Hay scented fern invasive

Hay Scented Fern Habitat Information: Growing Hay Scented Ferns

If you’re a lover of ferns, then growing hay scented fern in the woodland garden will certainly feed your enjoyment of these plants. Read on to learn more.

Hay Scented Fern Habitat

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) is a deciduous fern that, when crushed, releases a scent of fresh mowed hay. They can grow up to 2 feet in height and spread up to 3 to 4 feet wide. This fern grows singly from underground stems, called rhizomes.

Hay scented fern is a bright green that turns to a soft yellow in the fall. This fern is invasive, which makes it excellent for ground coverage, but because of its hardiness, you will not want to plant this with weaker growing plants.

These ferns grow in colonies and naturally repel deer. If you are using them in landscaping, they are great for border edging, ground coverage and naturalizing your garden. Hay scented ferns are found from Newfoundland to Alabama, but are more abundant in the eastern states of North America.

Hay scented ferns are indigenous to USDA climate zones 3-8. They grow freely on the floors of forests, creating a green luxurious carpet. They can also be found in meadows, fields and rocky slopes.

How to Plant Hay Scented Fern

Growing hay scented ferns are fairly easy because these ferns are hardy and quick to be established. Plant these ferns in an area that provides good drainage. If your soil is poor, add some compost for extra enrichment.

Remember that these ferns grow rapidly and will spread quickly, so you will want to plant them about 18 inches apart. These ferns prefer partial shade and slightly acidic soil. Although they will grow in full sun, they will not look as lush.

Hay Scented Fern Care

Once the hay scented fern takes root and starts to spread, there is little to do with the plant. If your garden is in need some thinning out from these persistent plants, you can easily control the spread by pulling out some of the growth in spring.

Caring for a hay scented fern requires only a little time and effort. If your ferns should go pale, a bit of fish emulsion fertilizer should put some color back into them. These hardy ferns have been known to live for 10 years.



Hay-scented fern Dennstaedtia punctilobula is a native woodland understory species in the USA. It generally occurs at low density and does not noticeably interfere with the growth of other understory plants. However, it can be invasive under certain conditions e.g. increased light availability following tree thinning, and grazing and browsing of competing plants by herbivores, e.g. white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus deer, may result in development of a dense, nearly monospecific fern understory that inhibits tree seedlings and growth of other plants.

Study site: The study was conducted in a thinned red pine Pinus resinosa -white pine P.strobus plantation with nearly 100% fern ground cover in the Quabbin Reservation, Massachusetts.
Experimental design: Four blocks containing 12 (2 x 2 m) plots each were established. Each plot was assigned one of four fern control treatments and one of two birch seed treatments (sown; unsown). Each fern treatment was replicated three times in each block; two unsown and one unsown. The fern treatments were:
i) Removal – rhizome mat and associated litter removed in autumn 1995 (after frond die-back); exposed mineral soil broken up with a garden fork to 2-5cm depth, mimicking scalping or root raking management;
ii) Mixing – in autumn 1995, rhizome mat and litter removed and placed on a tarpaulin; soil broken up to 2-5 cm depth with a garden fork; rhizome material broken up and torn into smaller parts, and these and removed litter replaced on the plot and mixed with the soil. The treatment mimicked the management technique of scarification;
iii) Clipping – fern fronds clipped weekly in 1996 and 1997 from spring until the end of the growing season. This removed the fern canopy and mimicked mowing;
iv) Control – no treatment.
The birch seed treatments were:
i) Black birch Betula lenta seed sown at a rate of 1 g/m² (approx. 1,700 seeds/m²) on the soil surface in autumn 1995;
ii) Control – unsown.
Within quadrats in each plot at the end of the growing seasons of 1996 and 1997, woody seedlings were identified and counted; height of the tallest seedling of each species within each grid square was measured (to calculate average tallest height/plot). Herbaceous species that germinated were identified and presence in each grid square was recorded. Percent cover was estimated for grasses and sedges. Ferns were identified, counted, and lengths of a sample of fronds measured.
Rate of fern regrowth after a year since clipping ceased was measured in 12 clipping treatment plots.

