Ferns are one of the easiest plants to care for. They are extremely hearty and can survive almost any non green thumb. Their resilience makes them a great gift for a child or someone else that may have trouble caring for a plant. In this article we are going to focus on the caring of indoor ferns as they require the most maintenance.
Ferns are generally very water hungry plants. In nature they thrive in moist areas so you need to recreate that environment. How much water your give a fern will primarily be up to whether it is indoor or out. If we are talking about an indoor fern you obviously don’t want to create a moist area in your home (yep that sounds gross to say) The main thing to remember with any fern is that the soil should always be somewhat damp. Not soggy but damp. (Holly Ferns and Rabbit’s foots might be the exception) The bigger the fern the more you will need to water. I have seen some folks use a watering bulb with some success for this. That being said if you have a small fern in the bathroom or kitchen you probably can go a while without watering. I have also seen some sites recommending you buy a humidifier and place it next to the fern. Look if we are buying humidifiers for our plants we have too much money. Go buy a spray bottle and spritz the leaves every once and a while then take the rest of the money you would have spent on a humidifier and give it to a charity. Outdoor ferns are another matter. Here it all comes down to where you planted the fern. Not too many ferns like direct sunlight so if you happened to have planted one out in the open you need to make sure you are watering it often. Especially during those hot summer months where the ground gets super dry.
If you are not fertilizing any plant you have you are doing it wrong. If you are wondering what kind of fertilizer to give your fern check out Jessica’s article about the best types of fertilizer for different types of ferns here. Other than types the main questions are how much, how frequently, and when to fertilize. Like watering the how much largely depends on the size of the fern. I have found the best is to mix a water based fertilizer with about half a serving of water and apply it about once a month. As for when I usually only fertilize in the late spring or summer. As you might have noticed when you were 4 plants go dormant in the winter. Yes they are still growing but there is really no need to give them extra juice as they are naturally evolved to not use it.
Trimming your fern is an important thing to do. We all have seen those overgrown ferns that look like they have years of dead leaves and dirt in them. First off go for the easy hits by removing the brown fronds and such. For an outdoor fern like an autumn fern or western sword fern often times it is a good idea to trim back the entire thing. Yes I said the whole thing. The reason is that it keeps the ferns at an aesthetically pleasing uniform high. Otherwise you have different fronds from different growing seasons all in the same bunch. Now you obviously are not going to cut down your whole indoor fern so stick to the cutting of dead and scraggly leaves. Another advantage to trimming out these leaves is that it improves the air circulation for the fronds you leave. One thing that you should keep an eye out for while you are doing your trimming is the pattern of dead leaves. If your fern is uniformly shedding leaves and is starting to brown all over it is probably either in too dry an environment or it is not getting enough light. Remember most of these plants, especially like the staghorn or boston ferns are from subtropical climates they are not used to the 40-50% humidity of the average home. While ferns are usually healthy plants since you are getting up close and personal while you are in there you might as well check for root rot or any other fern diseases.
Here is a great video from the Garden Corner about how to trim a fern:
Ferns are probably the easiest plant to divide. The exact process depends on the species. Some like a maidenhair fern it can be as easy as ripping the plant in two and placing it in two pots. Show me a tree that you can rip in two and then plant to have two trees. For other you might have to get at the root ball. Still others like the staghorn (internal link) require you to split off the pup bulbs. It is pretty easy to tell which way to go by looking at the roots. When you take the fern out of the pot or ground and see a bulb you cut that in two. If it has a traditional root system then you just rip off the part you want. If it has traveling pups then you cut them off the fern.
Miscellaneous Fern care tips
- Ferns like temps from about 70-80 degree fahrenheit but generally do better when it gets cooler at night (they do come from outside naturally) so if you like to sleep with heavy blankets in the winter your fern will probably like it. Also be careful not to place it right next to the AC vent.
- The type of pot you choose for your indoor plant can vary widely by the type of fern and your goal for the plant. Check out jessica’s post on the best types of pots for ferns here. (link)
No matter what type of fern you have they are all pretty forgiving. If you have any specific issues give us a post below and we will see if we can figure them out together.