


There are several varieties of Polystichum setiferum that grow more compact than the species itself and are reliably wintergreen. The variety ‘proliferum’ grows to a size of 50 to 70 centimeters (20 to 28 in) and has narrower fronds with a finer feathering. Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosum Densum’ has thick, softer fronds. Polystichum setiferum ‘Herrenhausen’ is particularly compact at 40 centimeters (16 in) in height and rather broad.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.