How To Grow Ghost Fern (Athyrium Hybrida)

The ghost fern, also known as Athyrium Hybrida [uh-THEE-ree-um, hy-BRID-uh] is, a hybrid fern of Japanese painted fern (Athyrium Niponicum Var) and lady fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina). 

It was first discovered in the garden of Nancy Swell, a plant specialist and enthusiast.

Ghost Fern (Athyrium Hybrida)Pin
Image by David J. Stang [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The ghost fern is characterized by upright fronds with a beautiful, ghost-like silver hue with the tendency to grow and spread quickly and easily.

Ferns are native to tropical regions and grow abundantly in tropical climates, although they can survive in colder regions such as Antarctica and North America. 

While certain species have been around for hundreds of millions of years, the ghost fern is a relatively new member of the family. 

Common names for the ghost fern include:

  • Athyrium Ghost (Ah-thee-re-um)
  • Athyrium Hybrida

Sometimes, the plant is simply referred to as “ghost”.

Ghost Fern Care Instructions

Size & Growth

The ghost fern spreads slowly over time and may grow to a height of around 24″ – 36” inches tall and each plant can easily cover an area of 12″ – 18″ inches. 

Ghost ferns are perennials and can survive for up to 3-4 years.

These plants are deciduous ferns and shed their leaves in the winter. 

New growth begins in early spring up to summer.

Flowering and Fragrance

At their best, ghost Athyrium ferns are beautiful with dark purple midribs (stems) and tall fronds in an apple green shade with a hint of silver. 

The fronds also tend to grow in an upright habit. 

The plant itself is non-flowering.

Light & Temperature

The ghost fern grows best in sheltered areas with partial shade. 

If the plant is exposed to full sun, it can bleach the leaves and alter their appearance. 

However, they do require a little sunlight (around 4 hours a day) to bring out the true color of the fronds.

The ideal USDA hardiness zones are between 4-8. 

Watering and Feeding

The ghost fern needs to be water regularly, ideally once a week or enough to ensure the soil remains moist.

Soil & Transplanting

These plants thrive in well-drained, moist soil. 

Ghost Athyrium require organic matter to grow and it’s recommended to use compost/mulch as fertilizer, especially if you’re growing the ferns in the sand.

It is quite resilient and can survive drought spells better than some other fern species. 

However, keep in mind these ferns won’t have the same beautiful leaves well-nourished ferns have. 

The soil pH should be neutral or very slightly acidic for the ferns to grow properly.

Grooming and Maintenance

The plant is deciduous in winter so it’s best not to remove any old fronds to protect the crowns and tender shoots. 

Old fronds may be removed in spring which is also the best time to propagate the plant. 

Apart from this, the ghost fern is a pretty low maintenance plant and doesn’t need to be pruned frequently.

How to Propagate Athyrium Hybrida

Although there are a couple of ways to propagate ghost ferns, the best way is to propagate by division. 

Ideally, you should propagate ferns in spring. 

Here’s how:

  • Start by watering the plant.
  • Then slowly remove it from its container (or from the patch of soil it’s being grown in). 
  • Separate the plant into 2-3 clumps ensuring each clump has at least 1 growing tip (this is where the new fronds will start to grow from).
  • Replant these clumps in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil and ensure the clumps remain moist, at least until the new fronds start to appear.

If you want to use the spores for propagation instead, here is want you need to do:

  • Locate the cluster of yellow-green spore under the fern fronds.
  • Remove the frond and place it on wax paper for a day or two to allow the spores to fall off.
  • Heat the fronds in the microwave with some potting mix (taking care not to burn yourself) to kill off bacteria.
  • Place them in a container by a window, covered in plastic.
  • Over time, you’ll see it begin to grow – during this time start exposing the plant to the air.
  • Fronds should start appearing within the next 6-8 weeks after which the ferns should be transferred to their own separate pots or into the soil.

Athyrium Hybrida Pest or Disease Problems

This fern doesn’t experience any major problems from pests or disease.

Sometimes mealybugs and scale insects are a problem.

Planting these ferns in their ideal conditions helps make them more resistant and healthy.

Is This “Ghost” Toxic Or Poisonous?

This type of fern is toxic for both humans and animals and proper care should be taken when planting these in a space near pets or children.

Is The Athyrium Plant Invasive?

While many species of ferns are considered to be invasive, the ghost fern does not pose any such problems for gardeners.

Suggested Ghost Fern Uses

Ghost ferns are mostly used for their foliage color in the garden and are great since they last a few years and are rabbit and deer resistant. 

They also attract many butterflies. 

While they don’t have any particular use, they add good texture and provide plenty of ground cover. 

They are often planted with hostas (another foliage plant) to add some life to your garden.

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