The Toothwood Fern lends a special note to any woodland or shade garden with its rich green color and sharply toothed fronds. This North American and European native, also known as the Toothed Wood Fern, is happy in partial or complete shade. Its delicate, lacy profile in the wild is easy to spot in wet woods, forested bogs, and creek banks. Tolerating a broad range of climates, from Zone 3 to Zone 9, the tooth wood fern is deciduous in colder climes; it is evergreen in the southernmost part of its range. It prefers moist, acidic soil with some sand and rock content but can handle diverse garden conditions as long as it receives adequate water and the soil drains well. This hardy fern is ideal for beginning gardeners while offering interest for more sophisticated soil stewards.
Toothwood Fern is a Great Background or Border Plant for the Shade Garden
Although considered a medium to large fern, averaging 2 feet in height, the tooth wood fern rarely spreads beyond 24 inches and mounds in a very orderly and symmetrical pattern. There's little danger of it crowding out other plantings. With its vase-like shape and green color, it forms a lovely, lacy contrast to more brightly colored, lower-growing plants but also works well as a unique border for such tall shade-tolerant shrubs as hydrangea. The toothwood fern pairs particularly well with the shade-loving hosta. It also masses well with other varieties of fern.
Toothwood Fern is Perfect for Both Beginner and Expert Gardeners
Despite its delicate, frilly appearance, the toothwood fern is remarkably hardy and low maintenance. It rarely suffers insect or virus infestations and is mainly resistant to depredation by deer, groundhogs, and rabbits. Animals that do attempt to sample the fronds find the taste disagreeable and move on to tastier grazing.
The toothwood fern should be planted in a hole large enough to accommodate its roots fully. The roots should not be bent or circled each other. The crown should be level with the soil surface. Apart from watering in dry weather, the only maintenance required is to trim back old fronds when they lose their vibrant color and erect posture. Late winter is the best time for trimming.
More ambitious gardeners may lend Mother Nature a hand with the propagation task. Like most ferns, the toothwood relies on the wind to spread the spores released from the fronds. These "sori" (the structures that contain the spores) develop as dark brown circles on the underside of the fronds. In late summer or early fall, the sori release a fine, black powder (the spores). This powder can be harvested, dried for a few days under a light bulb, and then scattered on new, humus-rich soil to start a new crop of toothwood ferns.
Both lacy and challenging, the toothwood fern is an innovative addition to any shady garden spot.