Forest recovery in degraded pastures is often highly variable, possibly due to variation in the availability of adequate recruitment sites. In an actively grazed pasture in northeastern Costa Rica, this study examines how recruitment of woody species in patches of the fern Nephrolepsis sp. and near logs compares with recruitment in grassy areas. Fern patches and logs had five and eight times higher densities of woody recruits, respectively, as grassy areas. They also had more than twice the species richness and growth as grassy areas. Grass apparently presents a competitive barrier against invading woody recruits, and also attracts cattle that may trample and/or consume recruits. Both logs and patches of fern appeared to provide superior conditions for establishment and growth of woody species, and they did not attract cattle. This study suggests that fern patches and logs can be managed to accelerate forest succession.