What is eating my sword ferns?

Asked March 6, 2018, 8:43 PM EST

I live on the Puget sound in a forested part of a small seaside town. We have many deer In town. I decided to naturalize my backyard with sword ferns, thinking that the deer wouldn’t be interested in them. The ferns were fine until last fall when i started noticing that several of them were being eaten. Others just had whole fronds nipped off and left lying on the ground. Are there any rodents that would eat them? We have squirrels, chipmunks, moles, and rabbits in the area. Thanks for any help you can offer.

Jefferson County Washington

3 Responses

Hello! There are lots of native wildlife that might be eating your sword ferns and unless you see the culprit, its often hard to know exactly what might be doing the damage. According to the Wa Dept of Wildlife's website (it's a great one for how to live & garden with wildlife https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/ )--deer and rabbits do eat sword ferns. Sometimes a deer's damage is more ragged, while rabbits and other rodents damage appears more "clipped"--but not always especially with new growth that is succulent and easy to nip cleanly from the plant.

Moles are insectivorous, so they are unlikely to be the culprit. Squirrels and chipmunks don't commonly eat plant leaves, though have been known to go for some types of roots, like bulbs and tubers.

For control, you might try putting a metal mesh/ wire cage around the plants to protect the fresh new growth from being eaten. Best of luck!

Thanks for your help. We have put a few cages on some ferns, but since I’ve planted over 20, I sprayed a deterrent on the others. Thanks, you were very informative.

Good idea--repellents when used on a regular basis can help a lot. You're welcome.