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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Pteridium aquilinum, Perennials--Care and maintenance, Ferns--Washington

My question has to do with the fall/winter foliage of bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). A friend trimmed the bracken to the ground. Will the bracken grow back next spring? This led to other questions. Does bracken lose only its leaves in the winter or does the entire plant die off? Does it spread through its roots or spores? Any information you have would be appreciated.


Bracken is deciduous, that is, the fronds die to the ground in winter and then regrow from the rhizomes in the spring. If your friend cut her bracken down to the ground late in the year there would be no problem. Even if it was earlier in the year, the bracken would probably survive. According to the fern books I read, people have tried mowing to remove their bracken with no success. The books also warn that bracken is very invasive and not recommended for small gardens. It spreads by underground rhizomes, maybe by spores as well, and can take over a large space in a very short time.

It might be a good idea to take a look at some pictures either in books or online (just enter the name in Google and select Images above the search box) to make sure this is what your friend has. Any deciduous fern (and even some evergreen ferns) can be cut to the ground in fall, but generally it is better to wait until the new fronds appear in spring to cut out the old fronds of evergreen ferns.

The USDA Plants Database provides further information.

Sources consulted:
The Plantfinder's Guide to Garden Ferns (by Martin Rickard, 2000)
Ferns to Know and Grow (by F. Gordon Foster, 1984)

Date 2017-01-18
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April 11 2017 13:50:16