How to care for ferns


Ferns are some of the oldest plants on earth, and are often beloved houseplants. Though there are more than 6,000 known fern species, only a few varieties will flourish indoors. Ferns are very delicate plants that require more attention than other houseplants.

With some research on the type of fern you’re wanting to grow and a quick call to the local nursery for some valuable tips specific to your area, even an inexperienced gardener can grow a large, beautiful fern. Read on to find out how to care for ferns.

Recommended Ferns

The following ferns are known to thrive indoors with minimal care taking:

  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepis)
  • Holly Fern (Cyrtomium)
  • Birdsnest Fern (Asplenium)
  • Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum)
  • Rabbit's Foot or Ball Fern (Davallia)
  • Staghorn Fern (Platycerium)
  • Table Fern (Pteris)



Put your fern in a location with a lot of light but little direct sun. Early morning and late afternoon direct light is enough, with shade during the rest of the day. An area of high humidity is helpful, but with proper watering (see below), a fern will be fine in a drier area.

Because ferns are so fragile, it is important to place them where tBecause ferns are so fragile, it is important to place them where they will not be crowded or brushed up against.  Be sure to allow them to have plenty of "personal space" so that they can spread out and expand.  When a fern is crowded into a small space, it tends to do poorly.

The Pot

Use a clay pot or a hanging basket lined with sphagnum moss togrow your fern. Plastic pots aren’t good for drainage, and adequate draining is crucial for a healthy fern.

Because a fern’s roots are near the surface, they should only be grown in shallow pots (about 6 inches deep).

Soil and Mixes

Many horticulturists recommend planting ferns with a special fern potting mixture, which can be found at a nursery. Ferns require loose, quick-draining mix. It is also acceptable to use regular potting mix and add about 20% peat moss.


Over-watering kills more plants than anything else. Only give your fern water when the soil is starts to look dry. Don’t use a plant mister on your fern. It can cause the fronds (leaves) to brown and wilt.

The soil of your fern should be moist, but never wet. Over-watering a fern is a common mistake. Over-watering can damage a plant’s roots, and once the roots are damaged the plant may not survive.

Because ferns like humidity, fill a tray with pebbles and water (enough water to cover all the pebbles) and place the potted fern on the tray.


Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer once a month, during the growing season. Only use one-quarter to one-half of the recommendations on the fertilizer package.


New ferns will not grow from cuttings.

If you notice brown around the edge of a leaf, and the fern’s condition doesn’t improve after a couple waterings, cut off the sick leaf. Also cut off any dead leaves at the base of the fern.

If the whole fern looks bad, or pests have invaded, just cut the whole plant right above the soil and let it grown again.


Ferns should be re-potted at least once a year, and can be divided easily in more potted plants. Just remove the plant from the pot, divide the roots with a sharp knife, untangle the leaves, and place the ferns into new pots.

But how do you know when to re-pot a fern? The basic rule is this: if the roots have reached thesides and bottom of the pot, it's time to re-pot it.

Growing Outdoors

In favorable climates, ferns can also be grown in a shady garden spot protected from wind and heavy rains. Keep the fern out of direct midday sun and make sure it gets enough water to keep the soil damp. A couple inches of organic mulch (for example, chopped leaves) will help keep an outdoor fern healthy. And again, give the fern enough room – it shouldn’t come close to touching other plants.