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Ferns gained their popularity as indoor plants during the Victorian Era. Although ferns and their allies are the only plants that do not produce flowers (they reproduce via spores), they are desirable for their beautiful foliage. Ferns are distributed world wide in a variety of environments from the Arctic to the equator. There are tiny moss-like ferns, as well as eightyfoot tall tree ferns. There is a wide range of ferns suitable for use as house plants, many of which make wonderful specimen plants, while others add charm and softness to container gardens. All indoor ferns can be used outside in warm weather to turn shady porches, patios, and decks into green oases.
The word “fern” is from the old Anglo-Saxon fearn, meaning feather.
Most ferns prefer a bright location with filtered sunlight. Some ferns will do best with dappled sun or direct morning sun, but always avoid the heat of direct mid-day sun.
Most indoor ferns will perform best if the temperatures are a little on the cool side,
60F to 75F, especially “Boston Fern” and other Nephrolepis. The minimum safe temperature for most tropical and subtropical ferns is around 40F, although cultivars of the “Birdsnest Fern” need more warmth.
Almost all ferns require even moisture. Remember to leach the soil periodically to remove excess salts. Always check the soil for moisture content before watering, as too much water is just as damaging as too little. The surface of the soil can be allowed to dry, drawing oxygen back into the root ball. Water slowly and evenly until some water runs out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Discard excess water in the bottom of the pot or saucer, so the roots do not stand in water. A well-draining potting medium is important in preventing “water-logged” soil.
To increase the humidity immediately around the plant, use a pebble tray, or group several pots of ferns closely together. A daily light misting of the foliage and surrounding atmosphere should be done early in the day.
Use a high nitrogen fertilizer (e.g., 10-5-5) to keep ferns a deep green. Apply a dilute
solution regularly, March through September.
Ferns should only be repotted in the spring.
Tip: The tired, pale, or lackluster appearance of indoor ferns can usually be reversed by a period of outdoor rest and recuperation. Place the pot in a shady, sheltered location in warm months, and let the fresh air and rain rejuvenate the fern.
Hardy ferns planted outdoors generally prefer a well-draining, humusy (rich in organic matter) soil, in a shady, sheltered location. Dappled sun is ideal for most ferns, and mulching the area helps increase humidity.
Adiantum MAIDENHAIR FERN —Extremely popular for their beauty, they generally have delicate
foliage, and require some attention to maintain their appearance.
Asplenium nidus BIRDSNEST FERN —These ferns have a neat, symmetrical growth habit and shiny
Davallia fejeenSis ‘Major’ DEER FOOT FERN —A long lived fern, growing very large. This variety of
D. fejeensis has large, coarse, pale green fronds. Excellent for hanging baskets of fern stands.
Davallia trichomaniodes RABBIT FOOT FERN —Lacy fronds and interesting furry rhizomes creeping
over and under the pot. Excellent for hanging baskets.
Didymochlaena truncatula MAHOGANY FERN —An excellent large-growing indoor fern, the young
growth is tinted rosy pink or red.
Microsorum diversifolium KANGAROO PAW FERN —The leathery, dark-green fronds grown on
interesting rambling rhizomes. Excellent in hanging basket of on fern stand. Very tolerant of dry air.
Nephrolepis biserrata ‘Macho’ MACHO FERN —A very large fern, with coarse, shiny dark-green
Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’ BOSTON FERN —The most popular indoor fern, it is very graceful hanging on a porch for the summer, but can be hard to keep inside. Winter care includes very bright light and cooler indoor temperatures. One or two new cultivars of N. exaltata seem to appear every year.
Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis Compacta’ BOSTON COMPACTA —One of many mutations of the
Sword Fern, this compact Boston Fern has short, wavy fronds.
Nephrolepis obliterata KIMBERLY QUEEN FERN —An upright-growing form of Sword Fern, very
popular for its wavy leaves and fullness.
Pellaea rotundifolia BUTTON FERN —Popular for its smaller size, and its dark-green fronds arranged in a rosette.
Polypodium formosanum ’Cristatum’ E. T. FERN —An excellent hanging basket fern, with drooping
light green fronds, and curious flattened green rhizomes.
Platycerium STAGHORN FERN —These highly decorative ferns are long-lived, and should not be
grown in soil. In baskets or mounted on wood, a well-drained peat mixture or long-fibered sphagnum moss simulates their epiphytic habitat.
Pteris BRAKE FERNS or TABLE FERNS —These upright-growing ferns are especially useful in
container gardens. They generally have lacy foliage and some species have attractive variegation.