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Fern Care 101: Transform Your Space with Proper Indoor Fern Maintenance

Fern Care 101: Transform Your Space with Proper Indoor Fern Maintenance

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The fern is one of the most popular plants grown across the globe. Ferns belong to a group of vascular plants that reproduce through spores and do not have any flowers or seeds.

They are different from mosses because they are vascular, which means they have specialized tissues that are able to conduct nutrients and water.

Ferns can be a great addition to your garden, and they are quite easy to grow on your own. However, when we talk about ferns, most people envision a plant that grows in rainforests, and is available in several shades.

However, you can also grow ferns in your house, and in fact, growing most kinds of ferns isn’t difficult at all; it’s definitely not as difficult as keeping certain orchids alive!

However, there are a few important pointers that you need to keep in mind before you can achieve any sort of success growing ferns indoors.

Ferns are some of the oldest house plants available in the world – the first fossils are more than 300 years old, and ferns today can grow in a variety of different environments.

Small Ferns

As houseplants, they have been cultivated for hundreds of centuries. The American Fern Society estimates that there are more than about 12,000 species of ferns, ranging from certain varieties which are cold hardy, to ones that are tropical, and they come in a large range of sizes.

The smallest ones are almost miniature, whereas the larger ones are monstrous and can cover the sky.

These majestic tree ferns are usually found in tropical forests in New Zealand and Australia. House ferns require a considerable amount of care, and you will want to make sure that you take appropriate care of your ferns. It’s recommended that you take a few steps to make sure that your plants grow as best as possible.

Growing ferns is a great way to add some much needed variety to your house. You can either keep them indoors, or you can place them in your garden. However, there are a few steps that you need to take to ensure the health of your plants.

Here are a few important things that you should know about proper fern care.

The Right Location

Fern In Macrame Hanger

Ferns need a considerable amount of shade, and should not be exposed to direct sunlight. In fact, these plants thrive in ambient sunlight.

If you have a small fern plant, it is best if you place it near a window that faces north. Windows facing the east or the west usually allow for too much sunlight, so there is a risk that your fern might die.

If there isn’t a window that faces the north, you might want to consider placing the plant in a south-facing window. Remember, never keep your plant directly under the window, as it will receive direct sunlight that way. Keep it a bit away, so that it gets the maximum amount of ambient light.

Ferns usually grow in shady places on the forest floor, well covered with canopy all around. Normally, they receive dappled light in their natural environment, so you need to create something along those lines.

If the level of light at your place is too low, the plant is going to register considerably poor growth. You might also see yellowing fronds on the edges of the ferns.

It’s best if your plant has a position near the window where it is able to get some morning sun or some light in the late afternoon. As mentioned, keep the ferns away from areas that receive direct sunlight, primarily during the summer months.

The direct sunlight is incredibly harmful to the plant, and can cause the fronds to turn yellow.

You can always keep your ferns in dimly-lit areas, though they will need breaks from time to time so they can receive some bright light.

If you feel that there is no place where the plant is going to get bright light, you should consider using a special gardening bulb. A fluorescent strip might be a great idea, although you have to place it directly over the plant.

Do not use ordinary light bulbs on the plant, as they tend to generate quite a bit of heat, and this could harm the plant. LED bulbs are a great choice, and you can easily find good-quality gardening bulbs at your local hardware store. They are reliable and will help promote the growth of the plant as well.

The Right Levels of Humidity

As you can understand by now, ferns require a considerable amount of humidity. They are usually found in tropical rainforests with high humidity levels.

That is one of the main reasons why you need to keep them in a place where the humidity level will remain high.

Fern Turning Brown

Most of the popular household ferns that are found in the market are unable to tolerate arid or excessively dry conditions for a long period of time.

One of the signs that your ferns are not getting enough humidity is when their fronds start to turn brown. Eventually, the leaves from your ferns will begin to drop.

You need to make sure that the moisture level in the air remains high, and there are three different ways by which you can do that. For starters, you should consider double potting your fern.

Double potting a fern simply means putting the fern pot inside another slightly larger pot.

To do this, you need to find a pot that is a bit larger than the one your fern is in, and fill it up with moss. Before you add the moss, soak it heavily with water. Then place the second pot (the one with the fern in it) inside that pot.

Also, add the soaked moss to the top of the soil as well as the rim of the inner pot, and make sure to wet it properly every few days. This will ensure that the moss remains moist.

Adding Moss To Fern

There’s also another method that you can use. Take your potted fern and place it on a tray or saucer that is full of pebbles.

Fill the tray with water up to the surface level of the pebbles. Over the passage of time, the water will evaporate, and that will increase the humidity for your fern plant.

This is a pretty simple and effective method that works well for most types of ferns. However, you will need to continue adding the water again and again to the plant to ensure that the humidity levels remain high.

You can also use a humidifier to provide the amount of humidity that your fern needs. You can keep the humidifier near the plant, and leave it on during the night to provide enough humidity to the plant. This is one of the most effective ways of keeping your plant properly moist.

If you don’t want to go through all this trouble, you can use the age old method of misting your ferns with a standard spray bottle. Fill it up with lukewarm distilled water and use it on a regular basis.

Instead of misting the leaves directly, you should point the spray bottle at the air above the leaves. Let the mist fall on its own and settle on the leaves. This a more natural method of providing adequate amounts of humidity.

Because of the excessive amount of running water, you should consider placing your fern plants in a bathroom or the kitchen. Make sure to keep your ferns away from vents and fans in the house, as these can cause your fern to dry out quickly. And, as mentioned above, it’s best to use adequately moistened moss from time to time.

