Plant profile: how to care for…ferns

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I bloody love ferns. I mean, maidenhair ferns are a bit…touchy, which is why they get their own post (here), but in general, as long as you keep up with your watering, you’ll get an incredible plant.

I think by now we’ve all seen the Reddit post where the girl buys a $30 dollar fern and it fills the back of her car, so if you like a big-ass plant, ferns may be the plant for you.

Quickfire fern care

  • Light: dappled
  • Humidity: 60% will tolerate lower
  • Temperature: 18c/65f – 23c/75f
  • Watering: keep damp, but not wet
  • Fertilise: 20-20-20, three times per growing season
  • Potting medium: house plant potting mix + perlite
  • Propagation: division, spores
  • Pests: thrips, mealybugs, scale, aphids
  • Bloom? no
  • Toxic? not usually, but check your species if you have kids and pets
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Where do ferns come from?

Oh, pretty much everywhere. Which is why it’s a bit weird doing a post covering ferns in general.

This post covers the tropical ferns commonly sold in garden centres.

I’m currently after a rabbit’s foot fern, but they really creep my boyfriend out, so that hunt is on hiatus. It’ll probs freak my actual rabbit out too.

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Where should I put my fern?

According to my experience, wherever the hell you want, as long as it has a some source of light. Mine is currently chilling on top of a 7-foot bookcase a good way back from the window and it’s fine.

It’s also lived in my bathroom window, and in my kitchen.

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What light conditions do ferns prefer?

They would very much like the dappled light they would receive in the wild since they tend to congregate on forest floors.

HOWEVER some ferns live in more exposed areas, so it does vary from species to species.

When it comes to plants, even low light ones, the more light they receive, the more quickly they’ll grow. But also don’t leave them in direct sunlight because they could burn. My bathroom window is textured, so my fern was happy there until he outgrew it.

Just be aware that the more sunlight your fern is getting, the more water it’ll get through.

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What temperature range do ferns prefer?

You know, the usual. I’ve listed temperature ranges in all my other plant profiles, but is there any point? Do you all have thermometers? Ferns are as tolerant of temperature as you are (but remember that ferns don’t wear clothes).

Ferns are fine at room temperature, don’t like getting too hot or too cold, and appreciate a temperature drop at night.

Fine, fine. 18c/65f – 23c/75f degrees during the day, but they can take lower temperatures at night.

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What humidity level should ferns have?

Ooo high. This is why mine thrived (throve?) in the bathroom. Unfortunately, he outgrew the windowsill and kept stroking my bum when I was in the shower. One of the top ten creepiest feelings out there.

They’re also pretty hardy though, especially those ferns that are commonly sold as houseplants. They’ll be ok in humidity levels from 30% and up, though 60+ is really where they’ll do their best.

I can wang on about misting and pebbles trays, but grouping plants together so they can create their own micro-climate or biting the bullet and getting a humidifier are the only sure-fire ways of getting increasing humidity levels.

Check out my resources page for my recommendations for humidifiers and also to see which hygrometer I use. Get a hygrometer before you get a humidifier, just in case your humidity is naturally high.

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How to water your ferns

As a lazy person, I keep a big tray of water on my kitchen worktop (I have a lot of worktop space) and just sit my fern in it when it looks a bit sad.

If the top of the soil is super dry after a few hours (it’s a big pot), I very carefully water the top of the soil. Ferns like to be thoroughly soaked, but they have very delicate leaves and I don’t want to damage them.

If you have your fern high up like I do, I like to check him quite often, just in case he starts to go bald on top.

There seems to be a bit of debate surrounding the type of water ferns like. I’ve found that whilst most moisture-loving plants prefer fain or filtered water, my ferns don’t seem to mind.

That being said I water all my plants with rainwater if I have enough. I have definitely watered my ferns with tap water many times though, and they’re all ok.

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Pests common to ferns

TOUCH WOOD I’ve never had any pests on my ferns. Although there is a spider in residence above the one on the bookcase. I have noticed spider webs on my ferns, which I was extremely relieved to see were the work of spiders, not spider mites.

But that’s no use, so I did a quick search on pests that are found on ferns are mealybugs (little fuckers get everywhere), scale, aphids, and thrips. If your fern is suffering, spraying it regularly with insecticidal soap and neem oil should see off any suckers.

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How to fertilise ferns

I don’t fertilise my ferns, because I’ve had to repot them due to size, so the soil isn’t depleted. If you need to fertilise, use a 20-20-20, 20-10-20 or a general fertiliser. Make sure it’s heavily diluted, and don’t fertilise more often than every two months.

If you find you have browning on the tips of your fronds, it could be a sign of too much nitrogen.

Potting mix recommendations for ferns

We’re looking for slightly acidic soil, with good drainage, but also a bit of moisture retention.

Sooo regular houseplant potting mix with a bit of perlite worked in. Maybe one part perlite to 2 parts potting mix. They also like rich soil, so a bit of compost (a BIT, like, a sprinkle) won’t go amiss.

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What type of pot do ferns need

Ceramic over terracotta BUT my Boston fern’s in terracotta and is thriving. he is in pretty heavy soil though. I don’t have to water him particularly often either – certainly no more than once every two weeks.

If your soil is super quick draining, then I’d definitely go for ceramic or plastic, but if you don’t have any perlite, and are using 100% potting mix, terracotta should be fine.

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Are ferns toxic?

In a nutshell, it varies, so don’t let your kids or pets eat them.

Maidenhair ferns and Boston ferns are both non-toxic BUT they are a target for cats, who love to eat them, and they can be a choking hazard.

If you buy a fern, give the name a quick google to see if it’s poisonous or not.

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How to propagate ferns

Ferns reproduce in the wild by releasing spores – you can often see them on undersides of their fronds.

But propagating this way is best left up to the experts (or just to the ferns themselves).

The easiest way to propagate your own ferns is by root division.

Take the plant out of its pot, remove as much soil as you can, and gently split the root ball with a sterile knife.

Well, as gently as you can when you’re essentially chopping a plant up.

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  • Asparagus ferns look like ferns but aren’t. They can tolerate drought and may be a better option to those of you who travel or lot or just aren’t great with the whole watering thing.
  • Ferns don’t have seeds or flowers. Who needs them when you have spores?
  • Coal is fossilised ferns (and other primitive plants)
  • Some ferns are hella invasive, such as bracken and giant water fern.
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