Removal: After the two growing seasons, rhizome and litter removal many woody and herbaceous plants germinated and grew.
Mixing: There was an initial germination response but poor seedling survival as the fern canopy regrew to near pre-treatment density;
Clipping: Repeateded clipping over two growing seasons resulted in a lower germination than the removal treatment, but rapid growth of woody seedlings.
Conclusions: The hay-scented fern canopy and the rhizome/root mat inhibited tree seedling establishment. Black birch, whilst found to grow through fern cover in other studies, failed to establish in the areas of almost 100% fern cover, despite seeding. Breaking up the root mat without preventing fern regrowth appears to have little value in restoring understory vegetation. Where the fern fronds were regularly clipped, black birch, white pine, and bramble Rubus all germinated and grew. As the treatments were applied to small plots with hand tools, the feasibility of applying these treatments on a practical management scale are uncertain.
Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper, this can be viewed at:


Hayscented fern–a Gardening Oops?

How can the beautiful hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), a Connecticut native, become a gardening oops? Easily. Ignore it and it will spread.

I love ferns, particularly native ferns, and frequently use them in the perennial beds around our home … they help tie the planned beds to the surrounding woodlands that are filled with hayscented and other native ferns. The dainty fern frond structure is a lovely foil to long sword-like foliage of Siberian iris and the light-green frond color is stunning next to the blue-violet iris flowers.

Still, hayscented ferns can become too much of a good thing. When left untended, hayscented ferns can become a gardening oops – aka GOOPs.

On the first of each month I share a GOOPs tale, an account of a gardening blunder or problem I’ve witnessed in other gardens or experienced in my own decades of gardening in Connecticut. Gardeners who experiment with plant combinations and like to see how far they can stretch a plant’s hardiness or possible growth conditions will have a few GOOPS. Sharing these GOOPs may help prevent others from making the same blunder.

Hayscented fern fronds grow 12 to 18 inches long in a triangular shape and are light green with a bit more of a yellow tinge than many other woodland ferns. The fronds grow from a structure of underground creeping rhizomes. When massed into dense colonies, hayscented ferns create a lacy, delicate-looking carpet, a growth pattern that can be an advantage. Hayscented ferns are stunning when encouraged to grow along roadside edges and bordering classic New England stone walls.

Masses of hayscented fern act as a lovely transition between grassy areas and woodland edges.

They help block the summertime view of our air conditioning units (left photo) and, along with Siberian iris, block sight of our well pipe (right photo).

I love how they fill space between native Connecticut mountain laurel growing next to a ledge.

But the same mat-forming growth pattern that allow hayscented ferns to form such lovely carpets of green also allows the rhizomes to crowd out established perennials.

If not thinned, hayscented ferns will crowd out this Rose Campion (Lychnis) and this Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla).

Even this larger ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is being overrun by hayscented fern.

A quick way to neaten infringements of hayscented ferns is to break the fronds from the rhizomes at soil level. New fronds will shoot up, but they are easily broken off during subsequent weeding and neatening sessions.

Digging out the rhizomes can be a chore since they form very dense mats. A garden fork works best to pry intact rhizomes from the soil but any pieces left behind will re-grow. I have often transplanted hayscented ferns from perennial beds to more desirable woodland edge areas. Even with neglect, they reestablish well.

Living in an area heavily browsed by deer, I relish nearly any plant, such as hayscented fern, that deer leave alone. But, left untended in a perennial bed, hayscented fern can become a thug and, right now in my gardens it’s a thug that needs some serious management.

Have you had a GOOPs experience with hayscented ferns or faced any other garden blunder? Share your tale in a comment below or, if you want to join the GOOPs party you can share your GOOPs on your own blog and leave a teaser below.

If you haven’t made a few gardening miss-steps, you are not gardening hard enough!

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry

Dennstaedtia punctilobula
(Michx.) T. Moore

Features of leaves there are no special features on the leaves Leaf blade length 15–90 cm Leaf blade shape the leaf blades are widest above the base, then taper narrowly towards the tip (lanceolate) Leaf blade tip shape the tip of the leaf blade is tapered to a narrow point (acuminate) Leaf blade width At least 12 cm Leaf divisions

  • the leaf blade is three times compound (divided into leaflets, which are further divided into leaflets, which are further divided into leaflets), or more
  • the leaf blade is twice compound (divided into leaflets, which are further divided into leaflets)

Leaf lifespan the leaves drop off in winter Leaf stalk color yellow to brown Leaf stalk hairs the leaf stalk has hairs Leaf stalk length 100–220 mm Leaf stalk relative length the leaf stalk is more than a quarter, but less than three quarters as long as the blade Leaf stalk scale location there are no scales on the leaf stalk Leaf stalk scales

