As Pacific Northwesterners, we have a soft spot in our hearts for ferns. When we add them into our homes and dwell amongst their feathery fronds, we can’t help but feel like we’re in a lush green forest.
One of the best things about ferns is the variety of species there are in the genus. You can choose from tropic or sub-tropic types as well as those that grow in more temperate climates—there is a fern for any kind of home!
Ferns have gotten a bit of a bad rap for being difficult indoor plants to care for, but that isn’t always the case. Ferns can be easy and low-maintenance houseplants once you make sure you are following these 3 key practices for their care:
- The right soil moisture: not too dry, not too wet.
- Keep them away from drafts and dry air.
- Keep the temperature of their environment moderate—they don’t like temperature extremes.
Once you make sure your fern’s environment involves those three things, fern care can actually be quite simple!
Just because ferns grow on the shadier forest floor doesn’t mean they don’t want light. The best place for them is near a window where they can get indirect bright light. Avoid putting them somewhere with direct light which causes their fronds to wither and yellow.
When living outdoors, ferns thrive during our rainy fall days here in the PNW. When kept indoors, ferns also enjoy a good watering, but they do not like to be waterlogged. Make sure to let your fern almost completely dry out before you water it again. Often, the fern fronds will slightly droop to tell you it is thirsty.
These plants enjoy the water but don’t want to be stuck in soggy soil. Pot them in a rich, well-draining potting soil to keep them thriving!
Temperature & Humidity
Because they dislike temperature extremes, ferns prefer to be kept in moderate temperatures at about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. They also prefer a nice boost in humidity to mimic the climates they are used to. You can easily help them get the humidity they need in the following ways:
- Humidifier: Add a large one to boost the humidity of the entire room or a smaller tabletop humidifier to target plants directly.
- Misting: Misting can work great to boost humidity but can encourage foliage diseases if not done carefully. Be sure to use a fine mister and only mist in the morning so the water has the rest of the day to evaporate.
- Grouping plants together: Plants can help boost one another’s humidity!
- Wet pebble tray: Filling a tray (with a larger diameter than your plant) with pebbles and water and placing plants on top is a great way to enhance humidity for specific plants.
- Domes: Place over a plant to help with humidity, but make sure to remove it for a bit each day so your plant can catch its breath.
A basic indoor plant food diluted to half-strength and used every 2-4 weeks can help your fern grow to its full frond potential. However, you should only fertilize during the growing season (March through September); do not feed during the winter months.
The best way to propagate ferns is through division. It is best to do this during the growing season (March through September). Learn more about the science behind propagation here!
The majority of ferns are NOT considered toxic to pets. However, if your pet likes to munch on your plants, make sure you keep the plants where your pet cannot get to them—ingesting too much of any plant matter is not good for pets.
Making sure to remove any yellow or dead fronds from your fern is a good way to encourage new growth as well as enhance airflow around the plant, helping to avoid any possible mold issues. If you find that many of your fern’s fronds are consistently dying, check for underlying problems.
Frond tip browning: This is usually caused by low humidity levels. Try boosting the humidity of the fern. Once humidity has been fixed, you can cut off the browning frond tips.
Crispy dying fronds: This occurs when your fern has had consistent underwatering and too much direct sunlight. Create a watering schedule that ensures your fern will not be underwatered and move it to a spot that only gets indirect light. You can cut the dying fronds back to the soil line to promote new fronds to shoot up.
Yellowing of center fronds: If you are noticing that your fern’s fronds in the center of the plant are yellowing, it might mean that those fronds are consistently being covered in water. Try changing up your watering from over the top to bottom watering and see if things improve.
Root rot: This is a killer for many plants, and ferns are not immune. If you notice your fern isn’t getting new growth, has many yellowing, wilting, and dying fronds, you should check for root rot. To help avoid root rot, make sure your fern is in a pot with drainage and chunky, well-draining soil, and make sure the location it is placed in isn’t too dark.
Pests: Occasionally, new growth may attract aphids which can be sprayed off with water or insecticidal soap/Neem Oil. Scale may appear on older stems near the soil, treat with Neem Oil or remove by hand with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.