By Jennifer Poindexter
Do you like the simplistic beauty ferns provide? They make wonderful natural décor for a front porch, backyard garden, or for inside your home.
Ferns have specific needs which must be met to avoid their lush green splendor from fading into a burnt brown mess. Here are a few tips to help you take care of your ferns and keep them at their ideal beauty.
Where to Grow Ferns
Ferns naturally grow in humid temperatures below the canopy of the rainforest. This gives them moist and humid conditions with occasional sunlight. The rainforest canopy keeps the ferns from becoming scorched. When raising ferns, try to recreate these conditions.
Ferns can be grown indoors and outdoors. They can grow in planters, hanging pots, or even in the ground. Be advised, if you plant them in the ground, you should be mindful of the location to ensure the ferns don’t receive too much sunlight or rain.
Also, be prepared to transplant your ferns into a pot to move them indoors when the weather cools down.
How to Care for Ferns
1. Proper Placement
Ferns prefer to live where there’s ample shade and indirect sunlight. This makes them perfect for shaded porches or to add color in shady locations in your yard where little else will grow.
Choosing the proper location for a fern indoors can be a tad more complicated. The fern needs some sunlight, but it can’t handle being directly in the sun. Try to place the fern near a north facing window in your home, but the fern shouldn’t touch the window. The heat from the window can be too hard on it and cause it to brown.
If your fern begins to brown, try moving it to a new location with less sunlight and watch for improvement. Be mindful that the fern isn’t placed near air vents or ceiling fans. These can pull moisture from your fern which can hinder its health.
2. Humidity is a Must
Ferns love humidity. This makes them a great outdoor plant for warmer climates because of the natural humid conditions.
When raising ferns indoors, you must take proper steps to meet this need. Ferns desire approximately 50 percent humidity in the air. Some rooms in or near your home may meet this need naturally such as a sunroom, bathroom, kitchen, or a greenhouse. In the sunroom and greenhouse, be mindful of giving the fern too much direct sunlight.
Other ways you can provide proper humidity is to place a humidifier in the room with the fern to increase the humidity level. You can also try misting the fern with a spray bottle of water every two to three days.
3. Water Adequately
If you’re familiar with houseplants or growing a variety of plants outdoors, you may have figured out that deep watering sessions are best for many plants.
It’s also a good idea to let the soil dry out fully between watering sessions. Toss these notions right out the window when caring for ferns.
If you allow the soil to dry too much between watering sessions with a fern, you can do more harm than good because it puts too much stress on the plant.
Ferns desire consistent moisture. You don’t want the soil to be soggy on a regular basis, but you should be able to feel moisture when touching the soil. When the soil begins to dry out, it’s time to water the fern again. When watering, do so until the water runs out of the bottom of the planter.
It may be a good idea to water your ferns in the sink to allow them proper drainage. Also, the shear size of some ferns can make it difficult to water them. Use a watering can with a long spout or take it to your kitchen sink. You can also use the sprayer attachment on your kitchen faucet to get to the center of the fern and water until you see the plant draining into your sink.
If your ferns are in a planter with a water catchment tray in the bottom, be sure to dump it after the plant finishes draining. Leaving standing water beneath the fern can be damaging to its sensitive root system.
Consider using lukewarm water. When using cold water to hydrate the ferns, it can cause the plant to go into shock.
If your fern is outdoors, be mindful of the weather. When there’s no rain, your fern will need to be watered regularly and adequately by hand.
4. Choose the Right Soil
When planting ferns, it’s a good idea to place them where the soil is aerated. By choosing soil with plenty of compost and sand, it allows the plants to drain better.
If you’re planting ferns in the ground, it’s a good idea to create a garden bed and amend the soil to ensure water will drain away from your plants. The idea is for the soil to be fluffy and resemble the consistency of the inside of a fresh baked brownie. When you’ve reached this, you’ve created a proper bed for your ferns.