  • the leaf stalk has scales
  • there are no scales on the leaf stalk

Leaf stalk vessels 1 bundle, U-shaped Leaf vein branching the secondary veins of the leaf blade branch dichotomously (two equal branches at each branch point) Leaf vein tips the veins go all the way to the edge of the leaf blade Leaflet relative size the bottom leaflets are about half as long as, to slightly longer than, the leaflets from the middle of the frond Leaflet stalks the leaflets are stalked Lobe or leaflet length 80–120 mm Lobe or leaflet pairs 17–40 Lobe or leaflet shape

  • the lobe or leaflet is widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends; egg-shaped
  • the lobe or leaflet is widest below the middle and tapering at both ends; lance-shaped

Lobe or leaflet width 20–30 mm Plant growth form the leaves grow from a rhizome growing at or below the ground final leaf segment margin

  • the topmost lobe or leaflet of the leaf blade has a smooth or lobed edge
  • the topmost lobe or leaflet of the leaf blade has an edge with teeth

Eastern Hay Scented Fern




Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Partial to Full Shade


Grown for foliage



Foliage Color:



12-18 in. (30-45 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)


12-15 in. (30-38 cm)

15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)


USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone



Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:


Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

Soil pH requirements:

5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Mashpee, Massachusetts

Pepperell, Massachusetts

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Flat Rock, North Carolina

Cleveland, Ohio

Birdsboro, Pennsylvania

West Chester, Pennsylvania

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Nashville, Tennessee

Viola, Tennessee

Leesburg, Virginia

Orlean, Virginia

show all

Eastern Hay Scented Fern – 10 Rhizomes

Eastern Hay Scented fern – Dennstaedtia punctilobula – is a marvelous native plant for the shade garden. The fragrant green fronds turn yellow in fall and may linger through winter. Fronds are triangular to oval shaped and deeply divided, giving it a lacy appearance.

Name(s): Dennstaedtia punctilobula, Eastern Hay Scented Fern

Flower Color: None

Bloom Time: None

Foliage: Herbaceous, green, lacy, fragrant.

Height/Spread: 15 inches to 30 inches x 12 inches to 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Find Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone By Zip Code

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Wet to dry, average to poor, pH 5.1 to 6.5

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, fragrant, foliage yellows in fall and may last through winter.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, shade gardens, fern gardens, fragrant gardens, woodland gardens, native plant collections, native fern collections.

Comments: Plant Hay-scented ferns in partial shade to full shade. It thrives in USDA climate zones 3 through 8. Hay-scented fern tolerates poor soil and wet or dry conditions. Mature height ranges from 15 inches to 30 inches. Plant 12 inches to 24 inches apart. Recommended pH is 5.1 to 6.5.

These are bare root rhizomes, about the length of a pencil. (See accompanying photograph.) For a planting demonstration, watch our Youtube video.

We can not ship this item to Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.


Hay Scented Ferns

The Hay Scented Fern scientific name is Denstaedtia Punctilobula. This fern can also be called the New York Fern. This fern is unique. It is a very common fern that grows in mass colonies. It looks like a beautiful green carpet. It does not do very well in gardens with other flowers or ground covers. We sell this bare root, and it ships year round.

Enjoy lush gardens delights of this fast growing Hay Scented fern.

The beauty of your garden can only be showcased to reflect sophistication, uniqueness, personality, and lushness. What better way to showcase this other than investing in the hay-scented fern genetically known as Dennstaedtia punctilobula. Belonging to the fern family, it is deciduous and the fronds when brushed with a hand, crushed or bruised releases a fragrance that reminds you of freshly mown hay. The fern is not only appealing to the eye but also easy to cultivate and maintain.

Ideal for Landscaping

The soft fragrance, the lacy look, the narrow- triangular shape, the low maintenance of the plant regarding time and effort, the ease of landscaping, border edging and naturalizing ground coverage all add to its beauty what’s not to appreciate in this plant.

Other Uses

This is great when used as a focal point for your garden be it a shade garden or cottage garden. It’s also beneficial for ground cover for sun and shade, covers a vast expanse, quick to grow and lives up to 10 years – gains points in my book, relatively immune to diseases, inexpensive while maintaining its remarkable characteristic- attractiveness.

Beautify your garden with the Dennstaedtia punctilobula, and nature never fails to please.

This plant ships bare root (root/rhizome only) with no foliage at time of shipment. Guaranteed to grow!

Hay Scented Fern are simply beautiful!

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