You need to make an active effort to ensure that your ferns do not dry out. Most household ferns have adapted quite well to the loamy soil found in most forests.

Even the ones which do not have any roots, such as the staghorn, prefer the loamy leaf litter found in the small corners of different branches.

Therefore, you need to make sure that your ferns remain properly hydrated. You might want to touch the soil and check it yourself. If the soil seems dry, you should water the soil right away.

Remember, it’s important to keep the fern damp. Do not leave it soggy at all times, as that can cause root rot in the long run.

Fertilizer and Feeding

Closeup Of A Fern Bush

Ferns usually grow on forest floors. As a result of that, they are used to getting a steady supply of decaying organic matter.

In the home, they won’t have that regular supply, so you will want to imitate that. You might want to provide some weak fertilizer to your plants during the growing season.

You can use a liquid fertilizer or a slow-release pellet fertilizer. Both are ideal for use, and you can also add a few drops of fertilizer into the water you use to mist the fern plants. Remember, each genus of the fern plant has its own requirements as well.

You need to first figure out exactly what type of fern you are growing. Then you need to figure out what your plant is lacking.

As long as you are careful and read the directions before administering different kinds of fertilizers, you will be rewarded with a wonderful garden that really enhances the inner beauty of your house.

Using the right compost is also important. Most ferns have relatively tender and delicate roots. As mentioned, they have adapted quite well to the light soil of the forest. This kind of soil is generally quite rich in decayed vegetable matter as well as leaf mold.

You need to make sure that the compost you use is free draining, which will ensure that the roots do not get waterlogged. You should consider using compost that contains a fibrous peat substitute or one that includes peat. Make sure you add a bit of sand to the mix as well.

To ensure that the compost doesn’t dry out, you will need to water the plant every now and then, especially if the plants are kept in a warm or dry atmosphere.

Fertilizer should be added at least once in a month. You need to visit your local gardening center and search for a house plant fertilizer that is used for plants like ferns.

If you are in doubt, it’s best to get in touch with a gardener. They will be able to inform you about the best choices available.

You need to spray the fertilizer on your fern plants at least once a month, to make up for the nutrients that are not found in your potting mix.

If you have only just potted your fern, you need to wait at least six months before you start adding fertilizer to it.

The Right Temperature


Temperature is also an important requirement for ferns to grow properly. Depending upon their place of origin and the adaptability of the plant itself, the temperature ranges will vary accordingly.

Most ferns generally hate the cold. Because they are so used to the tropical climate, they prefer moderate temperatures, usually ranging between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Or, if you buy a fern that comes from a slightly more temperate region, they will thrive very well in temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures ferns are able to handle depends on their place of origin, although it’s important that the temperature doesn’t drop below the 50-degree mark.

If you notice the ferns decaying around the edges, you might want to turn the temperature up. As highlighted above, the temperature and humidity usually remain higher in bathrooms, especially those with a shower, so keeping your plant in there is a great idea.

Transplant Your Ferns

Given an adequate amount of time, any kind of fern is going to outgrow the pot that it was originally kept in. Depending upon the overall health of your fern, the time that it takes to outgrow its original pot will vary.

Generally speaking you will probably have to repot your fern after about six months.

Dealing with Pests

Ferns are usually quite hardy and can survive on their own without issues. However, from time to time, your fern might be exposed to a pest infestation, and this can quickly grow into something serious.

You need to make sure that you treat the problem as quickly as possible, otherwise the pests will eat up the fronds.

Certain types of insects are even capable of killing the ferns completely if they are exposed for too long. The most common pests that you are going to deal with include mealy bugs, fern scales, white flies, and thrips.

Before you decide to take action against the pests, it’s important to identify the kind of pest infestation you are dealing with.

Mealy Bugs

Mealy bugs are quite harmful, and tend to infest ferns. You can identify them quite easily, as they appear as white dots on the leaf axils.

You will also find them on the underside of the fronds. They tend to look cottony, and usually leave a white residue called honeydew on the leaves.

The plant may begin to die after a while. In order to treat this infestation, you need to make use of a systemic insecticide. It’s pretty simple, but you need to be consistent with the cleaning process.


Fern scale insects are generally white and look like gnats. Most of the males are about 1mm long, and also have a white coat of armor. A fern scale infestation can be a bit difficult to deal with, but it’s not impossible.

You can control the infestation with the help of horticultural oils. They need to be applied to the foliage in at least two separate treatments, at least two weeks apart.

White Flies

White flies usually have bands or markings that are different in color on their wings. They tend to leave honeydew and can also leave a honeydew that looks like black soot on the plants.

You will want to make sure that you call a gardener to identify white flies first. Also, it’s important to note that these flies tend to spread quickly from one plant to another, so you will need to take action quickly.

Start by using a standard insecticide and make sure that you continue using it for a week or two. You will see significant improvement in the plants over time. Eventually, you will notice the population of white flies decreasing with the passage of time.

These are just a few things that you should know about treating problems with fern plants. Make sure you follow these tips properly to care for your ferns indoors and keep them safe and sound!

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Tuesday 15th of August 2023

Hi Lisa! I just wanted to thank you so much for your helpful articles. I have some dying orchids and ferns in need of rescuing and spent some time researching care for both plants. In separate google searches your page came up and had the most helpful info, so I've saved them for future reference. Thanks for sharing your plant wisdom! ^_^

Lisa Bridenstine

Tuesday 15th of August 2023

I'm so glad you found my articles helpful!

Happy Planting! Lisa