When raising ferns in planters, you want the same aerated, quality soil. Be mindful of the planter’s draining system. You don’t want soggy ferns because this can damage their sensitive root systems.
5. Keep the Temps Right
Ferns are a tropical plant, but they’re accustomed to having shade provided for them. This means they like warmth but don’t enjoy scorching temperatures. This is why it’s important to choose a properly shaded space if you are growing ferns outside.
Indoor ferns do best between 60- and 72-degrees Fahrenheit, so they ideally like it a little cooler than what is comfortable for people. But they’ll typically adapt to the temperatures that most people keep their house. In winter though, if your home is too cold, the fern won’t thrive. So think about how cold it might be next to a window in winter and move your fern someplace warmer, if necessary.
6. Fertilize from Time to Time
Fertilizing a thriving plant can be so tempting because, as gardeners, we want more lush, green growth in our lives. Avoid this instinct when it comes to growing ferns. For starters, ferns shouldn’t be fertilized during the winter months.
They don’t produce new growth during this time, and these months allow their systems to rest before the next grow season.
During the summer months, pay attention to when your fern begins producing new growth. This is when it should be fertilized.
You can use a regular houseplant fertilizer, but deeply dilute it. It should be at 50 percent potency or less. If you prefer a natural fertilizer, you can use fish emulsion.
Ferns can use fertilizing as often as once per month during the summer months. Be careful though. If you over-fertilize a fern it can backfire and cause damage to your plant. Give the fern the nutrients it needs but be mindful of frequency and potency when fertilizing.
7. Give it a Trim
The goal when raising ferns is to keep them full, green, and beautiful. Like any plant, there comes a time for certain parts of the plant to die off to make room for new growth.
When this happens with ferns, their fronds become brown and unattractive. Be sure to cut away any brown or dead parts of the fern. This not only makes the plant look better, but it contributes to its overall health.
8. Transplant When Necessary
If you’ve chosen to plant your fern in a hanging basket or planter, pay attention to the size of the fern in comparison to the pot it’s growing in. Like any potted plant, ferns can become root bound. It’s a good idea to transplant ferns into larger pots approximately one time per year.
Some younger ferns may grow more quickly and need to be transplanted as early as six months from when they were originally potted. When transplanting a fern, be sure to use fresh potting soil, and choose a pot larger than what the plant needs in its current state. This will give it room to grow.
Another option is to cut the fern in half to create two plants. Each new plant will need to be potted.
However you choose to approach this portion of caring for your fern, be mindful of the fern’s roots to ensure they don’t become damaged during the splitting or transplanting process.
9. Overwintering Your Fern
If you’re planning on keeping your fern alive year-round, it’s vital to learn how to overwinter ferns. If your fern is outdoors, cut the fronds back as fall approaches.
At this point, the plant should be moved indoors for the winter months.
While the plant is inside, it’s important to make sure it has a room with approximately 50 percent humidity, gets watered adequately, and is placed where it can receive indirect sunlight.
On occasion, during the winter months, hang your fern in the shower or sit it on the tub floor. Allow the shower to run over it with the curtain closed. This will give the plant a thorough watering, a place to properly drain, and be provided warmth and humidity.
10. The Bowl Trick
When raising ferns indoors, it might seem difficult to provide enough moisture for your fern without overdoing it. The good new is that there’s a trick that can help your fern get more moisture without you constantly having to care for it. It’s the bowl trick.
Take a bowl and place rocks in the bottom of it. Pour lukewarm water over the rocks. You want the water to come up to meet the top of the rocks, but they shouldn’t be fully covered.
Set the fern on top of the rocks inside its planter, but the fern shouldn’t sit directly in water. This will increase the moisture around the fern. It will also provide a place for water to drain after a thorough watering session.
Ferns are interesting plants to care for because of their tropical rainforest origin, beneath the tree canopies in the shade. Hopefully these tips will help you to create the climate your fern needs to thrive no matter where you are.