How To Grow Ferns

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Ferns love to live in low light areas that have moderate temperatures. There are over 10,000 species of fern and many make an excellent choice as houseplants, planted in containers on a porch or balcony, or hanging underneath a large shade tree. Ferns require minimal maintenance and surround you with lush green foliage all year long.

Picking the Perfect Fern

The type of fern you plant in your landscape will depend on the climate conditions in your area. See USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. In areas that experience extreme heat and cold, ferns may need to be brought indoors and protected from the elements. If you plan to grow ferns indoors or in a greenhouse, your choice of fern is limited by the amount of space and shade available to the plants. There are two types of ferns to choose from:

  • Epiphytic ferns grow in trees and make excellent hanging baskets. Plant in a mixture of coarse soil, compost, and sphagnum or peat moss.
  • Terrestrial ferns grow in soil and can be planted in containers. Plant in a mixture of potting soil that contains peat moss, sand and perlite.

Here are a few tips for choosing an outdoor fern:

  • Look for hardy ferns that are able to tolerate the coldest winter temperatures for your area.
  • Consider using ferns that are native to your local area. Native plants are tolerant of your weather conditions and resistant to local pests.
how to grow ferns how to grow ferns

The Best Fern Varieties For Your Yard Or Home

The choice of ferns can be overwhelming. If the ferns will be grown outdoors, choose woodland varieties. Examples include sword ferns (Polystichum species), lady ferns (Athyrium species) and shield ferns (Cryopteris species). Here some some popular and easy to grow ferns for the home garden:

  • Autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) emerge with bronze colored fronds that later turn green. Can be kept outdoors all year in warmer climates.
  • Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) can reach four feet tall and have an upright, sprawling growth habit. Plant in swampy areas and along stream banks.
  • Cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) thrive in damp climates and grow to four feet tall. Plant cinnamon ferns around water gardens.
  • Painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) add dramatic color to a garden with their silver fronds and deeply colored stems.
  • Staghorn ferns (Platycerium species) are epiphytes and can be hung on a wall or planted in a hanging basket.
  • Bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) have a unique growth pattern and long, wide fronds.
  • Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are extremely popular houseplants and require less water than most ferns.
  • Fishbone ferns (Nephrolepis cordifolia) are vigorous plants that grow in sun or shade. The plants have dark green fronds that grow between one and two feet tall.
  • Hay-scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) let off a scent when brushed against. These plants are drought and deer resistant.

Where To Plant Ferns

Place ferns in an area that receives shade for most of the day. Ferns should receive no more than a couple of hours of sun and should never be placed where they will receive direct bright sunlight. Ideal locations for outdoor ferns include the north side of a house or in the shade of a large tree. Indoor ferns should be placed away from windows. Ferns also prefer a daytime temperature between 70 and 85 degrees. Nighttime temperatures below 50 degrees will damage the plants.

When growing ferns in containers, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not use plastic pots. Plastic pots do not provide adequate drainage and do not allow salts to drain from the soil.
  • Clay pots are ideal for terrestrial ferns.
  • Plant epiphytic ferns in baskets lined with sphagnum moss.

How To Grow Ferns

Ferns prefer to live in soil that is evenly moist. Plants should be watered on a regular schedule so that the soil does not dry out; do not overwater. Ferns also like a high humidity level. If the air is dry, mist the plant once a day or place the pots in a tray filled with pebbles and water. If the leaves begin to turn brown, the humidity level is too low.

Here are a few more tips to help you care for your ferns:

  • Slugs and snails can be eliminated by placing a saucer of beer next to the plant. The slugs will drown in the beer.
  • Aphids, mealybugs, thrips and scale can be removed by spraying the plant with a mixture of one tablespoon mild dishwashing detergent in a quart of water.
  • Ferns should only be fertilized during the spring and summer months. Use a liquid balanced fertilizer at half strength.
  • Repot ferns every two to three years. The plants can be divided by cutting the rhizomes with a clean, sharp knife.

Ferns are an easy to care for plant that is perfect for the beginning or advanced gardener. Ferns make perfect accents in those shady parts of the garden, and in the home, ferns can add lush, green foliage to any room.

Last Updated: April 10, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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